There is no place for cultural hooliganism in a pluralistic democracy. It is a matter of shame that some fringe Rajput groups are taking the country to ransom and blocking the release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s period film Padmaavat. The violence being perpetrated by the self-appointed guardians of honour and public morality exposes lack of political will on the part of State governments to rein in these hooligans. The movie faces a total blackout in four BJP-ruled States of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Goa while theatre owners in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are wary of screening it for fear of mob attacks. A day ahead of the movie’s release, protestors went berserk and resorted to vandalism in Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, MP, UP and Maharashtra. Particularly disturbing was an incident in Gurugram where the mob attacked a school bus with stones. Instead of providing security at the theatres, the State governments appear to be tacitly backing the protestors. Such abdication of responsibility is unacceptable. The protestors rampaged through several States, clashing with police, torching vehicles, vandalising malls and giving a nationwide bandh call. Despite unambiguous directions from the Supreme Court to the States to maintain law and order and ensure smooth screening of the film, it is deplorable that they have failed to discharge their fundamental duty. The violent threats from fringe outfits cannot be allowed to prevail over constitutional responsibilities of the governments.
While the need of the hour is to adopt a zero-tolerance approach towards thugs masquerading as saviours of culture, it is disquieting to see major political parties failing to rise to the occasion to protect the right to freedom of expression. While the BJP is clearly sympathetic to the anti-Padmaavat protestors, the Congress is maintaining a tactical silence, apparently for fear of incurring the wrath of the Rajput community. One wonders what use is the lofty talk of cultural syncretism and inclusive model when the entire might of the executive and judiciary cannot ensure incident-free release and screening of one movie. India’s unique appeal as an open, liberal and multicultural society would take a severe beating if cultural hooligans are allowed to have a free run. It is ironic that on a day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveiled a vision of modern and inclusive India at a global forum in Davos, a shameful street violence breaks out back home over a fictional work. What is more astonishing is that even a stern warning from the highest court of the land had little impact on the ground. The State governments must be directed to arrest the leaders of Karni Sena and, take stringent action against violent protestors and ensure peaceful screening of the movie.