It’s Not Just About Padmavati: How Well Do We Know Our History? 
Thank you Karni Sena!
Thank you Karni Sena!(Photo: Saumya Pankaj/The Quint)

It’s Not Just About Padmavati: How Well Do We Know Our History? 

If all had gone well, this weekend we would have been watching Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s magnum opus Padmavati. If only...

Anyhoo...

We all know the release of the film has now been indefinitely postponed, thanks to the fringe groups under the aegis of Shri Rajput Karni Sena, who’ve been violently agitating against the film. These groups have thrived because of the silence of our collective conscience and the inaction of the state that has provided a conducive environment to such elements.

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What is even more baffling is how these groups have been brought from the fringes to the mainstream by the media that has given them primetime coverage throughout.

It is totally understandable that the media ought to cover their agitation, but covering them and surrendering their TV studios to sword-wielding self-styled protectors of Indian culture are two different things. We have seen a lot of odd things on Indian television, but this, and that too on leading Indian news channels, was too baffling to comprehend.

The entire episode has been said to have political motives, and these motives – along with the rising intolerance and ever-shrinking artistic freedom in our society – have been explored quite well.

But, there is something at the core of this entire saga that has not been dug deep enough, something whose ramifications we have been witnessing over the past many years – the poor state of historical awareness.

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Even as Bhansali told a parliamentarians’ panel that the film is based on the poem of Malik Muhammad Jayasi’s Padmavat and not on historical account, the agitation is nowhere close to dying. No historical source conclusively establishes the historicity of Rani Padmavati, or Padmini, and yet the popular sentiment has outweighed historical evidence.

A society that runs high on popular sentiment and low on facts cannot be a progressive society and that is why there is some harsh truth in Deepika Padukone’s words when she called India ‘regressive.’

Also Read: Bhansali’s Meeting With the Parliamentary Panel Was ‘Amicable

Marginalised State of Social Sciences

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We’ve witnessed a systematic erosion of social sciences from the Indian education system. Today, most of the schools do not even offer humanities as a subject after class 10. Most of the schools that do provide the stream offer it as an alternative for the tailenders to stay and finish their schooling.

History and political science are subjects that could be taught by anyone who has read the content twice. This is the main reason why it’s common to find an English, hindi, and at times even a science graduate teaching history and political science to students. A subject like history tends to become a bunch of redundant notes, and most of the students just somehow sail through their exams by rote learning.

It is common to see people who are highly educated and settled with comfortable jobs exhibiting radical thoughts and opinions that are factually incorrect. This happens only because they lack historical awareness.

A Perfect Stage for Radicalisation

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We have high school graduates who have no knowledge about Indian history. It is these student who grow up to be quite vulnerable to radicalisation, as we have seen again and again that a distorted preaching of history is the easiest way to sway people, particularly young adults with impressionable minds. This is why we see several young men and women on social media fighting passionately in comment sections and quoting viral WhatsApp messages in defence of the honour of Rani Padmavati.

Unfortunately, WhatsApp has now become the source of historical understanding, rather than informed discussions in classrooms.

‘Historical injustices’ are often cited while rousing popular passions these days. Allauddin Khilji is today not just a sultan who ruled from Delhi but someone who attacked the Indian honour, and it is thus important to protect that honour. Even as hordes of people are on streets demanding heads and noses of people associated with the film and a nationwide ban on its release, we need to tackle the larger issue of historical awareness.

(Madhur Sharma was born and brought up in Meerut in a family of readers and writers. She enjoyed studying history and thus, it was pretty natural for Madhur to opt for arts in school and humanities at Delhi University)

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