In a recent article by Swara Bhaskar “At The End of Your Magnum Opus… I Felt Reduced to a Vagina – Only”, she criticizes the act of Jauhar and terms it disgraceful and against women rights. She casts doubt on the traditional belief that Jauhar is an act of courage and instead views the custom as a violation of women rights and liberty. She also links the whole controversy to the role of freedom of expression in our society. Are her assertions justified?
The popular poet Amir Khusrao, who accompanied Khilji wrote about the latter’s exploits in Khaza’in ul-Futuh or Tarikh-i Alai.
In his work, he mentioned that Allaudin Khilji started his march on 28th Jan 1303 and was initially unsuccessful in capturing the fort using frontal attacks and then he took help of magẖrabī (possibly catapults). Afterwards, he compared the whole situation with the well-known story from chapter 27 of Quran where Solomon demanded the personal presence of Balquis, the queen of Seba, thus indicating that similar condition might had been made by Khilji for some lady. Then he mentioned that Khilji won the battle on 26 Aug 1303 and afterwards he personally went to fort and instead of being happy on success, he was red faced with anger, possibly due to non-fulfilment of his desire (italics mine). Then he vented his anger on remaining 30,000 Hindus by ordering their massacre.
Clearly, this narrative doesn’t contradict the parallel narrative of Rajputs though it is true that their narrative has been distorted over time because of oral transmission. Also, silence is not a proof of absence of something and there was no reason for the author to detail his master’s moral defeat. Moreover there is no special reason to completely dismiss Rajputs sides of story and treat them like liars just because of poor preservation of their history.
Jauhar is an act of extreme self-sacrifice which was committed often with all the valuables, so that the enemy even after victory would not get any spoils. It was done in order to avoid a life of torture as sex slaves similar to what happened to Yazidis in ISIS territory. It also acted as a deterrence by converting the enemy’s victory to Pyrrhic victory and making the enemy guilty of their pains and deaths. It was also a psychological victory over cruel enemy by signalling other societies about the ideologies of the enemy and making them alert and by awakening their sleeping consciousness. It was an act of heroism and valor where the message was sent to barbarian enemies that they could not have their way through jihadi terrorism. If they would have surrendered without hard resistance, then it’d have emboldened the barbarians and might have resulted in hundreds of Khiljis. Jauhar was also the fight for protection of fundamental human rights and ironically an act of women empowerment which sent the message to the invaders that they weren’t some objects who could be stolen and raped but they had their own self-identity and rights and would only live under their own conditions.
The act of Jauhar-Saka was practiced only against Jihadists and with the end of Jihadists wars, it came to an end. Some of the Jauhar were done against Jihadists like Muhammed bin Qasim, Shams ud-Din Iltutmish, Bahadur Shah, Muhammad bin Tughluq, Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Aurangzeb etc.
Like Jauhar, many other individuals sacrificed themselves for greater good like activists who self-sacrifice through hunger strike or soldiers who sacrifice themselves for defence of the nation. The technique of hunger strike and potential death was also used by Mahatma Gandhi to succumb Britishers to negotiations and to end sectarian violence and the same is gloried in our textbooks and all over the world. Similarly, during Mughal rule, to protect fundamental human rights, Guru Tegh Bahadur ji challenged Aurangzeb that if he could be converted to Islam then all Pandits will also convert otherwise they be left alone. He was tortured for five days and then to terrorise him, three of his accomplices viz., Bhai Mati Das was sawn alive, Bhai Dyal Das was boiled in the cauldron and the Bhai Sati Das was roasted alive before the Guru but he remained calm and composed and finally he was beheaded in public.
Jauhar requires extreme courage as dying in fire is extremely painful and this could be judged by just trying to burn one’s finger. It is very painful to see lack of any empathy towards situation of those who had to self-sacrifice and criminalizing the victims themselves rather than the Jihadists.
Liberty and Right to live
It has become fashionable to call oneself liberal and supporter of human rights without even having the basic understanding of it. It is not same as imitation of zeitgeist culture of developed countries out of inferiority complex but to respect individual choices.
Equating Jauhar with female genital mutilation (FGM) or honor killings shows a complete lack of understanding of the difference between murder and self-sacrifice, and between an action which grants individual rights and one which violates it. Unlike Jauhar, which is a voluntary act of courage, in honor killings people are murdered against their wishes for someone else’s perceived loss of honor. Jauhar must also not be compared with deplorable practice of FGM, which is also against the wishes and clearly the violation of human rights and child rights. The ideology that women should be annihilated if the genitals have been violated or if her genitals are no longer in the control of a ‘rightful’ male owner comes from honor killings and not form Jauhar. Maybe the anger should be directed towards those who stone such people to death and forcefully impose their barbarian ideologies on others. It is also true that women are not only walking talking vaginas, but such lessons need to be given to those who consider women as objects, marry them during childhood and treat them as an instrument to increase their population and political influence. It had never been the culture of ancient India to kill someone just because a person has been raped.
Jauhar is different from murder as it is chosen by the person and it is their right and liberty to choose their fate and live their life as per their will as long as they do not harm others. So, it cannot be termed as violation of rights. Moreover the illogical argument that women had right to live despite being raped is completely out of context since their husbands, fathers and brothers were already dead in battle to impose their will on them.
Just as the lynching of blacks by murderous white mobs in the 19th century in the US must be understood in the context of racism and racial hatred, so too Jauhar must be viewed as an extreme reaction against brutal jihadi ideology of treating women as war booty, as less than humans and as sex slaves, fit only to be be auctioned and raped. Equating Jauhar with lynching simply shows Swara’s complete lack of understanding of human rights.
Freedom of Expression and artistic freedom
Many people state that there should be absolute freedom of expression (FoE), but then other people give the example of man deceitfully shouting fire in the cinema hall and causing death of people from the resulted panic or the example of slogans to divide India. In this confusion over where to draw this line, some advocate restricting it where it hurts sentiments of others but that gives the state power to virtually ban everything, as anything a person say could potentially hurt someone.
In 1950, a journal named Cross Roads, was banned for publishing critical views on Nehruvian policy and when they moved SC against the move then court ruled that the imposition of pre-censorship on a journal is a restriction on the liberty of the press and also observed that the FoE is one of the most valuable rights guaranteed to a citizen by the Constitution.[i] That led our first PM to bring the very first amendment of our constitution that diluted fundamental rights like FoE and right to equality. FoE was restricted where it could affect decency, morality, public order, defamation etc. through which almost anything could be banned while the right to equality was diluted through quotas.
But in truth the only line which should limit the freedom of expression is the line which restricts people from lying, deceit and breaks the nation. If a person is speaking the truth or giving his opinion based on facts, then it doesn’t matter if it hurts the sentiments of anyone and it must not be restricted.
So, coming back to artistic freedom, it doesn’t allow people to distort facts or spread lies and propaganda, but it should allow unlimited freedom in fiction. Like in Padmavat, we saw distortion of facts e.g. wife of Khilji helping Ratansingh to flee or presenting Khilji as capricious etc. That distortion of facts doesn’t come under artistic freedom despite disclaimer that it is the work of fiction. Rather, he has full artistic freedom to tell a story with different names unrelated to real characters with all kind of dream sequences like the way Bahubali was shown or he should have made the movie as per the historical facts.
So, it is time to undo the very first mistake in form of first amendment and allow back FoE. Those whose sentiments get hurt with almost everything should simply avoid reading and watching rather work on improving their distorted thinking.
Due to restriction imposed on FoE, the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) has arbitrary powers to cut scenes or to deny clearance to the film instead of just certification.[ii] Like the movie Udta Punjab was restricted from clearance and was told to make 89 cuts which were later reduced to just one by the court. CBFC in the last decade has denied clearance to 256 films.[iii]
And even after the movie gets clearance from CBFC, the movie is banned by state governments citing potential law and order situations. In the past many movies like Water, Da Vinci code, Vishwaroopam when through similar bans.
The reason that we’ve accepted the Constitution is that the fundamental rights of the individuals be protected from such elements who try to violate such rights through force and violence. If there could be law and order situations, then it is the government job is to take actions against such elements rather than to come under such pressure from such elements and ban the movie or book. Also, there should not be any special screening for anyone if the movie is based on facts as FoE is the fundamental right of everyone regardless of whose sentiments are hurt.
Also, there were some baseless charges that the movie had 70 cuts, but it is widely known that censor board didn’t make even a single cut and SLB didn’t state that anywhere and one wonders how such lies get peddled in the main stream media.
Everyone has a set of personal values. Two people may admire diametrically opposite things. However in a civilized society they should respect individual choices and agree to disagree in a polite manner.
The view that a person would be happy to be raped and enslaved, than to sacrifice her life to protect her honor and that of her clan, is a reflection of individual’s values rather than any commentary on human rights. There are some who are ready to do anything to prevent death, while a Kshatriya or a soldier would gladly give up their life for the sake of the nation’s welfare.
Featured Image: Hindustan Times