Karni Sena and Dominant Ideology, Part II

Karni Sena

A previous article about the inanity of the Karni Sena attacking its own founding tenets by protesting against Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s directorial venture Padmaavat understood the caste privilege that goes into securing Rajput honour through the metaphors embodied by their aggressive narrative—cutting the lead actress’s nose, making a film about the director’s mother in retaliation, burning effigies, mobilising support among Rajput women by attacking their perceptions of ‘Ma Padmini’ etc. It examined the political angle underlying this aggressive mobilisation because Rajasthan is nearing election time and many of the leaders of Sena mobs have inclinations to compete for political power. The nexus of this protest, which unforgivably set a school bus on fire and threatened innocent children with no relation to their cause, also lies in the current Rajasthan political leadership overtly or covertly supporting the Karni Sena. This also draws our attention to a newly evolving protest culture because rioting and destruction in public spaces is more acceptable than peaceful protests by students agitating against violence. The violence inherent in this resurgent system of protest also finds justification in the notion of Rajput pride because it is understood as a situation of combat wherein the Rajput community has to take whatever steps needed to keep its honour secure. It is a battle against perceived threats, evoking ancient folk songs and myths the current generations were socialised into, and the film’s crew and filmmaker are considered the hated ‘other’. Many journalists exploring this issue in their work have noted how the older generation responds emotionally to these taints on Rajput identity, while the younger generation responds more violently. What has caused this spiralling of feeling from sentiment to anger? How does the dominant ideology of caste pride manipulate those feeding into it through emerging leadership?

These questions become even more interesting when this aggression against the film was dissipated at the drop of a hat when a Karni Sena leader finally identified the film as a acceptable glorification of his caste. Yogendra Singh Katar (National Vice-President of Shri Rajput Karni Sena) and Maharshtra Co-ordinator Jeevan Singh have retracted their objections to the film by saying, “We saw the movie and do not find anything wrong or defamatory in the movie. So, we have decided to withdraw our agitation against the movie and will allow its release in Gujarat and Rajasthan.” But the internal factionalism within this group was revealed when much publicised Karni Sena Chief Lokendra Singh Kalvi denounced these claims by saying that these are ‘fake’ groups and their assertions must be ignored since he is the sole founder of the Sena. “There are many fake Karni Senas emerging in India. At present there are eight such entities operating in the country with vested interests,” he asserted. Nevertheless, at the heart of this protest are issues of valour in battle that are central to Rajput identity, and socialised into children through many an Amar Chitra Katha. The Padmaavat they have a problem with is a fictional retelling with multiple versions much like the dynamic text of the Mahabharata, and has recorded immense change across contexts and time periods to function as a Sufi text and as a folk culture simultaneously. Which version does the Sena have a problem with? Divya Cherian explains the motivation underlying the monopolising force of nationalism and connects it with this text-film, “As the earliest imaginings of an Indian nation—and a Hindu nation—began to take shape, Padmini became a token of the self-sacrificing, virtuous, and chaste Hindu woman that was to be at its heart. In this idealised form, her decision to annihilate her own body was celebrated for the preservation of her ‘honour’ (read ‘chastity’) through which was indexed the honour of her husband, her family, her community, and now, her nation…The current row over Padmini’s portrayal only underscores that in the long arc of its history, the imagined Hindu nation holds in its heart the dutiful, chaste Hindu woman, who acquiesces to patriarchal controls and only exercises her agency within their bounds.”

As argued before, the group solidarity evoked through mobilisation in the name of identity also paves the way for the dismissal of this mobilisation through the force of its leadership. To use a similar frame, committing the act of jauhar for example, would not be a mark of courage if all the recorded women of the text did not embody a cohesive system of behaviour. Conformity is the strength of protest, and of symbolism. This erases the possibility of questioning and induces blind faith. “Cultural Identity is a strange, nebulous thing. It serves the purpose of social cohesion but it also puts us into social silos. It roots the younger generation in the group’s cherished values, but it can also blind one to the community’s flaws”, Lom Harshni Chauhan says. It seems that the Karni Sena of today is falling into the same trap, one that closely parallels superstition and halts social change.

-Contributed by Kriti

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