Supreme Court dealt a death blow to the sectarian view on personal choice and creative expression in the context of Padmavaat and Hadiya cases by restoring faith in the principle of individual right. Both controversies are different in origin but are linked by a common thread. Both issues are a result of muscular cultural nationalism which India is witnessing since 2014 in the name of political redemption and cultural renaissance. Both controversies are also laced with patriarchy and communitarian view of the power, gender and justice.
The muscular cultural nationalism worked at two levels in both cases. In the case of Padmavat (which is a case of literature), the controversy became, allegedly, a matter of honour for the Rajput community. It also became an attempt to correct the history in context of the present politics. Even the defeat at the hand of Khilji becomes a moral victory. A victory of character which surpasses the physical and historical fact of defeat.
In the case of Hadiya, interfaith marriage between two individuals became a conspiracy to change the demographic reality of India. It became an act of subversion, conspiracy by a section of the community, allowing the state to separate the couple. The discourse did not differentiate between criminal conspiracy by few and love marriage between the two.
Both simultaneously undermine individual right in the context of the argument that no liberty is absolute. Both issues represent a sense of political redemption in terms of course correction of body politics in the present as well as claims of cultural renaissance by positing essence in core values related to a particular period, excluding medieval from ancient by stopping the clock of history. Both also represent shift within the discourse of nationalism. In India, the shift has been tangible. It has become cultural and community-centric, shifting from the civic and the constitutional.
Once the focus shifts from the civic body to the community, it acquires the power to subsume issues unrelated to it. For example, both Hadiya and Padmawati, apart from communitarian in nature is also very patriarchal. I doubt if the man would have been a Hindu and the woman Muslim in Hadiya case, there would have been an issue.
Padmavati becomes problematic on two counts. Rajput valour is both an accepted and a contested fact. It is accepted as a code of honour and contested because Rajputs, like any other royalties, made basic compromises to survive whether it was getting incorporated into Mughal mansabdari system or acquiescing to the British paramountcy.
The honour of the Rajput community becomes embedded in Padmavati’s body, wherein ‘Talwar’ and ‘Kangan’ become symbols of honour, sacrifice and resolve. Most fascinating part is that Rajput becomes interchangeable with Hindu. Rajput becomes a Hindu in the context of a Muslim and posited as the royalty in context of the other Hindu castes. Surprisingly, this sensibility is neither ancient or medieval. It is modern and product of communitarian sensibility, which wants to assert over and above the individual and his rights enshrined in the Constitution.
Both discourses challenge the constitutional power. Padmavaat and the Hadiya coerce constitutional authorities to do their bidding. Padmavaat receives support from popular governments in the name of law and order and Hadiya from investigating agencies as it sees it as a threat to the state. Both do not differentiate between criminal intent and individual acts of choice and creativity.
The debate gets locked between the binary of us and them wherein the majority community feels that all creative expression gets reserved for them and minority community is allowed far greater religious and cultural expression. This sense of injustice subverts constitutional power with the tacit support of the governments sustaining tension at grass root level.
This politics is also an assault on the justice system. Justice becomes subservient to popular sentiment. Popular sentiment becomes a cheaply available commodity, amplified over the Internet and TV to be milked at right time and place. It subverts judicial pronouncements in the name of cultural expression and asserts the authenticity of the community over the modern nation-state. In the process, the commitment of the Constitution to an individual becomes a contested fact and the responsibility of the nation and law towards the community becomes mandatory. It reflects the subversion of letter and spirit of the law.
In both the cases, the Court has played a better role than lawmakers who have fallen prey to sectional sentiments. Democracy should represent, accommodate and care for all sections and their sentiment but should never become a hostage to it.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)