Deconstructing the Sanjay Leela Bhansali and the Dholkal Ganesha issues
We woke up to two pieces of news on January 28, 2017. The first: public-outcry on Sanjay Leela Bhansali for misrepresenting Rajput history. The second: of a 1,000 year old Ganesha sculpture in Chhattisgarh being destroyed by Naxals.
Film director Anurag Kashyap, who isn’t really known for his investigative-abilities as much as he is for his imaginative fiction-writing; magically root-caused the Sanjay Leela Bhansali issue to “Hindu Terror”. The Naxals’ destruction of the Dholkal Ganesha though, was an “act of frustration that comes from exclusion”.
Sanjay Leela Bhansali – The “Victim”
Here’s some proverbial crystal-gazing, which I’m guessing will come true this weekend.
Very soon, the Lutyens media will crowd around Sanjay Leela Bhansali and make a victim out of him. Very soon, the Lutyens media will forget the Dholkal Ganesha. Oh! Wait a minute! They already have.
Very soon, TV anchors from their air-conditioned studios will set up “debates” on right-of-expression and artistic-freedom. Token historians will opine that Khilji was just a “romantically-inclined” ruler and that after all he was human. Token legal-experts will argue that Bhansali’s film comes with a ‘fiction’ disclaimer. Token victims from Bollywood will claim how they feel trolled and abused. This assorted panel will conclude that intolerance is spreading in the country.
Token journalists, conducting these debates will sprinkle liberally (pun intended), the broad-spectrum-refuge-of-journalistic-incompetence: “allegedly”, “reportedly”, “it is felt” and “many people believe”.
All this will happen forgetting two fundamental facts. That Bhansali is (a) trapping Padmavati in a patriarchal narrative; and (b) is romanticising Khilji, a serial rapist.
In the end Bhansali walks away with free publicity.
The Dholkal Ganesha – An “unfortunate incident”
I am tasking myself with illuminating you about Dholkal Ganesha’s history and the social-context. This is an onus that I have to unwillingly shoulder, as mainstream media will just not do it.
The 6-feet tall imposing, stone sculpture sat on a cliff at a height of 13,000 feet, in the dense Bastar forest in Chhattisgarh. The 1,000-year-old murti was discovered only in 2012 and has since become a destination for both religious-tourists and adventure-tourists. Chhattisgarh Tourism Board and many private- operators offer day-treks to the Ganesha, thereby bringing many Indian and international travellers seeking to combine heritage and adventure.
Except for one small problem. The Bastar forests are Maoist-lands. You and I are not welcome there.
Santosh Misra, an IAS officer from the Culture & Tourism department, tweeted “Police suspects it 2 be a handiwork of naxals. Busloads of ppl had started coming to this area.” A senior police official added, “Over the past few years, because of its unique presence, many people have been trekking up to the mountain, which may have been hampering their (the Maoists’) work. It is possible that the Maoists have a hand in this”.
What they did very simply, was push the Ganesha off the cliff into the ravine. The thousand-year old murti obviously could not survive the fall, and shattered into pieces in a matter of seconds.
Laal-Salaam-land has no space for civilisation, let alone progressive concepts like tourism and heritage-conservation. Maoists figured that footfalls would mean trade; trade would mean prosperity; and prosperity would mean a threat to their business-model.
So they did whatever any self-respecting businessman would do when his rozi-roti is threatened. Destroy competition!
If you think this is a one-off incident, then think again. We see a process-driven, systematic destruction of Hindu symbols and murtis across India, especially West Bengal and Kerala.
But it is not just about faith alone. They have bombed factories, burnt buses and destroyed bridges, just to insulate their followers from prosperity and development. Pushing an historic-murti off a cliff is the tiniest of moral-dilemmas before them.
This is pathological behaviour, and their cash-flows depend on it. It was only a matter of time that the Ganesha would be destroyed; and was purely a “business decision”. That a Hindu symbol was destroyed, was an emotional bonus for them; a red-cherry-topping on the red-forest cake.
So what does Ganesha have to do with Bhansali?
Other than the seemingly unrelated coincidence of timing, there are some deep, insidious parallels in these cases.
Both were attacks on Hindus and Hindu Dharma. One was sophisticated, under the garb of a progressive filmmaker; the other was crass, by a bunch of frustrated Naxals.
In both these cases, our friends in media will start painting the perpetrators as victims.
While no one should condone the violence, Bhansali will soon forget that what he is doing to Rani Padmavati’s memory is much worse than getting slapped.
While no one should condone the violence, Maoists who continue to destroy India’s Past (heritage), Present (villages in Bastar) and Future (development projects), will continue to be romanticised by Bollywood and the media.
Both of them spark a provocation, only to benefit financially from it. Both of them (probably) want to get slapped around once in a while. After all, sympathy is a huge currency. It is sad, but that’s how it works. Khilji tried to rape Padmavati once. Its time Bollywood, Maoists and Media stopped trying to do it again.
By Anuraag Saxena
(The writer is the Regional CEO with World Education Foundation and also runs the India Pride Project. The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the writer)