The Vasundhara Raje government has banned the release of ‘Padmaavat’ in the state, claiming that the film shows disrespect to Rajput women.
New Delhi: The Padmaavat controversy may have exposed the most conservative side of present-day Rajasthan but that has not deterred the state from ‘celebrating’ liberal ideas on a platform no less than the Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF).
Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje will inaugurate the annual event Thursday which is being organised by the likes of Namita Gokhale, William Dalrymple and Sanjoy K. Roy.
The Raje government has banned the release of ‘Padmaavat’ in the state, claiming that the film shows disrespect to Rajput women. The same government will now welcome writers such as Akhil Katyal, Sagarika Ghose and Shobhaa De — all proponents of liberal ideology.
From rewriting history to excluding Jawaharlal Nehru from school textbooks, to ranking third in the number of rape cases in India (NCRB Data, 2016), Rajasthan has made news in the past few years for all the wrong reasons.
However, Dalrymple, one of the founders and a co-director of JLF, said that the festival has the unequivocal support of the government.
“While the earlier government didn’t co-operate as much, this one has been particularly forthcoming,” he told ThePrint.
“It is saddening to see such crimes happen in Rajasthan, but there is crime in every country. It doesn’t invalidate Jaipur as a beautiful destination to hold a literary festival.”
The JLF will have panels commemorating slain Bengaluru journalist-activist Gauri Lankesh, debating free speech in India and the role of the media.
But a mere three-hour drive from Diggi Palace (Jaipur) where the festival is held, is the town of Alwar, which saw two brutal incidents of cow vigilantism — the lynching of Pehlu Khan and Umair Khan — last year. A little ahead of that is Rajsamand, where a Muslim labourer from West Bengal was burnt alive on camera in a suspected case of ‘love jihad’.
Rajasthan also ranked third in crimes against schedule castes, according to the latest NCRB data.
“It is in this scenario that JLF becomes all the more important for Rajasthan. People must stay engaged and keep talking,” said Anuja Chauhan, author and one of the leading speakers at the festival.
“If you shut off conversation, then you’re playing into the hands of the people who are against dealing with these issues,” she added.
According to NCRB data, Rajasthan also ranks fourth among Indian states in terms of crimes against women.
“From the Hadiya case in Kerala to the rape of a young Dalit girl in Haryana, no government has taken a strong stand on issues pertaining to the safety women,” said Urvashi Butalia, director of feminist publishing house, Zubaan.
“If that were the criterion there would be no place in India where one can go and speak,” she added.
Butalia said that as publishers it is important for them to provide their authors with as much exposure as they can. “The chief minister of Rajasthan has taken a regressive stand. I have no qualms in saying that,” she said.
“But to consider Rajasthan as a state lacking strong feminist women would be wrong. From Roop Kanwar to Bhanwari Devi, Rajasthan has had some very strong female voices,” Butalia added.
Dalrymple claims that the present Rajasthan government has never interfered with the workings of the festival.
Ironically, the JLF will also see the release of a book, ‘Padmini: The Spirited Queen of Chittor’.
“I believe she (Raje) is factoring in the sentiments of the Rajput community. But within the micro space we occupy, this administration has been completely supportive,” Dalrymple said.