India's jobless are finding refuge in vandalism

Padmaavat may have an uneventful release, and may even do good business.

By Aditya Sinha

Published: Wed 24 Jan 2018, 10:06 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jan 2018, 12:08 AM

Today, Padmaavat releases across India thanks to a decision of the Supreme Court of India defending filmmaker Sanjay Leela Bhansali's freedom of expression. It was supposed to release on December 1 but a lunatic fringe group objected to a rumoured dream sequence in the film where Queen Padmavati danced before Alaudin Khilji of the 13th century Delhi sultanate. Without having actually previewed the film, these lunatics threatened to behead lead actor Deepika Padukone, if it was exhibited. One Karni Sainik last week threatened to bury her alive. Deepika has reportedly slipped into depression. (She has courageously spoken openly about her depression, and her advocacy of mental health issues has been a beacon in India, where such things have traditionally been swept under the carpet.) Bollywood rumour is that she had a breakdown and is no condition to shoot; Kriti Sanon is said to have replaced her in a film. You feel bad for her, getting caught in an electorally motivated controversy.

In fact, to my abiding shame, my birthplace Muzaffarpur in Bihar featured on most front pages in India last weekend. The local chapter of Karni Sena - it did not even exist before this controversy, but is now a vehicle for unemployed upper-caste youth - vandalised Jyoti cinema hall. Thankfully it is better in Gurgaon, where I live. On Monday, I went to a local multiplex to watch The Post (brilliant, must see), and the box office counter was walled in by local cops to prevent any vandalism by any Karni Sena neanderthals. This is because the Haryana chief minister has decided to respect the Supreme Court decision. I sighed in relief; it gives me a chance to take my elderly parents to watch a morning show this weekend.

India, like Bihar, has lots of educated but unemployed young men. Technology has aided social change, particularly the empowerment of women, and young men's frustration is channelled into outfits like the Karni Sena. Obviously, it does not represent all Rajputs but it has garnered enough unemployed young men to emerge as a threat to civilised society. Indeed, its only achievement has been the diminishing of the Rajput's image: earlier, the Rajput was associated with valour, courage, strength and a formidable moustache; now he is just a moustache.

Karni Sena and others would disappear if India had more jobs. Indeed, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power promising job creation, but there has been little of that. The manufacturing sector is still sluggish, and the real estate sector, which is where surplus farm labour gets absorbed, has still not revived. One was optimistic that demonetisation's blow would have passed by now, but instead Modi in recent TV interviews has asked Indians not to judge him by demonetisation or the badly implemented GST alone. That speaks volumes. Modi added that a pakoda-wala (streetfood vendor) could also be construed as employment generated. While we all believe in dignity of labour, the prospect of frying pakodas (fritters) does not alleviate the frustration of the educated unemployed. Selling pakodas is not a solution but a symptom of the problem. No wonder the ranks of the Karni Senas swell with each passing day.

Padmaavat may have an uneventful release, and may even do good business. Deepika hopefully will recover and return to work. But one thing is not hard to predict: unless there is an avalanche of jobs, India can expect societal nastiness to continue for years.

Aditya Sinha is a senior journalist based in India

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