Hindu hardliners rampaged through several Indian cities on Wednesday protesting the release of Padmaavat on the eve of its cinema debut, as violent mobs clashed with police, torched vehicles and vandalised malls.
The unrest followed a night of rioting in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state of Gujarat, where police fired shots in the air to disperse hundreds protesting against this film about a legendary Hindu queen.
Demonstrators claim the film falsely depicts a romance between queen Padmavati and 14th century Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji. Producers deny this and insist they have portrayed her respectfully in the movie, which has not yet been viewed by its critics.
Police have doubled down on security around cinemas across India ahead of the film’s release on Thursday, rounding up Hindu hardliners.
A bus was torched on Wednesday by a mob in Gurgaon, a satellite city outside the capital New Delhi, briefly blocking a major highway to the south as protesters pelted stones at police.
Similar riots unfolded in other cities, with baton-wielding police charging protesters in Etawah in Uttar Pradesh state as they marched through the streets. Demonstrators also stopped a passenger train on the tracks in Mathura, another large city in the state.
Cinemas and malls were targeted by protesters in several cities, including Jammu where a ticket booth was torched. Police in riot gear were stationed outside theatres as threats of violence escalated.
A caste-based group, the Shree Rajput Karni Sena, has threatened to attack cinemas showing the film.
A group of about 150 women belonging to the Rajput caste threatened on Wednesday to burn themselves alive if the film was released.
“The government should either ban the film, or give us the permission to kill ourselves,” one of the women told Indian broadcaster Times Now.
Efforts by several states to ban its release was rejected by India’s top court, which ruled such action violated creative freedom. Ahmedabad police commissioner A. K Singh said extra forces had been deployed near malls and cinema halls in the Gujarati city following widespread vandalism and arson on Tuesday evening.
“The mob resorted to violence despite the cinema hall owners assuring that they will not screen ‘Padmaavat’,” Singh told reporters.
Originally published in Dawn, January 25th, 2018