A Sena has held India hostage by indulging in brazen violence and arson attacks on cinema halls. Their anger is in response to a film, based on the life of a mythological Rajput queen, who committed self-immolation to protect herself from a foreign Muslim ruler.
Karni Sena has unleashed a reign of terror across the country over the release of Padmaavat on Thursday. The upholders of Rajput ‘honour’ have even targeted school buses and public property.
But, what’s the story behind Karni Sena?
The group initially started off as an organization of unemployed Rajputs in 2005 with an intention of collectively fighting for reservation of Rajputs in the state. But this soon translated into other things like becoming the self-declared vigilantes of Rajput honour.
One of its earliest manifestations came in 2009 when the group got involved in an inter-caste fight between two students in the University of Rajasthan. Even though caste-conflict is not new to the campuses of Rajasthan, the Karni Sena quickly became an umbrella for various Rajput groups in the state’s universities and colleges.
Since then, the group has been heard about only when it comes to films depicting historical Muslim rulers and their Hindu subjects.
In fact, Padmaavat is not the first film to come in the line of fire of Rajput Karni Sena.
Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodhaa Akbar and Anil Kumar’s Veer has also faced the wrath of Rajput Karni Sena. But none of the directors gave up to the threats, even when some of the cinema halls in Rajasthan had refused to showcase the film. While a few cinemas were attacked, the scale of violence was small.
This is the first time the group has been able to mobilize people beyond the borders of Rajasthan. While at least three state governments initially bowed down to the demands of banning the films in their states, it was Supreme Court which ensured the film’s release after staying the ban ordered by the state governments.
Prior to the release, the group had threatened the film’s director Sanjay Leela Bhansali and the lead actress Deepika Padukone with violence. Some of its leaders openly announced monetary rewards for the head of Bhansali.
However, Karni Sena’s job doesn’t only entail protesting for the Rajput honour. In September last year, an India Today sting operation revealed how members of the Sena orchestrated attacks on film sets and then offered “protection” to the producers from mobs.
Where do they get their power?
Rajputs form one of the major chunks of caste groups in Rajasthan. Their votes are valuable to any political party and they know it. With assembly elections scheduled later this year, the lukewarm reaction of the state government to the blatant vandalism by Rajputs is understandable.
The founder of Karni Sena, Lokendra Singh Kalvi has been aggressively vocal against the release of Padmaavat. But Kalvi is not new to politics. He’s a seasoned politician and even contested elections, though unsuccessfully. Kalvi has been a member of India’s both major political parties – Congress and BJP – besides launching a separate party.
How much clout Kalvi enjoys is nakedly visible through the extent of destruction and violence unleashed by his group.