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~By Sanjay Raman Sinha

The storm over Padmavat has brought to the fore faultlines in the community. Unbridled rampage by hitherto unknown Karni Sena has again underlined the fragile times in which we live.

But more importantly, violent protests over the film despite the stern ruling of the apex court has ominous portents. The Constitution itself has been challenged. Freedom of expression, as guaranteed by the Constitution and enforced by Supreme Court rulings have been encroached upon. The dubious stand of the four Indian states is also worrisome.

The violence on Padmavat began on 14th April in Jaipur when Karni Sena members vandalised the sets of Padmavat and slapped the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali. As the film got ready for release, sporadic violent protests became a regular feature and finally the effigy burning and hooliganism left a trail of unrestrained parochial frenzy over the film.

As Karni Sena made headlines by wanton violence and protest, and state after state writhed and broiled in the fires of violence, the central government maintained a stoic silence. The government held that policing is a state subject and unless the violence-stricken states ask for help the Centre can do nothing.

As protestors indulged in mindless violence and broke law with impunity, people squirmed and suffered. Gurugram saw a brutish display of terror. Protestors jammed the streets and highway, and wreaked havoc. Even a school bus carrying children was not spared. Other states were also no stranger to hoodlumism.

Governments of Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana played shy of getting the film a safe release in their respective states. All this despite the fact that the Supreme Court had directed the state governments to ensure a safe and secure release of the film.

In Gujarat the multiplex owners out of sheer fear and retaliation have publicly announced that they won’t screen the film. Still the vandals played havoc with multiplexes and tore into malls and smashed shops. The government was found wanting in preventing the lunacy.

The Supreme Court had cleared the release of Padmavat and overturned the decision of four states to ban its screening.

The film was given a screening certificate by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) but was opposed by Haryana, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.

Madhya Pradesh’s law officer had argued that his government has the right to invoke Section 6 of the MP Cinemas (Regulation) Act, 1952, to suspend the exhibition of any film to maintain law and order.

Other three states have also, in their own way, cocked a snook at the apex court. This attracts the charge of contempt of court. Petitions have already been filed at the court to take cognizance of the offence. But the matter is serious. The way the Court’s order has been publicly flouted by a show of unbridled  defiance can set dangerous precedent.

More so because the state and its elected representatives have chosen to challenge the law of the land. This is a clear case of institutional anarchy and can cleave the nation.

Moreover, fringe groups can take the cue and confront and disregard the rule of law . This can lead to anarchy and breakdown of administrative machinery.

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