Hundreds of supporters of fringe right-wing Hindu groups, like the Rajput Karni Sena, ran amok across several Indian states on Wednesday in a bid to stall the release of Bollywood film ‘Padmaavat,’ slated for Thursday.
Demonstrators, yet to watch the movie, accuse its director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, of distorting history by depicting a romance between queen Padmaavati and 14th century Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji.
The filmmakers deny the accusation and have offered to hold a special screening of the movie for the leaders of at least one of the right-wing groups.
In Gurgaon, just outside the Indian capital New Delhi, protesters attacked a school bus. They threw stones at the bus as petrified students crouched on the floor of the bus in fear, Indian broadcaster NDTV reported. No one was injured in the attack.
‘We will not tolerate any violence’
In a separate incident in the city, a bus was torched by a mob, blocking a major highway.
The protesters carried sticks and caused minor injuries to 14 people, said B.S. Sandhu, a senior police official, adding that police had detained 15 protesters.
“We will not tolerate any violence in the name of protests against a movie,” Sandhu added. “Sporadic rioting did take place but no one will be allowed to protest now.”
Similar riots unfolded in other cities, with baton-wielding police charging protesters in Etawah in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh state as they marched through the streets. Demonstrators also blocked a passenger train in the city of Mathura in the state.
Read more: Will Bollywood lure Germans?
Security stepped up
In Mumbai, home to some of the country’s biggest film production houses, police have boosted security at all theaters screening the film, and detained more than 100 members of protest groups as a precaution, a senior police official said.
In the western state of Gujarat, police arrested 20 rioters following widespread vandalism and arson on Tuesday night. Extra forces have been deployed near malls and cinema halls in the industrial city of Ahmedabad following the incident, which saw 50 motorbikes torched and cars and malls vandalized
With the protests expected to continue, Inox multiplexes, India’s second largest theater chain, has decided not to play the movie at its theaters in Gujarat and Rajasthan, the two states hit by the worst protests.
“Our primary concern is the security of our employees and audiences. I think this is a decision that almost every theater owner in these two states has taken,” said Deepak Asher of Inox.
A group of about 150 women belonging to the Rajput community have threatened 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.
The film was cleared for release earlier this month by the country’s censor board with five changes, including tweaking the title to ‘Padmaavat,’ from ‘Padmavati.’ Despite the clearance, some Indian states banned the screening of the movie, citing law and order concerns. The ban was overturned by the country’s top court last week.
Several hardliners, including a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have offered bounties of up to 50 million rupees (€635,000, $769,000) to anyone who “beheaded” lead actress Deepika Padukone or the film’s director Bhansali.
ap/ls (Reuters, AFP)