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Lament of a proud Rajput

Just as a Rajput is committed to protect his faith and valour, he is equally indebted to his dignified conduct in the face of adversity.

Lament of a proud Rajput

As the proverbial Midnight's children, we were born to Nehru's forewarning, "The past clings on to us still in some measure and we have to do much before we redeem the pledges," the wounded soul of the new sovereign called India, had found guiding utterance. The new order sought to disband perceived inequities and regressive societal instincts, yet, there was no dichotomy in my grandfather, a fiercely proud and progressive Rajput, who always insisted on the dignity of 'living up to being a Rajput'! As the sun finally set on the British crown, the princely states had started vesting their future in the composition of India – most willfully, and some not. The existential Kshatriya codes of 'rule and authority' were suddenly posited in the face of the aspired equality of rights, opportunities and responsibilities. Wisely, the grandfather who had seen different privileges in his life was no supremacist, he reassured us of our own tryst with destiny, as long as we invested in education and enlightenment.

Years later, the familiar echo of 'living up to being a Rajput' came back explicitly, when a nineteen-year-old officer got baptised into the famed Rajput Regiment. I followed the footsteps of innumerable ancestors to answer my own call to honour. Like at home, the essentialities and contours of being a 'Rajput' were more in spirit, than the narrow confines of castes, religion, race or region. My battalion 17th Rajput was raised by an illustrious 'Rajput' called Field Marshal KM Cariappa (a Coorgi), and my immediate hero as a wide-eyed subaltern was the Commanding Officer, a garrulous and barrel-chested Sikh, affectionately called 'Baba Gill'. Before Yadunath Singh had won the Rajput Regiment its Param Vir Chakra, another braveheart, Sepoy Kamal Ram (a Gurjar) had honoured us with a Victoria Cross – the pride of the 'Rajputs', a Coorgi, a Sikh and a Gurjar, all who swore by the regimental motto, "Victory or death in battle has been the religion of the Rajputs from time immemorial. It is his character that he knows no fear". The bigotry of puritanical interpretations was frowned upon, and the celebration of the 'Rajput' spirit, encouraged.
As kids, we were impressed upon the 'Rajput' heroes and villains of history, in equal measures – a deliberate attempt was made to nuance and instil a certain narrative that reflected our preferred sensibilities. The treachery of Jai Chand wasn't hidden from us, yet, the indefatigable Ranas of Mewar and General Zorawar Singh (the unsung, 'Napoleon of India') were the definitive leitmotifs of 'living up to being a Rajput'. Even then, more than victory itself, the large-hearted nobility of Prithviraj Chauhan in forgiving the enemy, the intrinsic 'inclusivity' of Rana Pratap's Bhil Army and the 'death over dishonour' of Rani Padmini were our emotional payoffs. There was something expansive in that interpretation of the 'Rajput' chivalry that cut across religions and other divides. During the Raj Days, the Muslim Kaim Khani squadron of the Poona Horse or the Muslim Ranghar squadron of the Skinner's Horse were amongst the finest 'Rajput' soldiers (both rightfully claim common ancestry) known to the Armed Forces. Clearly, time and tide allowed us to sift the chaff from the wheat in the harlotry of history to propound a less suffocating and a more liberal celebration of being a 'Rajput', where spirit and beliefs mattered, and not some arbitrary certification or exclusivism.
Seventy years post-independence, the 'Rajput' still struggles to come to terms with the new normal. The new normal is brutally transactional and unemotional – an anathema to the community codes that still reminisce noble antiquities like 'death to dishonour' in this century! While still punching above its weight in the Armed Forces, politics and sports, statistically the new-age realms and opportunities still warrant more presence. A silent disgust at the continuous vilification of the community by Bollywood, wherein the term 'Thakur' has acquired default-villainy, a community that fondly invests in 'history' is at pains with the convenient logic of 'creative license'. Bollywood is slick, organised and has Zen logics that can naïvely shame its detractors with portents of 'regressive'. The twain never meets between the two because the lingua franca of guiding emotions differ, and it not just about the accuracy of 'history'. Yes, Padmavati is only a poem, but it is also a matter of faith, and faith needs no archaeological substance, for that could delegitimise all faiths and beliefs. Bollywood's intrinsic chicanery in the selective defence of poem-versus-history is contradicted with the parallel posturing of the movie as the story of 'Queen Padmavati', whilst, retaining all nomenclatures from the book of faith. Is asking for sacrosanctity of the symbols of faith, unreasonable? Do entertain, push the envelope of creativity but don't demolish the denominations of faith, especially where 'death to dishonour' rules the soul. Like for a soldier who dies for the flag, it is not a matter of a cloth – it is everything.
Yet again, besides gallantry and chivalry, it is 'civility' that necessitates the construct of an ideal 'Rajput' – the emphasis on ideal, as matters of defending the faith, cannot be conducted in a sub-ideal basis of convenience, like Bollywood. Where does that 'civility' reflect in the justifiable angst of the 'Rajput' – are we about mobocracy? Should we take the law into our hands? Would the community that still muses of the societal 'inclusivity' in the times of 'States', 'Taluqdars' or 'Thikanas' feel comfortable in attacks on schedule caste communities in UP? Should we mourn the killing of a declared outlaw in Rajasthan, just because he was a 'Rajput'? True, there are no straight answers and there are wheels-within-wheels of certain events which are often political designs to deliberately humiliate the community and we must react, and react forcefully – but act boorishly and lawlessly? I understand the right to offend and equally maintain my own right to feel offended and react – except, the means deployed to express our reaction is the moot question to ponder for the 'Rajput'. The fundamental edifice of the 'Rajput' is in the behavioural conduct – a conduct that drove a Major Shaitan Singh to surreal gallantry in 1962, or indeed in today's day and age, a Major Varadarajan from Chennai, who further embellished the uniform of the Rajput Regiment, in the finest traditions of the 'Rajput'.
I wholeheartedly disagree with the freedom to distort our foundational values, just because you want to recover some 200 crores – a pittance in value to my faith, but my faith is also about dignity, civility and honourable conduct. Let us impress upon the censor board, the courts, the politicians, the community leaders and shame Bollywood with our dignified opposition– we cannot become fatalists and assume that the voice of dignity does not work, as that would be reductive to the framework of the 'Rajput'. It does not behove a 'Rajput' to either allow degeneration of faith or, equally importantly, the degeneration of behavioural conduct – 16,000 women walked into the fire to protect the honour and dignity of the 'Rajput', don't let it wither away, either way.
(The author is Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Puducherry. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Bhopinder Singh

Bhopinder Singh

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