India is a country with a diverse culture, pluralism and tolerance. For centuries, waves of immigrants, who sought refuge in India, from being persecuted in their own countries, were seamlessly assimilated to the Indian ethos and culture. So, what has changed now? We are now seeing growing intolerance taking root in society. The cow vigilantism, violence against beef eaters, and an inability to tolerate divergent and dissenting voices, are a few examples of the rising intolerance. Recently, a multi-million dollar film, based on a mythical queen Padmavati (Padmani), of Chittorgarh, in the State of Rajasthan, slated to be released on December 1, has been postponed because of the protests from a right-wing group. They have alleged that the filmmaker has not only distorted the history but has shown the queen in a bad light. Legend has it that Allaudin Khilji, ruler of Delhi Sultanate, had heard of the ravishing beauty of the queen, approached the ruler of Chittorgarh, Rattan Singh, husband of Padmavati, and conveyed his desire to meet the queen. Rattan Singh, who did not want to enrage the sultan by his refusal, as it would have led to an attack on his kingdom, acceded to his request in the hope that his kingdom would be spared of an attack. Tradition has it that the Rajput women, who are known for their indomitable courage and valour, never appeared before strangers. Ratan Singh suggested that a mirror be placed to enable Khilji could to see her reflection. Allaudin Khilji, was so enamoured after seeing the reflection of the Queen’s face, he went back on his words and attacked Chittorgarh. To escape falling into his hands, Rani Padmavati, and all the other women in the fort, committed Jauhar (self-immolation). Her courage to sacrifice her life in order to save her honour, Padmavati attained a cult status that she is revered even today. It is said that she immolated herself on her husband’s pyre. The Karni Sena, a right-wing group, has threatened the filmmaker from releasing the film; saying that it not only distorts history, but attempts to portray the queen in a bad light. They have also threatened to chop off the nose of the actress, who has essayed the role of Padmavati, for enacting a dream sequence where Khilji is shown to lust for her. It is this scene that has caused controversy over the film. Sadly, one wonders how this group has concluded about distortion of history, when the film is yet to be released. Moreover, the filmmaker has denied any distortion of her valour, and has denied about the alleged offensive scene. The Government of India, and the respective state governments, should immediately act against these lawless elements, before they manage to strike at the very roots of the Indian democracy, a frightening prospect that can take the country back into the dark ages The protests have now spread to other states, where the politicians have joined the protesters for their own narrow political gains. Strangely, there is no historical record that such a queen had ever existed. In fact, the film Padmavati is based on the epic fictionalised poem ‘Padmavat’, composed by medieval age Sufi poet Malik Muhammad Jayasi. He not only describes her ravishing beauty, but also writes about her courage, valour and sacrifice when she decides to self-immolate to protect her honour. In the end, the poet depicts Padmavati as a dream for Alauddin Khilji. The story has become a part of the folklore and the people refuse to believe that it was a work of fiction. The story of Padmavati and her sacrifice to protect her honour inspired a French composer Albert Roussel to write an Opera ballet about her life, where she is shown to kill her mortally wounded husband before immolating herself on his pyre. There are many and a different version of her story that has passed on from generation to generation, changing the contours of the story and its characters, every time it was retold. In some versions, she is even shown to have smashed the mirror to prevent the Delhi Sultan from looking at her. Sanjay Leela Bhanasali, a noted and reputed filmmaker, just happens to retell the story from his own perspective. As the film has not been released, it is difficult to know how he has actually portrayed the queen. The Karni Sena’s protests without seeing the film is baffling. The filmmaker’s assurance that there is no dream sequence in the film that could hurt the sentiments of the people has no takers. The Supreme Court of India has refused to say the release of the film is in violation of the constitutional provision which guarantees right of speech and expression. Even, assuming the filmmaker has distorted history, he has every right to retell the story from his own perspective, even if it offends the sensibilities of some. As filmgoers, and students of history, we have the right to either to see the film or not to see it. By engaging in such rowdy acts, we will end up muzzling the creative freedom of the storytellers and filmmakers. The Government of India, and the respective state governments, should immediately act against these lawless elements, before they manage to strike at the very roots of the Indian democracy, a frightening prospect that can take the country back to the dark ages. The writer is an Independent Columnist and Political commentator Published in Daily Times, December 3rd 2017.