Hundreds arrested in violent protests across several states a day before the release of controversial Bollywood movie. The right-wing Karni Sena has warned theatre owners against the screening of the movie.
Right-wing Hindu groups in India stepped up protests on Wednesday against the release of a controversial Bollywood film Padmaavat, as several states boosted police patrols a day after the Supreme Court refused to allow bans on the movie.
Groups critical of the film, set to be released on Thursday, have accused its director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali, of distorting history by portraying a Muslim ruler as the "lover" of the Hindu Queen Padmavati of the Rajput warrior clan.
The filmmakers deny the accusation.
Violence over the film, Padmaavat, reached the outskirts of India's capital just as New Delhi began to receive southeast Asian leaders for a major summit on Thursday, to be followed the next day by a parade and celebrations of India's Republic Day.
Dear TV channels if you call Karni goons who attack school kids over #Padmaavat and give them any air time you too are complicit in this thuggery. The only space these people deserve is jail #Padmaavat— barkha dutt (@BDUTT) January 24, 2018
School bus vandalised
Television broadcast images of gangs of young men, their faces concealed by swathes of cloth, throwing stones in the streets of Gurgaon, 30km from New Delhi, while the hollowed-out shell of a bus smouldered nearby.
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.
Indian films that touch upon the historical relationships of Hindus, India's majority religion, and Muslims are often controversial.
The film first ran into opposition in January 2017 when a Hindu right-wing group Rajput Karni Sena attacked its director and vandalised the set during filming in Rajasthan.
In November last year, a member of India's ruling BJP, Suraj Pal Amu, offered $1.5 million to anyone who beheaded the lead actress Deepika Padukone and the director.
Padmaavat, changed from Padmavati after protests, was initially due to hit screens in December.
But producers Viacom18 Motion Pictures delayed the release following protests sparked by speculation that it depicts a romantic liaison between the Hindu queen and the 13th and 14th century Muslim ruler Alauddin Khilji.
Politicians and several of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-ruled states had threatened to ban the film for distorting historical facts, even though historians say the queen, Padmavati, is a mythical character.
Mumbia beefs up security
In the financial capital of Mumbai, police have boosted security at all theatres screening the film, and detained more than 100 members of Karni Sena.
Police had to open fire to disperse crowds on Tuesday night as protests against the film turned increasingly violent, with vandalism around multiplexes in the western state of Gujarat and dozens of motorcycles being set on fire.
Police have arrested 20 men involved, said Kalpesh Patel, a police officer in the state's key industrial city of Ahmedabad.
The protests are expected to continue around the country.
Indian theatres succumb to pressure
"We have decided not to play the movie in any of our properties in Gujarat and Rajasthan," Deepak Asher, director of Inox multiplexes, India's second largest theatre chain, referring to 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 theatre owner in these two states has taken," he added.
In the central state of Chhattisgarh, dozens of members of the Karni Sena staged protests and burned an effigy of Bhansali on Tuesday, Rakesh Singh Bais of the community group Sarwa Kshatriya Mahasabha.
Statement by multiplex association of India saying #Padmaavat will not be screened in any multiplexes in Gujarat “in view of prevailing law & order situation & the potential risk to property & life as a result of such screening.” @the_hindu @nistula pic.twitter.com/O8qfI1krjW— Mahesh Langa (@LangaMahesh) January 24, 2018
Protecting "Hindu pride"
Police in northwestern Rajasthan have enforced tight security for protests planned by the Karni Sena and other Rajput groups, its police chief, O P Galhotra, said.
"We have been talking to the leaders of the Karni Sena and they don't want to end their protest," Galhotra added.
"We have decided to allow them to hold small protests, and have made adequate arrangements to maintain law and order."
Anyone trying to depict history as fiction will have to pay a price for their mistake, said Rajvansh Singh, an official of the Karni Sena in the city of Chittorgarh in Rajasthan, who called himself the custodian of respect for Rajput women.
"We will not allow the movie to be released," he said.
"Queen Padmini is like our goddess, no one will be allowed to insult our goddess and our Hindu pride."