"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Manikarnika challenges the Eurocentric approach to India’s freedom movement Featured

 

Gurpreet Singh

The recent Hindi film Manikarnika is a must watch for those who need to understand the strength of the story behind the first uprising against the British occupation of India.

Based on the story of Laxmi Bai – the Queen of Jhansi, who was a leading figure of the rebellion of 1857 - Manikarnika tells us how the Hindus and Muslims, and those belonging to the upper and the so called low castes came together under her command to revolt against the powerful British Empire.

She not only broke the gender barrier by choosing to go to the battlefield and raising an army of women in a male dominated society, but also embraced a Dalit warrior woman like Jhalkari Bai, who also died fighting against the enemy.

Thus, Laxmi Bai didn’t just fight against the British rule, but also against patriarchy and the brutal caste system that discriminated against Dalits within her society.  

Such a film becomes even more relevant today in India, where the right wing Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) government is not only trying to rewrite the history from a narrow Hindu nationalist perspective, but portray Muslims as traitors and outsiders. Especially, when misogyny has exposed itself under the BJP government and caste-based violence against Dalits has grown, Manikarnika gives a message of hope.

Until now, most historians, including those in India, have seen the revolt of 1857 as a fight of the feudal kings and chieftains against the British Empire. Many continue to argue that it cannot be seen as part of the freedom struggle, while others have repeatedly tried to demonize the participants as violent and fanatics. Thanks to Karl Marx who had recognized it as the first war of independence,while others have overlooked it as insignificant. This can be partly attributed to the Eurocentric influence on the historical documents as British ruled India until 1947. The oral traditions about Laxmi Bai were mostly rejected as “primitive” or “unfounded” due to internalized racism. The making of Manikarnika therefore challenges those myths that were created by the British historians.

In an era of decolonization, such efforts are important to reclaim the history of the people. Particularly when the subjects of such film are people’s heroes, like Laxmi Bai who wanted to rid her subjects from the oppression of the British Empire that drained India out through plunder of its resources, making of such films becomes necessary.

 

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