Who is Karsandas Mulji? The Maharaj Libel case of 1862 that inspired Netflix India’s controversial film

Who is Karsandas Mulji?

Born in 1832, Karsandas Mulji was a Gujarati language journalist and social reformative writer who was renounced by his family because of his liberal views on widow remarriage which were alien to his time. Mulji became a regional school teacher and eventually started a weekly Gujarati language newspaper – Satyaprakash through which he attacked the immoralities of the society.

In a series of articles written in Satyaprakash, Mulji called out the immoralities of the Maharajas (hereditary high priests) of the Pushtimarg community. In 1862, a libel suit was brought against Mulji in the High Court at Bombay.

The case was called ‘The Maharaj Libel Case of 1862’ and became a controversial affair for many people of the Pushtimarg community – a sect of Vaishnavism which was founded in the early 16th century.

What is the Maharaj Libel Case of 1862 about?

The Maharaj Libel Case was an 1862 trial in the Bombay High Court (which was the Supreme Court of Bombay at the time) and was against Nanabhai Rustomji Ranina and Karsandas Mulji. The case was filed by a religious leader named Jadunathji Brijratanji Maharaj who alleged that Mulji defamed the religious leader by stating that he had sexual liaisons with female devotees.

The article brought forward in the case was a Gujarati language piece with a title that is roughly translated to “The truth about the Hindu religion and their present hypocritical opinions”. In his article, Mulji questioned the values of the Pushtimarg sect and alleged that Jadunathji had sexual relations with his female followers.

It is alleged that male followers of Jadunathji were expected to show their devotion by offering their wives to have sex with the religious leaders. Since these Maharajs belonged to the Vaishnavite Pushtimarg sect of Hinduism, they were considered to be a mediating figure for Lord Krishna’s grace.

The Maharajas sought to exercise control over their devotees through different kinds of patronages. Mulji challenged all the malpractices of these religious leaders in his articles from 1855 onwards. This led the Maharajs to threaten their devotees with excommunication from the Pushtimarg community if they exposed the Maharajs. Mulji also wrote about how the Maharajs had their devotees sign a document that would censor their criticism.

What happened to Jadunathji Brijratanji Maharaj?

In 1860, Mulji published a work in which he called the Pushtimarg community a heretical sect which advocated the sexual mistreatment of women. The Maharajs from Bombay called Jadunath Brijratan, a well-known Maharaj from Surat, to defend them Before the libel case, Jadunath had several public and press debates with Mulji and other reformers.

In Jadunathji Maharaj filed a libel case against Mulji who was the editor of Satyaprakash newspaper and its publisher Nanabhai Rustomji Ranina, for defaming the Jadunathji in his controversial article. The trial started on January 25th and ended on March 4th 1862, with 31 witnesses being examined for Jadunathji and 33 witnesses for Mulji. 

Throughout the trial, the Pushtimarg sect’s philosophies were examined and compared with other Hindu texts by missionary orientalist scholars like John Wilson. Several doctors testified to having treated the religious leader for syphilis and several witnesses recounted his erotic escapades. It was also examined that the religious sect noted that their path to salvation was based on sexual orgies.

The verdict was announced in favour of Karsandas Mulji and it was revealed that Mulji was doing his duty as a journalist. Jadunathji was asked to pay Rs. 11,500 to Karsandas Mulji who had to bear a cost of Rs 13,000 in the libel case.

Why was Netflix India’s Maharaj postponed?

After Netflix India announced the release of the Junaid Khan and Jaideep Ahlawat starrer ‘Maharaj’, the film was surrounded by a lot of controversy. It was alleged that the film could hurt the religious sentiments of the Pushtimarg community. The Gujarat High Court stopped the release of the film, based on a plea from the Hindu group that stated that the film could incite violence against followers of the community.

The Hindu Nationalist militant organisation – Bajrang Dal filed a petition in Mumbai’s Dindoshi Court opposing the release of Maharaj. The film’s release has been stalled until further update from Netflix India. Moreover, the controversy around the film has called for many Twitter users to call for a ban on the streaming platform Netflix itself for producing content that hurts the religious sentiments of Hindus.

What do you think about the Maharaj Libel case of 1862 that inspired the Netflix film? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

1 thought on “Who is Karsandas Mulji? The Maharaj Libel case of 1862 that inspired Netflix India’s controversial film”

  1. Any justice loving person will applaud the courage of the filmmakers and actors in bringing to light the heroism of this great thinker and women’s rights activist, Karsandas Murji – a true journalist who faced familial and community wrath for supporting the rights of young women not to be used for the sexual perversities of conmen, wearing religious garb.
    The memory of such people should be constantly resurrected by each generation to inspire the fight for good against the ever- degenerative powers of evil.

Leave a comment