By Ashraf Thachar & Abdul Hameed NS
It’s very encouraging that the current protest of Muslims in Kerala against a blasphemous article in the Mathrubhumi newspaper took a very tolerant and democratic turn, rather than being an emotional outburst, as it happened in the case of Charlie Hebdo controversy. In Kerala, prior to this protest, there was another case of an intolerant protest against a college professor, who had made blasphemous comments against the Prophet. In an unfortunate incident, the professor’s hands were chopped off by a group of radical Muslims.
Muslims now seriously think about the way they dissent and about its probable political exploitation by the communal political powers, which are looking to capitalize on it in the upcoming Kerala assembly elections.
In response to the questions raised by Muslims, the Mathrubhumi authority said that a Facebook post was being dragged as the paper column. The post had supposedly mocked the Prophet Muhammad and his beloved wives. The vulgarity of its content elicited an instant reaction from the Muslim community in Kerala. But they maintained a democratic way of dissenting without resorting to damaging the media outlet or in any other criminal activities.
Being provoked by the piece, almost all the Muslim organisations jointly criticised the blasphemous move of Mathrubhumi. Popular Front of India and a student outfit of Sunni ulema association called, SKSSF, agitated by taking out a march to the daily’s office at Calicut. Kerala Muslim Jamath sent its representatives to talk with the management of the daily. Some copies of the newspaper were burnt in several places and the act was made public through social media networks. An orphanage removed their 13-year-old collection of Mathrubhumi weeklies. The distributing agencies of the daily, run by Muslims, decided not to further distribute Mathrubhumi periodicals. In an astonishing move, several Hindus also started boycotting the newspaper, in a show of solidarity with Muslims.
The boycott became an unorganised popular campaign by Muslims and other secular people. Thousands of people quit the official Facebook page of Mathrubhumi by hitting the unlike button. The wide-spread agitation and tolerant response of Muslim organisations compelled the management desk of Mathrubhumi to tender an apology. The management admitted that “It was a mistake.” Still, the apology of the newspaper didn’t appear to convince Muslims about the mistake.
Mathrubhumi is a popular Malayalam news daily in Kerala, published since 1923. It uses the motto, “National daily in Malayalam”. It had taken a powerful stance during the freedom movement and had countered other contemporary pro-British newspapers. It upheld the vision of a free nation. While Mathrubhumi‘s historic legacy was a quest for freedom, unfortunately it also championed a right-wing, soft-Hindutva nationalism.
We must remember that Mathrubhumi never allowed a column or space for minority Mappila Muslims and their voices. And it had neither supported the Mappila uprising nor campaigned against the British suppression of the Mappila uprising, which was mainly staged by Muslims in the Malabar region in 1921. Even though the daily was patronised by the state congress leaders, Muhammed Abdu Rahman Sahib, the first president of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee (KPCC) strove to start The Al-Ameen, a newspaper, because of the supposed anti-minority stance of Mathrubhumi. The Al-Ameen daily was first published from Kozhikode in 1924. It created a new momentum and received warm reception as a significant space for secular and national voices. Mathrubhumi has been, at least by some journalistic investigations, supporting a right-wing, pro-Hindutva nationalism.
Over the years, Mathrubhumi managed to win popular acceptance in the Kerala public sphere because of its supposed nationalistic appeal. Its nationalistic motto helped them increase their circulation in the Muslim dominant regions. Its circulation superseded those of Malayala Manorama, popular Malayalam news daily having one of the largest circulation records among the news dailies in India. This was made possible by a conception that the Manorama is being run by a Christian family, whereas Mathrubhumi is run by a secular establishment. However, this trust is now broken. Without any sectarian bias, the Muslim community in Kerala has come forward to protest against the newspaper.
After the demolition of Babari Masjid in 1992 and the 9/11 attack, the Malayalam media industry showed a specific bias against the Muslim community. In 2009, in the run-up to the election campaign, Kerala Kaumudi, an older news daily, published some stereotypical articles devoted to ‘Love Jihad’. Malayala Manorama, intentionally or unintentionally, even supported a movement against this love jihad issue, which was later condemned by the High Court of Kerala, as it posed a danger of dividing people. Some media outlets and journalists have made it their mission to promote unnecessary criticism against Islam and Muslims in Kerala. This attempt of Mathrubhumi is considered by many as one of those attempts to mark Muslims as the ‘Other’ or ‘Outsiders’.
By and large, the political authorities have maintained a deliberate silence over this issue. After a while, the Home Minister, Mr. Ramesh Chennithala ordered a probe into the matter. Mr. T.N. Prathapan, a member of the Kerala Legislative Assembly and General Secretary of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, also broke his silence and said, “Any type of blasphemy towards any religion must not be encouraged.”
Pic-credit: The News Minute
Muhammad Ashraf Thachara Padikkal is currently a research intern at Madeenathunnor, Calicut, Kerala. He is an interviewer, writer and independent research fellow, specializing in the areas of Sufism, Islamic studies and cultural anthropology. He is also interested in tradition, philology and subaltern literature.
Abdul Hameed NS is completing his BA in History from Calicut University. He has written a variety of essays and poems in Malayalam. He is also an interviewer, speaker and independent research fellow . He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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