Hindutva voices force Kerala scholar to stop Ramayana column in newspaper

At the age of 75, I was being reduced to just a Muslim, I couldn’t take it, says Malayalam critic M M Basheer on the hate calls he received.

Written by Amrith Lal | New Delhi | Updated: September 4, 2015 8:28 pm
M M Basheer “At the age of 75, I was being reduced to just a Muslim. I couldn’t take it and I stopped writing,” M M Basheer told The Indian Express.

As it has been his wont for the past few years, literary critic M M Basheer was set to write a series of newspaper columns on the Ramayana in the Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi this August. But after promising the editor six columns, he had to stop at five because of a sustained campaign on the telephone by unnamed persons who upbraided him for writing on Rama when he was a Muslim.

Even the newspaper’s editors received a torrent of abusive calls every day after Basheer’s first column, titled ‘Sri Rama’s Anger’, appeared on August 3. Four days later, after the fifth column was published, Basheer called off the series.

“Every day, I would get repeated calls abusing me for writing on the Ramayana. At the age of 75, I was being reduced to just a Muslim. I couldn’t take it and I stopped writing,” Basheer told The Indian Express over phone from his Kozhikode residence.

“The callers would ask me what right I had to criticise Lord Rama,” said Basheer, a former professor of Malayalam at the University of Calicut.

“My series was on Valmiki Ramayana. Valmiki depicts Rama with human characteristics and does not shy away from criticising his actions. The callers were taking exception to the poet’s criticism of Rama, which was given in quotes.

Most of the callers would not hear out my explanation but just abuse me,” he said.

“To the few who showed patience, I explained that the previous year I had written on Adhyatma Ramayana (the popular foundational text of Malayalam by Thunchathu Ezhuthachhan) and I spoke about Rama the God… But few among the callers knew the difference between the two texts and very few cared. Most callers kept insisting that I tried to attribute human qualities to Rama because I was a Muslim,” said Basheer.

A critic of repute — his doctoral work on the manuscripts of Malayalam poet Kumaran Asan is considered pathbreaking — Basheer is a practising Muslim but has never been associated with any religious group or platform.

He is widely respected as a teacher, an Asan scholar, and an associate of the modernist movement in Malayalam literature.

The five Ramayana pieces he wrote for Mathrubhumi this year looked at Valmiki’s critique of Rama’s call to Sita to undertake the “agnipariksha”. The articles were more about the brilliance of Valmiki, the poet, and the insights he offers while writing about the human condition.

A source in Mathrubhumi confirmed that many abusive calls came to the newspaper’s editorial desk asking why the newspaper “got a Muslim to write on the Ramayana”. The callers didn’t disclose their names, nor did they take the name of any organisation, the source said.

However, a fringe Hindutva outfit, Hanuman Sena, repeated the charges in posters it put up near the newspaper’s head office in Kozhikode. This Hindutva outfit had earlier resorted to vandalism in the city when the ‘Kiss of Love’ protests were held a few months ago against moral policing in the state.

This is the first time a concerted campaign has been undertaken against a writer in Malayalam, on the basis of his religious identity, for writing on the Ramayana. In the past, sections of the Church and Islamists have accused writers and theatre activists of hurting religious beliefs and called for banning their works.

Local newspapers run popular columns on the Ramayana through the Malayalam month of Karkkidakam, which usually falls in July-August and is observed as the “Ramayana month”. Apart from Basheer, well-known writers such as the critic, Thomas Mathew, poet and popular lyricist, the late Yusuf Ali Kecheri, and poet and teacher, Veerankutty, have contributed to such columns in the past.

Malayalam, as most other Indian languages, has a vibrant Ramayana tradition spread across genres, including even a Muslim version called “Mappilah Ramayanam”.

So does the campaign against Basheer hint at the emergence of a new trend of intolerance in Kerala that wants to communalise a pan-Indian cultural heritage? M Kesava Menon, editor of Mathrubhumi, said there has been an obvious sharpening of the communal divide in Kerala because of which there is growing intolerance towards news and views.

“Those who rake up trouble in the name of religious beliefs are fringe groups from within the community. But then the mainstream organisations across communities seem unwilling to criticise them,” Menon said.

For all the latest India News, download Indian Express App

  1. V
    Oct 27, 2016 at 4:09 pm
    Blaming Hindus are commercially successful. It also suits the organised religion's
    1. V
      Oct 27, 2016 at 4:08 pm
      Where is Congress? Inside 10 Janpath and behind the pillow of Sonia coteries. So how does it grow?
      1. R
        Ram Yadav
        Sep 4, 2015 at 3:08 pm
        This Muslim joker want divert original story of GREAT RAMAYAN this joke think this is like other film story I congratulate those HINDU group proud to be HINDU we fully support HINDU group in KERALA Jai sree ram
        1. D
          Sep 5, 2015 at 6:00 am
          What about when Hindus kill. It is it only Muslims to blame we didn't start world war 1 we didn't start world war 2 we didn't kill 6 million Jews we didn't invite India it was the British we didn't invade Iraq killed 1.3 million Muslims we didn't invade Afghanistan killed 300 thousand everyday drone strike kills 100 of Muslim in Afghanistan yet we're the terrorist God knows who's the terrorist and I mean god the true God not idol that someone made with their hands
        2. D
          Sep 4, 2015 at 1:07 pm
          Does he have the guts to write about the shortcomings of his religious literature, how it is destroying the humanity and tell them the only hope for the w world is for them to shun their religion ?
          1. D
            Sep 4, 2015 at 1:08 pm
            Dont keep testing the tolerance level of the majority community. At some point, they are bound to turn around and stare at you. And you will have nowhere to hide.
            1. I
              Sep 4, 2015 at 8:52 am
              Amrit Lal says"The callers didn’t disclose their names, nor did they take the name of any organisation, the source said. " Then how Mr.Lal made a an extraordinary "discovery" that behind all these things are the "Hindu Outfits"! It can be anybody to malign Hindus. Why the PDP and section of Muslim league may be behind these tactic. Why! the Marxist party which the author is part of had exhibited their talent time and again to malign their adversaries through such petty tactic ! Any body can exhibit any number of postures in the name of anyone! Is it a criteria for insulting Hindus in your column. Hindus are bold enough to call a spade a spade, do not want to do it anonymously. Has any Hindu organisation worth the salt decry the move! We Hindus have often subjected to much maligning by authors of your ilk and many other so called secularists. You will not write such things about other religions lest you are well aware the fate u will meet! A time will come when the so called pive Hindu may react , react to you so violently like other religionists.
              1. A
                Sep 4, 2015 at 9:33 am
                Only Valmiki has the right to object and since we know the community to which he belonged,the Hindu Brahmin or the sanskrit scholar or Hindu fringe elements have no right stop Basheer from writing his views on the Ramayana.
                1. Load More Comments