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 now

  1. V
    vinod
    Oct 27, 2016 at 4:09 pm
    Blaming Hindus are commercially successful. It also suits the organised religion's
    Reply
    1. V
      vinod
      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?
      Reply
      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
        Reply
        1. D
          Delveen
          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
          Reply
          1. D
            Dharma
            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 ?
            Reply
            1. D
              Dharma
              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.
              Reply
              1. I
                Indus
                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.
                Reply
                1. A
                  Asithanthi
                  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.
                  Reply
                  1. T
                    TIHAEwale
                    Sep 4, 2015 at 9:26 am
                    I am Hindu Brahmin by birth. My only doubt why should we try to compare our liberal Hindu views with fundamentalists of claiming to be hardcore followers of Islam. Don't we know former President Kalam or Former CJ of Madras HC Ismail was born in Nagore, Tamil Nadu Madras Law College in 1945, after completing his mathematics (honours) degree from the Presidency College, Chennai. He became Chief Justice of the court on 6 November 1979. Ismail was a learned Tamil scholar of Kamba Ramayana. As the president of the Kamban Kazhagam, he was responsible for organising literary festivals focussing on clical Tamil literature. So we should encourage people like Basheer who may not be born Hindu but read Hindu scriptures and express their view which we accept or not
                    Reply
                    1. Y
                      Yadwinder
                      Sep 4, 2015 at 8:37 pm
                      Nobody have right to criticise any religion. Before criticising they must be able to criticise their own religion. Hinduism may have many faults but the Hindus will never criticise other religions. The forigienrs do not know much about the native religion and they are not qualified to talk on hindus
                      Reply
                      1. S
                        Sujith
                        Sep 4, 2015 at 9:02 am
                        Such incidents shows the lack of intelligence on the part of the author of this column. For e.g., he neither has the understanding about the word 'ithihasa' (history) and 'purana' (stories compiled with values, which need not be true). Ramayana is an itihasa - a historical record. Adhyatma Ramayana is not a historical record, but a derived commentary suited to that time and place. Without even such basic perspectives, how can Basheer even claim to have an understanding of Ramayana. About the argument about freedom of expression / press, how would this same media react if a noted writer point about the ill practices in put forth in Quran / Hadit (women are considered as land to till in, women have no souls, idea of infidels and a w big list). When such points arise, why do media portray that it is offending religious feeling and make a big story out of that? Similarly, Basheer of course is a literary figure in Kerala, but that doesn't provide him any intellectual or spiritual understanding of Ramayana and not an authoritative person to write on it. So, what is the conclusion? His misunderstanding can't be an excuse to publish work which can up front hurt the larger sentiments of people.
                        Reply
                        1. A
                          adf
                          Sep 4, 2015 at 10:05 pm
                          Let us do him a Yakub Memon
                          Reply
                          1. A
                            adf
                            Sep 4, 2015 at 5:29 pm
                            Hey baby, told you to be concise......... as*ss*s never learn
                            Reply
                            1. A
                              adf
                              Sep 4, 2015 at 5:18 pm
                              Hindus are peace loving so this writer got away with mere phone calls. Had it been blasphemy of some muslim character (if there is one), they would have cut-off his head. Be grateful that hindus are majority community.
                              Reply
                              1. A
                                adf
                                Sep 4, 2015 at 5:53 pm
                                Tolerance doesnot mean that people can say to you whatever they want and you do not protest. If you really believe in something you must do so even if others dont like it and since this writer failed to do so , it means he didnot believe in what he was writing. Let him be tolerant of what others are doing to him........ wattusay ????? @mohit
                                Reply
                                1. A
                                  adf
                                  Sep 4, 2015 at 5:54 pm
                                  your language shows you are an Indian :) so stop saying "you Indians" :)
                                  Reply
                                  1. A
                                    Agastya M
                                    Sep 4, 2015 at 10:49 am
                                    Let the Muslims first apologize for the Moplah riots and Noakhali killings and the 71 genocide of Hindus in the Bangladesh war. I have not heard even one word of condemnation by any Muslim. If any perpetrators are alive let the Muslims hand over them to the police. And surely Muslims have enough things to write about and criticize in their own society. Let them finish that first. It will take 2000 years to finish I challenge them to see if they will be allowed to write by their own community.
                                    Reply
                                    1. S
                                      sunny
                                      Sep 4, 2015 at 11:47 pm
                                      isis is international terrorist organization RSS AND BAJRANG DAL are local indian terrorist organization
                                      Reply
                                      1. S
                                        sunny
                                        Sep 4, 2015 at 10:58 pm
                                        right to all hindu radicals who want to divide india on religion basis
                                        Reply
                                        1. A
                                          ak dev
                                          Sep 4, 2015 at 8:06 pm
                                          Some writers want freedom of speech only to be critical of Hindu religion which is the world's most flexible religion. Most Hindus don't subscribe to outdated dictates of Hindu priests and something written thousands of years back. Most Christians are also open and flexible. What these writers aim to achieve!! Why these writers don't see any need to be critic of their own religion? The freedom of speech guaranteed by India's consution is not for creating divisions between religions but express one's view point without any ill will towards other religions .
                                          Reply
                                          1. S
                                            Sraddhadeva Joshey
                                            Sep 5, 2015 at 5:14 pm
                                            The truth is Hinduism is good for Brahmins, Nampoothiri and brahmins. There are other people shudras the lower caste. So my message to shudras is that leave hindusim if you want to raise up fro lower caste. Yo dont need to be a muslim or a christian because all religion are evil full of fantasy stories and hatred
                                            Reply
                                            1. Load More Comments