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Malappuram natives hold on to experiences of Hindu-Muslim unity as divisive politics rise on Twitter

“It’s 3 am and I’m losing sleep over this negative covfefe about my beloved home state. #Kerala,” Nirupama Menon Rao, the Kerala-born former foreign secretary of India tweeted, using the Trump neologism.

She was reacting to a far-right Hindu groups' social media campaign against the Muslim-dominated Malappuram district, where she was born. She retweeted a joke Shashi Tharoor shared on Times Now about “penchant for confusing Pakistan with Kerala”.

There were all sorts of stories doing the rounds and concerted efforts to drive the point that Kerala was fast going the Kashmir way and non-Muslims, mainly Hindus, were being driven out of Malappuram.

File image of a Malappuram village. Wikicommons

File image of a Malappuram village. Wikicommons

Rao is now a public policy fellow at Washington-based think tank Wilson Centre, ranked among the top 10 in the world. She had taken to Twitter on Wednesday to debunk the campaign that only Muslims are allowed to buy land in Malappuram. “That is an outright lie. I am from Malappuram and my family owned land there for over a hundred years. You are spreading hate,” she wrote, opening a floodgate for hatemongers.

Twitteratti from the state also came in her support. Some from the district were ready to sell their land, and others offered to help Hindus to buy land. Rao has also been making a series of tweets against the growing intolerance. She also tweeted a link to a newspaper report on a Hindu temple in her district offering iftar to some Muslim villagers.

“Murderous vigilantism in the name of cow protection only unites the regressive and lumpen within us. Cribbed, cabined, confined India? No!” she tweeted four days back.

Minority Muslims and Christians constitute 45 percent of Kerala’s 33.4 million population, and it has no history of communal riots that the northern states are familiar with. Malappuram is 70.25 percent Muslim, 27.6 percent Hindu and 1.98 percent Christian. Malappuram-born historian MGS Narayanan, the former chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), was also surprised at the claims and wild comparisons.

“I have been here for many years, and I don’t think there’s any such discrimination,” said Narayanan, who lives in the nearby Kozhikode, the second most Muslim populated district in Kerala.

“There is no such restriction (on non-Muslims buying land) there. This is not a truthful statement,” he told Firstpost, adding that he does not follow the social media.

The hate campaigners point out “atrocities” against Hindus in the district during the 1921 rebellion against the British crackdown on the Khilafat movement, which ended up in the Wagon tragedy in which 67 of 90 Muslim prisoners bundled into a freight vehicle suffocated to death on the way to Coimbatore Central Prison. Narayanan says that the campaign for the restoration of Khilafat was started by Mahatma Gandhi and the Congress as a movement against the British regime.

"But here the government servants employed to protect law and order were mostly Hindus.  Naturally, they were at the receiving end. It’s true; the movement had such a transformation. I think there were few conversions as well, but not much. That was not its intention. But it happened to be like that, and the British also wanted to make it a Hindu-Muslim divide.”

History apart, there are many shining examples for the strong bond the communities enjoy among them from the district. Last week, Shree Lakshmi Narasimha Murthy Vishnu Temple hosted iftar for some 200 Muslim families in Punnathala village on the premises of the centuries old temple.

It was sort of thanksgiving for the help they were rendering to the temple renovation and deity restoration. Since it’s their fasting month, they decided to cancel a mass feast they planned as part of the temple celebrations. The temple authorities said that it was a tradition the villagers inherited from their ancestors.

“We want to pass on this culture to the next generation as the youngsters are increasingly getting exposed to the hate campaign,” says Cherussery Unnikrishnan Nair, the temple committee president.

Fringe elements in the Muslim community also exploit every opportunity to destroy this harmony. But the elders make timely interventions to thwart attempts at any communal flare-up.

In May, the extremist elements on both sides came face-to-face when the Villwath Mahakshetram temple in Pookkottumpadam village was ransacked and three idols inside its sanctum sanctorum were disfigured.

There were demonstrations by the Hindu Aikya Vedi and counter-demonstrations by Muslim groups. There was also a call on the social media for Hindus to get ready to open refugee camps across the southern districts. But it lasted only for a day until the police arrested a Hindu man, Mohanakumar, hailing from the remote southern district of Thiruvananthapuram, where he had committed similar offences including murder.

The incident happened on the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan, coinciding with the Union environment ministry’s new restrictions on sale of cattle for slaughter. Many had feared deliberate attempts at creating communal violence.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

But the police has not explained if it was done by him alone, which temple authorities doubt given the extent of destruction. “The (ruling) CPM also supports Muslim extremists aiming at a consolidation in its favour, which is equally dangerous,” says social critic Hameed Chennamangaloor. “Their overreaction against the slaughter ban is to make political capital out of it. The party is careful not to oppose the closure of eateries in some Muslim areas during their fasting month. The BJP is benefiting from this,” he told Firstpost.

In 2016, the police arrested a dozen RSS men for the killing of neo-convert Faisal, 32, in Kodinhi village where more than 90 percent of the families are Muslims. The reason: he switched his faith while working in Saudi Arabia as a driver and took his wife and children to his new faith. The arrested people included his brother-in-law.

At his funeral, hundreds of workers of Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), the political arm of the right-wing Popular Front, a breakaway group of the Jama’at-e-Islami, drawn from distant places gathered provocatively chanting "Allahu Akbar". But the timely intervention of the Juma Masjid saved the situation. It called a meeting of families from both the communities who vowed to stand together to thwart such attempts at creating a communal frenzy.

They were living in harmony for centuries, and the Koorba Bhagavati Temple in the village stands on the land donated by the Kodinhi Juma Masjid, which follows the Sufi tradition.

The last time Kodinhi village was in the news internationally was for its mysteriously large number of twins, 250 in all, and they knew no hatred. The hate campaigners also claimed that the district had prospered disproportionately with the political patronage and the remittances from West Asia. But the state’s latest economic review says its per capita income is the lowest (Rs 85,575), far below the state average of Rs 112,343. At 13.45 percent, the district’s decadal population growth rate is far higher than the state average but much below the national average of 27.64 percent.

Kerala’s human development index is always compared with that of the developed nations and Malappuram is no exception.

Some even shared a footage of workers of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the key ally of the Congress party in the state, with a caption in Hindi and English: Muslims hoisting Islamic flags on Independence Day in Kerala.

Others claimed only Muslim candidates get elected from the district. But that's not true. The election of speaker P Sreeramakrishnan from Ponnani and Congress leader AP Anil Kumar, a two-time minister, from Wandoor are examples of that. Kerala's first chief minister EMS Namboothiripad and Thunchath Ezhuthachan, the father of Malayalam language, were also from the district.

"I am a Hindu, and I get overwhelming support from all communities," says AP Unnikrishnan, president of the district panchayat and a leader of Dalit League, a feeder outfit of the IUML. "From IUML alone there are two block panchayat presidents, 10 gram panchayat presidents and 68 members of civic bodies from the Hindu community. We don't mix our faith with politics," he told Firstpost.

Updated Date: Jun 08, 2017 22:54 PM

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