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How a 75-year-old scholar and author was 'reduced to just being a Muslim'

Speed News Desk | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 4:10 IST

In the words of Professor MM Basheer, at the age of 75, he was "reduced to a Muslim".

Who is MM Basheer?

A literary critic and a former professor of Malayalam at the University of Calicut, Professor Basheer's doctoral work on the manuscripts of Malayalam poet Kumaran Asan is considered pathbreaking. He is widely respected as a teacher, an Asan scholar, and an associate of the modernist movement in Malayalam literature.

What is the issue?

Professor Basheer was writing a column on the Ramayana for the Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi in August this year, when he started receiving abusive calls.

In each call, he was upbraided for commenting on the epic Sanskrit poem by Hindu sage Valmiki, on the ground that he is a Muslim.

Even Mathrubhumi's editors were not spared and in what appears to be a sustained campaign, received numerous calls after Professor Basheer's first column, Sri Rama's Anger, appeared on 3 August. Four days later, after the fifth column was published, Professor Basheer called off the series.

'No right to criticise Lord Rama'

While speaking to The Indian Express, Professor Basheer expressed his dismay and explained that he was being wronged by people who didn't understand the core of his writings.

"The callers would ask me what right I had to criticise Lord Rama," the professor said, adding that all he was trying to do was to look at the human qualities of Rama.

"My series was on Valmiki Ramayana. Valmiki depicts Rama with human characteristics and does not shy away from criticising his actions," said Professor Basheer. He also cited his earlier work where he had written on Adhyatma Ramayana (the popular foundational text of Malayalam by Thunchathu Ezhuthachhan) and written about Rama the God.

According to him, very few callers knew the differences between the texts and very few cared, while most of them kept insisting that he deliberately tried to attribute human qualities to Rama due to his (Professor Basheer's) religious identity.

Moreover, the five Ramayana pieces that the professor 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.

Anonymous attack on expression

According to media reports, the Mathrunhumi editorial desk received many abusive calls asking why the newspaper "got a Muslim to write on the Ramayana". The anonymous callers didn't name any organisation.

However, a fringe Hindutva outfit, Hanuman Sena, repeated the charges in posters it put up near the newspaper's head office in Kozhikode. This 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 the state, 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 a ban on their works.

First published: 4 September 2015, 2:06 IST