A 75-year-old literary critic has allegedly been forced to stop writing his column series on Ramayana in a local daily in Kerala because he's a Muslim. MM Basheer, who was writing a six-column series for Malayalam daily Mathrubhumi last month, stopped after his fifth column was published.
Basheer received a torrent of abusive phone calls from unidentified people every day at his Kozhikode residence, accusing him of criticising Rama, who is revered as a Hindu god in India. The abusers accused him of bias against Hinduism because of his faith.
"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. “The callers would ask me what right I had to criticise Lord Rama."
According to the former professor of Malayalam at the University of Calicut, his series was on Valmiki Ramayana, where the great poet himself depicted Rama with human characteristics and criticised him. "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 told Express. Last year, Basheer had written on Adhyatma Ramayana, where Rama was depicted as God.
"Most callers kept insisting that I tried to attribute human qualities to Rama because I was a Muslim,” he said.
While Basheer has not been associated with a religious group earlier, he is a widely respected with more than 40 critical works on Malayalam poetry, short stories and novels. His PhD thesis was on the poet Kumaranasan's manuscripts titled "Kumaranashante Rachanashilpam". According to reports, he has written on the Ramayana for newspapers for a few years now, as such columns are popular during the Malayalam month of Karkkidakam, and is observed as the “Ramayana month”.
Along with Basheer, the editors of the newspaper he was writing for too received several abusive calls for getting a "Muslim to write on the Ramayana”.
Even though the identity of these callers are not known, Express reported that a fringe Hindutva outfit, Hanuman Sena, also put up posters with similar charges near the newspaper’s head office in Kozhikode. According to the report, "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."