In yet another episode that may be symptomatic of the growing intolerance brewing in the state, Kerala’s largest selling magazine ‘Malayala Manorama’ ran a full page apology on December 13 for a picture that appeared on the cover of the magazine. The magazine also apologised for carrying a painting that illustrated a play in its inside pages, besides withdrawing copies of the magazine – the December issue of “Bhashaposhini” from newsstands.
The magazine was forced to undertake the action due to separate protests held by Christian groups and Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) – a political body part of NDA at the Centre. The Christian groups were upset over a painting that accompanied a play “Mrudwangudeh Durmruthyu” (The Unnatural Death of the Fragile) by scriptwriter C. Gopan. Tom Vattakazhy took the image of the Last Supper and drew a painting with nuns sitting around a bare-breasted figure.
BDJS took offence to the cover of “Bhashaposhini” which had a photograph of a sculpture of Sree Narayana Guru, a revered social reformer, as per BDJS. The incident is however not an isolated occurrence. The state has faced many such incidents in the last two years.
In July this year, an upcoming Malayalam writer was assaulted by four unidentified persons for writing a short story collection that had the word padachon (a Malayalam word for the creator) in its title.
In November last year, a journalist from the state came under fierce attack on social media after she recounted episodes of sexual abuse encountered by her classmates at a madrasa. In September 2015, a Hindutva group had forced Mathrubhumi, another Malayalam daily to end a series on the Ramayana by noted scholar and critic, M. M. Basheer. Some years ago, Christian groups forced a ban on a play, “Christhuvinte Aaram Thirumurivu” by P.M. Anthony, based on Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel “The Last Temptation of Christ”.
The situation of intolerance is so extreme that there have even been incidents of students refusing to sit with classmates belonging to different faiths or taking lessons from a woman teacher.
Kerala has a mixture of different faiths residing in it, most significantly Hinduism, Islam and Christianity. As per the 2011 Census, Kerala has 54.73% Hindus, 26.56% Muslims and 18.38% Christians. The state has been witnessing an increase in communal incidents over the course of the last few years, as per Union Home Ministry statistics.
The entry of BJP in the electoral foray in the last couple of years seems to have also complicated equations and an uneasy relationship has been brewing between the ruling Communist Party of India ( Marxist) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). As rival parties jostle for power, competing religious fundamentalism is fanning cultivated insecurities of different groups who view a story or a painting as an attack on their faith.
Talking about this dangerous situation existing in Kerala, Gopan rightfully points out – “The intolerance to Komu’s sculpture and Vattakuzhy’s painting is frightening. It’s a war against the image. It is a pity that we have to live in these times. What frightens me most is the sculpting of a new generation without images. This is not a problem of communalism alone, but of dangerous aesthetics. This should be discussed by the cultural world.”