An elephant’s death in Kerala has erupted into an anti-Muslim campaign by the Hindutva forces. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parliamentarian Maneka Gandhi falsely claimed that the incident happened in Malappuram district, which has 70 percent Muslim population and lies 85km west of Palakkad where the incident actually happened. Former union minister Maneka called Malappuram ‘India’s most violent district’. The senior BJP leader triggered a storm of Islamophobia on social media, with hundreds of posts suggesting the perpetrator could be a Muslim and saying that the ‘Muslim majority Malappuram is known for criminal activities’. However, an FIR registered against Maneka Gandhi and others for indulging in a hate campaign against the district and its residents over the death of the elephant.
Since its inception, Malappuram district faced the hatred of both moderate and extreme Hindutva groups.
Malappuram, a Muslim majority district in Kerala, was carved out in 1969 by combining some portions of the former Palakkad and Kozhikode district. The idea behind the district’s formation was the upliftment of the economically backward Eranadu, Tirur, Perinthalmanna, and Ponnani Taluks. The move was criticized by both Moderate and extreme Hindu leaders. Kerala Gandhi K Kelappan led the anti-district committee along with the Jan Sangh, the political arm of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). In a speech, while inaugurating a Satyagraha in Palakkad, K Kelappan alleged that the majority Muslim fishermen community are already engaged in trade relations with Pakistan and that the Police is helpless and from now on they would, even more, be so; and that though the officials are for the time being Hindu, the posts will soon be taken by the Mappilas. [ http://subversions.tiss.edu/vol2-issue1/mohamed/ ]
“Malappuram or Moplastan?” Jan Sangh’s pamphlet
The 14th annual session of Jan Sangh party, held in Kozhikode in 1967, strongly criticized the move and decided to fight it in the streets. Denouncing the decision as an illegitimate child of the two-nation theory, Jan Sangh started a nationwide campaign and brought out a 17-page pamphlet titled “Malappuram or Moplastan?” in 1968. Although Idukki and Wayanad district was formed similarly by carving out Kottayam and Kozhikode respectively, none of them faced the communal hatred and prejudice comparing to Malappuram. The historical armed uprising of Mappila peasants against Britishers and the native feudal were distorted as a communal riot to satisfy the Sanghparivar narrative. Even in popular Malayalam movies and literature, Malappuram was portrayed as a land of uncivilized goons and a godown of locally made bombs and machetes.
Vandalized temple by Hindutva mob. A Sangh plot to instigate a communal riot
Sangh Parivar has always tried to disrupt the communal harmony of the district. In May 2017, a temple in Nilambur in Malappuram district was desecrated at night. On a Friday night, a Shiva temple at Pookkottumpadam in Nilambur was vandalized, the idols of Lord Shiva and Vishnu in two sanctum sanctorum were destroyed and the roof tiles of the temple were removed. The culprit even excreted inside the temple premises and pork meat was found inside the temple. The incident happened a day before the Muslim holy month of Ramzan. Soon after the incident, Hindu Aikyavedi and RSS declared hartal and blocked roads. Alleging Muslim radicals’ involvement behind the action, Hindutva leaders carried out a social media campaign that said that Hindus were facing threats in Malappuram. The campaign urged Hindus to open refugee camps across the district and warned of another Mappila riot. Two days after the incident, Kerala Police arrested Mohankumar SS in connection with the case. A detailed investigation by Police revealed that Mohankumar had carried out a similar attack at a temple in Vaniyambalam near Nilambur. Timely involvement of Kerala Police and the co-operation of the Pookkottumpadam temple committee debunked the Sangh plot to instigate a communal riot during Ramzan. Even if the Kerala society understood the plot, Sanghparivar never changed their tactics. In 2019 August 30, Sanghparivar worker Ramakrishnan was arrested for vandalizing idols and throwing human excreta inside a temple near Valancheri in Malappuram district.
Fake news and false claims
During almost every Ramzan, Sangh affiliated social media accounts carried out social media campaigns claiming that hotels were closed in Malappuram during Ramzan and those who tried to open the hotels were not allowed to do so. Hindutva mouthpieces, both regional and international, reiterated the same claim. The claim was debunked by locals in Malappuram through Facebook live and other social media platforms. A Facebook live post showed that a lot of hotels in Malappuram were open and non-Muslims don’t have to starve as claimed by the right-wing trolls.
Bomb manufactured to throw at Sreekrishna Jayanti Rally to create riot
In September 1993, an RSS worker was killed in an explosion while manufacturing a bomb at his friend’s residence near Tanur in Malappuram district. RSS worker Vattachira Sreekanth died and two others seriously injured at the blast in a two-storeyed house in Mulakkal in Tanur. The identity of the dead was revealed only after the police interrogation of the accused RSS workers. The confession by RSS workers stated that the bomb manufacturing expert Sreekanth was invited in Tanur to train the RSS cadres of the locality. Further investigation revealed that the bomb was supposed to be thrown at a procession to be held on the day of Sreekrishna Jayanti and hereby instigate a riot in Tanur. The then police superintendent Oommen Koshy had said that Malappuram was saved by the god’s grace; else the district would have been burnt to ashes in the communal riots.
Fabricating terrorist stories
On November 1, 2016, a low-intensity bomb blast happened at the civil station premises in Malappuram district. Police recovered a paper box containing a notice, in the name of ‘Base Movement’, which warned about more attacks and about avenging the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, for consuming beef. Soon after the blast, right-wing started a social media campaign portraying Malappuram as the epicenter of Islamic terror. The lone BJP MLA O Rajagopal even walked out of the Kerala Legislative Assembly after he was not allowed an adjournment motion seeking discussion on the bomb blast. Commenting on the blast, senior BJP leader Subrahmanian Swamy asked Centre to implement AFSPA in the district and to impose a military rule. “The recent bomb blast in Malappuram was a dress rehearsal for Islamic State. Malappuram district is the original sin of the CPI(M). The district administration should be handed over to the Army,” Swamy told THE WEEK. Many political party leaders and civil rights activists alleged that the blast was a plot to dent the image of the district and they even accused a section of police and intelligence agencies of implementing Sanghparivar agenda by fabricating terrorist stories.
Destroying the symbols of Malappuram Muslims’ struggles in the Freedom Movement
Following the outrage from Sanghparivar, a mural painting at Tirur railway station depicting the iconic wagon tragedy in 1921 was erased by the Palakkad Railway Division in November 2018. The wagon tragedy took place on Nov 21, 1921, when 67 prisoners from the Malabar region, arrested for participating in the Malabar rebellion in 1921, died of suffocation inside a windowless wagon while being brought to Tirur railway station. The painting was selected as a part of the beautification process of the station. Railway authorities decided to paint over the mural because of calls from various people criticizing the subject chosen for the painting.
Hatred through Twitter
During the CAA movement, BJP’s Udupi- Chikmangloor MP Shobha Karandlaje had tweeted that Hindus from a colony in Kuttipuram in Malappuram district were denied water supply as they supported the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). “Kerala is taking baby steps to become another Kashmir. Hindus of Kuttipuram Panchayat of Malappuram was denied water supply as they supported #CAA2019. #SevaBharati has been supplying water ever since. Will Lutyens telecast this intolerance of PEACEFULS from God’s Own Country!?,” Karandlaje tweeted. A fact-checking by regional media revealed that a local family supplied water for the 21 SC (Scheduled families in Cherukkunnu in Kuttipuram panchayat in Malappuram district using the water pump facility allotted by the Krishi Bhavan. The Kerala State Electricity Board asked the family to stop using electricity to supply the water and the decision has nothing to do with CAA. The police later filed a case against Karandlaje under section 153(A) of IPC based on the complaint from Subash Chandran, a Supreme Court lawyer. The BJP MP has still not stopped her hate speech against the district. Commenting on the pregnant elephant incident, she had said tweeted that the incident happened in “Red-Jihadi breeding ground Malappuram of Kerala”.
And a ‘Mini Pakistan’ for India’s Hindu nationalist home minister
For BJP leader Amit Shah, Malappuram is mini Pakistan. Citing Muslim league’s green flag at a roadshow in Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s election campaign, the Home Minister had said that one cannot make out whether its India or Pakistan. Rahul’s Wayanad constituency comprises of Wayanad district and parts of Kozhikode and Malappuram district. The statement had compelled the Congress authorities to ask the Muslim league workers not to use their green flags during the election campaigns.
Ashfaque EJ is a Delhi-based independent journalist.