STATE OF PLAY Comment

Hate in the name of halal

Ever since the BJP-led government assumed power at the Centre in 2014, the party unit in Kerala has been desperately trying to elbow its way into the State’s traditionally bipolar polity. The BJP has been able to increase its vote share marginally among the Nair and the Ezhavas/ Thiyyas of the Hindu community in the subsequent three-tier local body, Assembly and Lok Sabha polls. But despite a high-voltage campaign and even fielding ‘Metroman’ E. Sreedharan, the party failed to retain even its lone segment Nemom in the 2021 Assembly polls.

Now, after the Sabarimala issue, Sangh Parivar organisations are spearheading the halal controversy aimed at creating animosity towards Muslims among sections of Hindus and Christians in time for the 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

Changing demography

The halal issue has to be read with the changing demography of Kerala, with Muslims now constituting over 26% of the population and appropriating the strong economic and political clout which the Christians earlier enjoyed.

Incidentally, the campaign is also centered around Muslim food rituals. This was after a video of a Muslim clergyman blowing air into the first plate of food to make it “holy” before serving it to guests during the Uroos at the Tajul Ulama Dargah went viral on social media.

Though halal boards do not appear in hotels as extensively in north Kerala as claimed by the Sangh Parivar outfits, Hindutva and Christian radical groups are tagging the names of hotels owned by Muslims across the State on social media. At the same time, Islamist groups are countering the campaign, asking the Muslim community to avoid hotels owned by the Hindus and Christians. As business started to plummet, some hotel owners in Kozhikode filed a complaint with the police on the growing menace. Subsequently, the halal tags that appeared in non-Muslim regions in the southern and central parts also started vanishing.

With the controversy in the air, S.J.R. Kumar, national vice chairman of the Sabarimala Ayyappa Seva Samajam and former State president of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, approached the Kerala High Court seeking a direction to stop the distribution of prasadam made of what was claimed to be halal jaggery in Sabarimala.

Incidentally, if Christian and Muslim communities jointly opposed the ban on beef slaughter earlier endorsed by the BJP-led State governments, the current issue has seen Christian groups with the tacit support of Bishops of the powerful Syro-Malabar Church openly coming out against the “dominance” of the Muslim community.

Several factors such as the booming Gulf money that benefited the Muslim community, the agrarian crisis, and the crash in the prices of cash crops resulted in the new social, political and economic milieu of the State.

Opposing the agenda

The ruling CPI(M), which had previously organised beef festivals across the State, is trying to oppose attempts to communalise food habits. Its youth wing organised a food street programme with various types of dishes, including chicken, beef and pork. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the halal controversy was part of an agenda set by the Sangh Parivar to foment division in the society.

As for the Congress, it is still playing hide and seek with the issue without clearly taking a stand, especially when its leaders are coming under public and social media scrutiny.

The hate campaign in the name of halal does not augur well for the State; it will only further vitiate the religious divide on a new spectrum of Islamophobia.

biju.govind@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Jan 25, 2022 4:03:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/hate-in-the-name-of-halal/article37874317.ece

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