Mathrubhumi , Kerala’s second-largest newspaper, recently reproduced a Facebook comment on the Prophet Muhammad in two of their city editions, which has a direct reference to his marriage with Aisha (whose age was 10 or less at the time of the marriage) and slurs about Muslims. Several Muslim organisations in Kerala protested against Mathrubhumi . The newspaper carried a front-page apology saying it was a mistake, took action against those who are responsible for the mistake and went a step ahead by calling on the government to take action against those who post such comments on social networks. Islamist groups were angry, though. They sniffed a conspiracy in the whole episode because the paper is “pro-RSS”. They staged protests in front of Mathrubhumi buildings and abused/threatened its journalists — even the ex-employees of the company — over the phone. Besides, two of the paper’s Calicut offices were stoned at night.
They have also shared with pride photos of their ilk burning Mathrubhumi copies, and called for mass boycott of the paper and its group publications. Even I got WhatsApp forwards of two traders — Nesto and Fathima — sending out messages to their managers that Mathrubhumi group publications are banned at all of their outlets. There were several instances of the protesters burning copies seized from agents and, thereby, disrupting the paper's distribution. An ex-colleague of mine, who’s now working with Mathrubhumi , tells me even agents in certain pockets were threatened for distributing the paper. A teacher friend of mine from Ponnani in northern Kerala wrote on Facebook that he didn’t get even his Times of India copy one day and when he checked, the agent told him that the protesters, not having got Mathrubhumi copies to burn, had burnt TOI copies that day. On social media, the Islamist sections have gone on a rampage against Mathrubhumi , saying the apology was an eyewash and the paper would not be forgiven.
Another recent incident involves Sindhu Suryakumar, a news anchor at Asianet TV , who moderated a discussion on the Mahishasur Jayanti controversy. During the discussion, Ms. Suryakumar asked V.V. Rajesh, BJP's State secretary, why a section of people (in this case JNU students) celebrating Mahishasur's Jayanti should be a problem for those who worship Goddess Durga. In his response, Mr. Rajesh said the issue had come to the government's attention after pamphlets had been distributed in JNU calling Durga “a sex worker”. Since then, Ms. Suryakumar has got thousands of abusive calls on her mobile phone from pro-Hindutva factions. They called her a prostitute and threatened to kill her. They accused her of calling Durga a sex worker, while the video of the discussion, available on YouTube...
... clearly shows that it's Mr. Rajesh who used the words, referring to the pamphlets.
But truth doesn’t matter in this game of hate-mongering. Despite Ms. Suryakumar’s repeated statements that she didn’t say anything against Durga and the actual video clip that supported her, she continued to be attacked through WhatsApp messages, phone calls and social networks.
Ms. Suryakumar is one of the most popular TV journalists in Kerala. (I had joined her show as a discussant a couple of times and enjoyed the way she moderates debates.) It was a little difficult to get her on the phone. When she called me back, she said she’d been keeping off the phone because of the hate calls. The controversial show happened last month and she’s still getting hate calls. “They have written my mobile number on the walls of public toilets and other public places, so that many people are calling me with all kind of abuses,” she said. She’s not afraid of these hate-mongers. “But these repeated calls disturb me. You see I am an ordinary person. I have to do a job. I have a family. And now, for weeks, people do call me and make threats. My family members are scared. It’s really disturbing.”
Some of those who threatened her were arrested and later accorded a heroes' welcome when they got out on bail. “The BPJ leadership could end this in 30 minutes if they want to. I met Kummanam [Rajasekharan, the BJP State president] and asked him to watch the video and find what wrong I did,” Ms. Suryakumar told me. However, the hate campaign continued. And last week, Major Ravi, a retired army-man who has made a few pulp military movies in Malayalam — including Kandahar, the flop starring Amitabh Bachchan and Mohanlal — called her a prostitute at a public event and said that “if granted permission", he would “spit on her face.” Sindhu is nonplussed: “I don’t understand what’s wrong with him. I thought this issue will die down slowly. And now he comes up with public abuse.”
In both cases, religion is the subject. In both cases, extremists are the actors. And in both cases, fundamentalism is the ideology. This is how believers from the extremist spectrum are responding to the media in ‘Gods Own Country”, which often brags about its secular culture. While in Mathrubhumi ’s case the so-called protesters conspired to build their campaign on an alleged bid to insult the prophet, in the case of Ms. Suryakumar, the hate campaign was based on utter lies. They will tell you their religion is one of peace and their culture, one of harmony. So which god are they trying to please through stoning, abuses and threats?