In what can only be called unfortunate, the Memunda Higher Secondary School in Kozhikode has withdrawn its prize-winning play, ‘Kithab’, performed by its students, after Muslim groups protested against it. Although the play was well received by those at the Revenue District School Arts Festival in Kozhikode, where it was performed last week, it did not go down too well with groups such as the SDPI, Sunni Yuvajana Sangham (SYS) and the Muslim Students Federation (MSF), who protested against the play, stating that it hurt Muslim sentiments.
A week later, the school issued a press statement withdrawing the play as it did not "wish to hold cultural performances that hurt public sentiments." ‘Kithab’, which spoke about women’s emancipation, told the story of a young girl who wished to call out the vaang or the azaan (the Islamic call to worship), just like her father, a muezzin (a person appointed at a mosque to lead and recite the call to prayer).
Explaining the issue in a press release, the school headmaster stated, “The play, Kithaab, performed by the students of the Memunda Higher Secondary school at the Kozhikode revenue district school arts festival, secured first prize, A grade and the best actor award. It was after the play was selected for the competition at Thiruvananthapuram that certain issues were raised against it and came into focus.”
The statement also clarified that the school did not intend to wound the sentiments of any particular section of the society.
“The school authorities and those involved in the play immediately engaged in a serious discussion right away, following allegations that this play was attempting to portray a certain community in bad light. We understand that the play’s presentation has hurt the religious sentiments of a certain section of society. However, we have come to the conclusion that this was not our intention." the statement read.
It further added, “This school has not attempted to stage cultural activities by hurting or inflicting wounds on the sentiments of the public. We would not be interested in bringing the atmosphere of this public school, which upholds democratic and secular values, under the shadow of any doubt and suspicion Due to this reason, we have decided not to perform this play - Kithaab - in the future, as it has hurt the sentiments of a community.”
The school's press release also made it clear that the school authorities are aware of the involvement of certain parties with vested interests who were trying to mar its good reputation and wished to brush these attempts aside with contempt.
Lastly, the school also appealed the support of all sections of society in carrying out future activities, by upholding its democratic and secular values without any blemish to its good reputation and without having to dilute its stance on any issue.
Soon after the announcement, the Sunni Yuvajana Sangham, which had also raised objections against the play earlier, welcomed the school's decision and revoked all protests.
State Secretary of SYS Musthafa Mundupar told the Times of India that they believed that the school has realised its mistake and hence their decision to revoke agitations against it.
For over three decades now, the Memunda Higher Secondary School has come up with unique themes for its school festivals and has received much praise for this.
Speaking to TNM, a teacher from the school said that although the play was about women's progress, they did not wish to hurt religious sentiments and hence were ready to make necessary changes.
What is Kithab, the play
An adaptation of writer R Unni's story ‘Vaang’, Kithab is a humorous portrayal of a Muslim household, where the girl who wishes to call out the azaan sings and dances with her friends and mischievously steals the fish fry her mom cooks for the men in the house. She says that it is not wrong to steal the fish because padachon (god) would understand that it’s because girls are not given the food they desire that they steal it. Her father then chastises her, telling her that women should get only half of everything that men have. To this, the girl mischievously asks shouldn’t women then wear only half of what men do.
It is in between such questions that she expresses her desire to call out the azaan. Her father answers all her questions by referring to a big book (Kithab) and locks her so she would not perform in a play (play within the play) again. He tells her she wouldn’t reach heaven if she does these things.
“If I’d lose entry to heaven because I sing and dance, then I don’t want that heaven,” she says. The father is ready to kill the girl when she disobeys him and performs at the school play. But then, the mother reminds him that he is not just the muezzin but also the father of the girl. He then lets her call out the azaan. Kithab ends with the girl calling out the azaan and the rest praying.
(With inputs from Cris)