The appointment of Sriram Venkitaraman, an accused in the death of journalist KM Basheer, as the Alappuzha District Collector, had elicited protests from many groups. But a recent protest demonstration across the state by certain Muslim groups was given a communal colour by several right wing handles (Hindu and Christian) on social media. The protest marches to district administration offices in all districts were taken out under the auspices of the Kerala Muslim Jamaath and had participation from Sunni Muslim outfits like the Sunni Yuvajana Sangham (SYS) and Sunni Students Federation (SSF) on July 30. “In Allepy Kerala ystrday, (sic) Muslims opposing the new Brahmin IAS collector, took out a procession, MSM cunningly avoided this and highlighted ABVP in Karnataka. Listen to the slogans,” tweeted Arjun Sampath of Hindu Makkal Kachi.
The tweet, like many similar ones, was silent on the fact that the protest was against appointing Sriram, an accused on trial in the death of journalist KM Basheer, as District Collector. Basheer had parked his bike on the road on the night of August 4, when Sriram's car rammed into him, killing him. What triggered anger against the young IAS officer who was once hailed for his bravery in ousting encroachers in Munnar, was that he was accused of being drunk, trying to escape the accident scene and not giving a blood test for hours. Basheer used to work for Siraj, a newspaper owned by the All India Sunni Jamiyathul Ulama, which was one of the reasons why the Sunni groups protested against the appointment and not because the Collector was a Brahmin.
The slogans shouted in the video shared by Arjun Sampath says, “Revoke the order appointing the collector. Government, aren’t you ashamed to entrust the authority to a drunkard, who is a killer.”
The anti-Muslim narrative of the protest gained currency despite the fact that it was not just the Jamaat but many groups including journalists were protesting against the decision ever since the appointment order came.
On July 26, black flags were waved at the IAS officer, when he reached the collectorate to take charge, by Youth Congress workers. The protestors were forcefully removed by the police. All India Congress Committee general secretary and former Alappuzha MP KC Venugopal strongly condemned the appointment calling him a tainted officer. Haripad MLA and Congress veteran Ramesh Chennithala also opposed the appointment. Congress held protests in Alappuzha, the Indian Union Muslim League too opposed the appointment. Both parties asked why Sriram has been appointed in a post that requires him to constantly interact with the public. On July 27, Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) held a protest march in Alappuzha outside the collectorate. Similar protests were held in different districts of Kerala by journalists.
This however did not stop certain groups from giving the protests a communal colour. Democratic Christian Federation Kerala, a Christian fundamentalist group, also took to Facebook to criticise the protest by Muslim groups. “Now the sympathy is more for the Collector than for the one who died. It is because of their religious extremism. This is not the first time a journalist has died in an accident. This is not the first time a bike rider is dead, hit by a car. It's not the first time a civil service officer is facing an enquiry. Then why are these protests happening? Because it's not a mere protest. It's a threat not just for Venkitaraman but for bureaucracy and the government. They are in streets just because a Muslim was killed. If the dead person was a Raman, Krishnan or Varghese, and the person who drove the car was a Salam or Rahim, the streets would have been empty.”
Another Christian extremist group CASA said in their FB post, “The problem before them is not that Sriram Venkataraman drove in a drunken state and killed someone, but that the deceased is a member of their community.”
Similar messages also appeared in many WhatsApp groups. “The dead person is a Muslim, a sympathiser of terrorist groups. Sriram is a Brahmin, Hindu man. So here the protest is against the religion. They are threatening by showing their power, it's not a protest for a social cause
With protests mounting, the Kerala government transferred Sriram on August 1. He has been appointed as the General Manager of the Kerala State Supplies Corporation Ltd.