Of late, Malayalam writer Shihabuddin Poithumkadavu has been the target of those who get intolerant at the very mention of religion.
It all began with reports on one of the doyens of Malayalam literature MT Vasudevan Nair. MT was accused of Islamophobia for allegedly refusing to be the chief guest at a function of a college owned by a Muslim management in Thrissur. Though the octogenarian later clarified that his words were misinterpreted, he was subjected to verbal attack by fundamentalists.
Shihabuddin Poithumkadavu came in defence of MT, which shifted the focus of the attack to the former. He has received death threats over phone and on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp. He was asked to repent before adding fuel to fire, one of the threats warned him. “This was one of the scores of slurs I received over phone, on Facebook and on WhatsApp. One of the guys who called over the phone asked if I would dare to talk about Islam,” Shihabuddin said in a Facebook post.
“Opinions and those which counter them may cross limits. But those who use ugly slurs, whether they are supporters or on the opposing side, are not on the path of democracy or in search of truth. I have first unfriended those who have written those slurs,” the post said.
Speaking to TNM, Shihabuddhin said that what shocked him more is the silence of the writers’ community and the realisation that people of Kerala have become so intolerant. “In all religions, in all political organisations, intolerance has become the trademark. I fear that the time of discussions and debates based on ideology has ended. For such debates, one needs knowledge about the past, awareness about history and thoughts, deeds based on humanity.”
He lamented the loss of humanity and anything based on that, and the loss of what is called humanitarian language. “One who is aware of our past should know the contributions of MT. It was through the contributions of people like him, VT Bhattathiripad, Ponkunnam Varkey that the healthy cultural atmosphere of the state has evolved over the years and we are enjoying the fruits of it. But nobody is ready to take the trouble of reading history, or learning about important people and what they mean to the society. Earlier, disputes used to be resolved through dialogues. At present, there are no dialogues and hence language as a means of communication has also lost its relevance. No one understands the once familiar usages in language, even language has lost meaning” he said.
“The society, families and parents are keen on producing doctors, engineers or technical experts who don’t have any awareness about history. Those who are aware won’t subject people like MT to such a heinous attack. Many have even forgotten the word humanity. And shockingly not a single writer has come forward to defend him. More shocking is the realisation that writers have lost the influence they used to have on the public and the society. Compare the social acceptance an actor who is only two or three movies old gets in society, to that of a writer who has been active for 50 years. It reflects the cultural transition we are passing through,” he said.
He said that none of the writers have come forward to support me as well. It’s the common people who have stood with me. They have told me to say whatever I want to, without fear and have assured their support. “Equally shocking is the realisation that even the culturally vibrant Kerala society has become intolerant. That is why I said what we have enjoyed were the contributions of many people but now we have forgotten them,” he said.
He added, “I am happy that I am the target now, and MT has escaped.”