In the first video, you hear a man say defiantly, “A lot of people will outrage against this video, but it’s fine.”
But just a few days later, a second video appears. Here, the same man takes a humble, self-deprecating tone, and says: “I apologise. I hereby request all my Muslim friends to put this controversy to rest. Please don’t blow this up further and harm the radio station. I had no communal agenda when I put out the first video.”
Between these two videos are a story of the storm that has hit RJ Sooraj, who hosts the primetime evening show called Doha Junction on Radio Malayalam 98.6FM in Doha. Sooraj’s apology video has come after he received alarming threats, and he and his radio station were targeted by a systematic smear campaign.
What did Sooraj do? On December 2, he put out a video congratulating the three Malayali girls who had danced to the song Jimikki Kammal in a flashmob on AIDS awareness in Malappuram. The flash mob was part of the district health department's campaign to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1.
“I saw these three smart girls doing a flash mob. How many of us will have the courage to stand on a public road and do a flashmob? And that too for AIDS awareness!” Sooraj said in the video.
He then went on to hit out at Muslim fundamentalists who had outraged over the three girls dancing, imitating some of their comments in a parodic uncle-voice.
“Can I ask these kinds of people a question— a few days ago hadn’t you asked for Hadiya’s freedom as brothers? You even questioned the Supreme Court on it? But don’t these girls have the same kinds of rights like Hadiya? Why can’t they live life freely like you want Hadiya to? What is your definition of personal freedom? Is personal freedom a gift you give to people who convert and come to your religion?” Sooraj then asked in the video.
Signing off with the defiant statement that he wouldn’t care about outrage against his video, Sooraj seemed prepared for some abuses to come his way. But the vitriol that emerged seems to have surpassed anything that Sooraj imagined.
On Monday, Sooraj posted a video insisting that he had merely spoken about women's rights and had no communal intentions. But as the outbursts against him and the radio station grew, Sooraj’s tone and tenor changed drastically in the video he posted on Tuesday where he apologised profusely and requested people to stop their hate campaigns.
In the last video, Sooraj details the threats that he has received in the past few days. “We will burn you in Doha. WE will hit you, we will kill you. We will put you in jail. We will make you lose your job,” are some of the threats he lists out.
He then says that the mocking tone and mimicry he did of fundamentalist voices seems to have outraged people the most. “But it was not intentional on my part. I hereby apologise for this. I did not know that this would hurt religious sentiments,” he says.
He clarifies that contrary to the things being said about him on social media and elsewhere, he does not hold anti-Islamic sentiments. “I am not someone who ridicules any religion. I am now being painted as an RSS supporter and a Hindutva bhakht aiming to insult Islam but that is not true. My politics is not RSS Sangh Parivar or any Hindutva politics. I would only call myself a Communist sympathiser, not even a supporter.”
He also says that the vitriol against him has been so strong that he is no longer hosting the primetime show he did, and may not even continue to be associated with the radio station. He also pleads that the radio station should be left out of the entire controversy.
“I request everyone not to pull my radio station into the controversy. A lot of young men from Kerala work in my radio station. if they were to lose their jobs because of the video I put up, that would hurt me. Please take my radio station out of this controversy. I admit that it is my personal blunder,” Sooraj says in the video.
Even as he apologises, however, Sooraj also cautions any right-wing Hindu groups or sympathisers from trying to take advantage of the controversy that has grown around him.
“I have been getting a lot of messages saying, ‘We will protect you, let’s see what they can do to you.’ But I don’t want those elements to take advantage.”