There was a paradigmatic shift in Telugu literature post the demolition of Babri Masjid, says Afsar Mohammad, senior faculty at the University of Pennsylvania in the US. In an interview with TNM, Afsar Mohammad speaks about how mainstream Telugu dailies like Eenadu and Andhra Prabha were unwilling to accommodate voices keen on promoting identity politics, citing his academic paper published in December 2023, titled ‘The Rise of a Muslim Voice: Telugu writing in the Times of Hindu Nationalism.’
According to Afsar, this vacuum created by mainstream papers gave rise to counter-culture magazines such as Kanjira, Ujwala, Chinuku, and others, which ensured representation of female, Muslim, lowered caste voices in the Telugu heartlands. “The Muslim question was discussed using a new vocabulary,” he tells TNM, adding that in Telugu folklore, a visible syncretic relationship between Hindus and Muslims was witnessed.
Afsar speaks of how Sita, from the Hindu epic Ramayana, and Fatima, Prophet Mohammad’s daughter, are both invoked by female storytellers during Muharram in Telangana’s Karimnagar district. “The narrative describes certain commonalities between Fatima and Sita that represent the pain and suffering of many women and transcend the boundaries of a devotional text,” he writes in his paper.
In the interview with TNM, he speaks about how one year following the demolition of Babri Masjid, the Muslim subcaste group of dudekula (cotton cleaners classified as BC-B) started chronicling their distinction from upper-caste Muslim voices in Telugu. He also says that the connections Telugu literature and culture shared with Tamil Nadu were severed, and how as things stand, there exists a visible lack of research into Telugu writing.