Biju Muthathi (right) in the documentary
Sept. 22: A television journalist in Kerala has received death threats for the title of his short documentary, Thendigalude Daivam or God of Beggars, on an ancient temple that shelters the aged and destitute.
The "hundreds of calls", coming weeks after the murder of anti-Hindutva journalist Gauri Lankesh in Bangalore, has prompted the documentary's producer and anchor Biju Muthathi to lodge a written complaint with the state police chief.
One of the Sangh parivar outfits that has been protesting against the documentary's title is the Hindu Aikyavedi, whose president K.P. Sasikala was recently accused of telling "progressive writers" to conduct a ritual to avoid becoming "the next Gauri".
The documentary, aired at 9.30pm on Sunday by the Left-leaning People TV, marked the 350th episode of a programme called Kerala Express. Biju says he began receiving threat calls almost immediately.
"I have received hundreds of calls abusing me and my family and threatening to kill me," he told The Telegraph today.
"For the first couple of days, I'd receive an abusive call every two minutes or so. I kept switching my mobile phone off but the calls resumed as soon as I switched it back on."
The 22-minute documentary is about the Oachira Parambrahma temple in Kollam district that is dedicated to the universal consciousness and has no deity or even a structure.
It's an open plot of 36 acres where a fire burns round the clock under a large banyan tree. A priest performs some rudimentary rituals before an stone idol. Maintained by a trust and the state government, the temple provides free food, clothing and health care to several hundred elderly poor.
The Hindu Aikyavedi said it would lodge a case against the channel and Biju for hurting religious sentiments but denied any links with those who threatened the journalist. "We know how to take up matters legally," Sasikala said.
She explained: "It's the connotation of the title we are protesting against, not the programme's content. While the literal meaning of thendikal is 'beggars' (thendigalude is the possessive case), the connotation is 'scoundrels'."
Biju said actor Mohanlal had mouthed a line describing the Oachira temple as Thendigalude Daivam in the 1998 Malayalam movie Padamudra, and he had simply adopted that as the title.
Faced with threats and abuse, People TV aired the documentary a second time but without the controversial title. In its place were just two quotation marks, with Biju asking the viewers to suggest a suitable title after watching the episode.
Police sources told reporters they were "examining the matter".
Biju said he had not received any threat calls since last night but was not lowering his guard. He said many of the callers had "used decoy tactics, claiming they were CPM cadres and appreciated my work, and switching to abuse and threats once I relaxed a bit".
Leftists and filmmakers have expressed support for Biju and his documentary. "They (the Sangh parivar) are trying to silence journalists even in Kerala (after) the killing of Gauri Lankesh," state CPM politician P. Jayarajan wrote on Facebook.
His party colleague T.V. Rajesh wrote: "Another media prfessional is being hunted after Gauri Lankesh, just for telling the truth."
Filmmaker and activist Deedi Damodaran slammed those abusing Biju and said he deserved praise for focusing on a facet of Kerala's society that the mainstream media had ignored.