Death threat to writer

Kerala author under fire for standing up for novelist

By K.M. Rakesh in Bangalore
  • Published 4.01.18
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MT Vasudevan Nair
Shihabuddin Poythumkadavu

Bangalore: A Malayalam writer has received death threats for speaking out against those who tried to label M.T. Vasudevan Nair, one of Kerala's most popular writers, as a " sanghi", a racist and an "Islamophobe".

Shihabuddin Poythumkadavu, who came out in support of Nair, has been targeted on social media.

"I just couldn't digest the fact that a legend like MT (as Malayalis lovingly call Nair) was being abused and humiliated by a section. So I reacted on Facebook. After that, they turned against me and began abusing and threatening me," Shihabuddin told The Telegraph on Wednesday.

The trouble started in December, when a group of students from Nahjurrashad Islamic College in Thrissur district called on Nair, 84 - the author of Randamoozham, which is a retelling of the Mahabharat from the perspective of Bhim - at his home in Kozhikode.

"The students went to invite MT for a literary event at their institution with brochures bearing his photograph even before seeking his permission," said Shihabuddin, 54, who is privy to the developments.

"But MT declined the invitation obviously because he has not been going out of his home too much because of age-related health issues," Shihabuddin added.

When the students requested Nair if he could sign on the certificates of merit to be distributed to participants at the literary workshop, he refused.

"The allegation is that MT refused to sign and asked what would happen if any of the students (who won the certificates) went on to join extremist outfits. But we don't know the reality," he said.

After the event on December 16 and 17, a student named Saleem Mannarkad lashed out at Nair in a Facebook message and accused him of carrying forward the extremist Hindutva ideology of people like Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Pravin Togadia.

Shihabuddin stepped in when Saleem's message began circulating.

"People called MT a sanghi, a racist, an Islamophobe in an outright character assassination. I know what a secular man MT is and he wouldn't have meant any ill or uttered anything unfair. While I am glad that my Facebook post shifted their target from MT to me, it has been one hell of a time for me since then," he said, recalling the abusive messages and threat calls he has received.

Saleem had gone to the extent of accusing Nair of having "lost his mind".

"When did the hands that were supposed to write about secularism begin rolling the chariot of extreme Hindutva?" Saleem wrote, questioning Nair's purported comments.

Confined to his home, Nair did not come forward to comment. He could not be reached as he does not comment over phone.

Earlier, the Sangh-backed Hindu Aikya Vedi in Kerala had cautioned against a film based on Randamoozham being named Mahabharata. The film touted to be India's most expensive, is supposed to be a multi-starrer and cast Malayalam actor Mohanlal as Bhim.

With the abuses and threats over Nair's rejection of the invite continuing, Shihabuddin has no doubt extremists, irrespective of their religion, behave in the same fashion.

"There is no difference between Hindu and Muslim extremists. They just wear different colours, but their attitude and mode of attack is exactly the same. First they abuse you, then your family, and then they issue death threats," said the writer.

However, Shihabuddin is yet to file a police complaint despite the threats and abuses.

"At one point I did check with a police officer friend. He immediately confirmed the offences were serious and non-bailable and asked me to file a complaint. But then I began empathising with the families of these people," he said.

Another factor that has been disturbing Shihabuddin is that the Malayalam literary world has not reacted to the attacks. "My only relief is that I managed to deflect the attacks on me (from Nair). But I had expected some reactions," he said.

While many rallied behind Nair when he came under attack from the Sangh parivar for criticising demonetisation, no such support has been forthcoming this time.

A couple of writers expressed reluctance to react considering the sensitivity of the matter.

A well-known writer, who did not wish to be named, said the attacks were "deplorable" but added that the situation required "careful handling" so as not to play into the hands of the Sangh parivar. "You know who is waiting to capitalise on such issues," he said.