How a FB Post, on the 1st Day of Ramzan, Could Have Caused a Riot, & What We Should be Doing About It: Kerala

On the first day of the month of Ramzan, a temple was vandalised in the northern Kerala district of Malappuram. My first encounter with the news was through a Facebook comment where the commentator argued that the insecurity and threat the Muslim community is experiencing from the ban on cattle sale for slaughter is quite real, to the point of a temple getting vandalised in Malappuram. It did read like a stupid, even dangerous response. Moreover, it was written by a considerate, well-meaning man who empathised with the fact that Muslims were being pushed into such insecurity. 
But these initial rumours and anxieties were put to rest the very next day: the perpetrator was caught by the police: he comes from Trivandrum which is about 350 kilometers away and his name, contrary to the initial impression that it was some Muslim, turned out to be Rajaram Mohandas Potti. Mr. Potti has reportedly told the police that vandalisation was his means of attacking the superstitions within Hinduism and his way of countering idolatry. In any case, had it been what the first FB commentator had said, and a Muslim had committed the act, it would have no doubt caused blood-letting both in the realm of ‘the mind’ thereafter translating also into physical violence.
I have no way of knowing if the reasons Mr. Potti gave for his actions (of vandalising the temple) are true or if he was asked to commit this crime by some interested party. It might be a stray incident; it might also have been planned to create enmity between two communities. I can't know the intention. My concern in this particular article is not the ultimate motive, though the motive behind the act is not irrelevant. My concern is a post by one Mr. Unnikrishnan Karthikeyan on Facebook (translated below) which got a lot of shares (but has currently been taken off- a number of Malayalam newspapers have published the screenshot though): 

"A temple has been demolished in Malappuram. The Shivalinga has been chopped in the middle. Pissed and shat on the Sree Kovil (The sanctum sanctorum). Be ready to open refugee camps in South Kerala. Malabar has been captured entirely by secular terrorists. There is all the scope for a second Mappila rebellion. The first Mappila Rebellion became freedom struggle because there was nobody to ask questions and because Hindus were animals. You can decide if the second Mappila Rebellion should also become a freedom struggle" says Unnikrishnan Karthikeyan's post (screenshot of original below)

When Mr. Potti was caught, Mr. Unnikrishnan Karthikeyan wrote another post (which is also inaccessible now, either due to deletion or change in privacy settings) saying he was not going to delete the earlier post and he did say "secular terrorists" were behind it and that he maintains that position. The Hindutwavadis are now saying the attacker is a former Communist Party member. The veracity of this I have no way of knowing; at this point at least. 

Many people who are concerned about the future of the state (Kerala) have been asking for legal action to be taken against such people who instigate enmity between communities in such a brazen fashion. Initially I too agreed with this position, but on a careful consideration of the post, I feel there is not much of a case here.  Mr. Unnikrishnan does have a point, after all.
Reading the Fb Post for What It Is/Does
The first part merely describes what happened inside the temple, all in passive voice and using the past tense: "A temple has been demolished in Malappuram. The Shivalinga has been chopped in the middle. Pissed and shat on the Sree Kovil (The sanctum sanctorum)". The next part is a warning about the bleak future that we face: "Be ready to open refugee camps in Southern Kerala. Malabar has been captured entirely by secular terrorists" but through this the writer moves from Malappuram, a district in south Kerala, to the whole of North Kerala. The third part instigates Hindus (they are clueless animals, says this allegation) warning them that we are in the midst or on the eve of a second Mappila Rebellion, in which Hindus will be ousted all over again and they should reflect on whether they want to let this happen. Clearly, it doesn't ask anybody to kill anybody else; it merely asks them to "consider certain scary possibilities"!

It remains a mystery why Mr. Potti chose Malappuram, which is so far away for him and why the first day of Ramadan for marking his protest against Hindu beliefs and customs- that too as a thief would. This question remains conspicuously unanswered. And, Mr. Unnikrishnan's post was technically precise: he did say "secular terrorist" and not "Islamist terrorist", the favourite Hindutwavadi word being "red jihad".

The post in itself doesn't sound incorrect, though it may sound inane to a person who is reading such content for the first time. But then, the curious thing is, the post has a well crafted already existent, vast viewership of readers who are not reading such posts for the first time. There is a whole constituency of people who have been hearing such terminology for a while now and for whom such terminology connects, and resonates.

The association and resonance have both been carefully constructed by Hindutwavadi worldview over a sustained period of time, making the use of such terms part of 'their' ‘common sense’:  Malappuram is a ‘Muslim majority district which has been projected as a mini-Pakistan’, North Kerala is where ‘Communists have been killing RSS workers’ (though the region in the state where the political murders of both CPI-M cadres and RSS cadres have been taking place, Kannur, is more than a hundred kilometers away) and Mappila Rebellion is when ‘Hindus were forcefully converted or made refugees’ (again, this has a resonance with the Partition narrative of one community). 
Only if you see this carefully laid out breeding ground, will you be able to rise and respond to the situation like an emergency, a wake-up call. Unnikrishnan’s posts (that have been subsequently deleted but have presumably done much of the damage that was intended), traverse familiar territory: some fact, much fiction, the overlapping layers laced with enough prejudice to make them potentially dangerous. Had the culprit not been actually caught for some days, the communal temperatures in Kerala would have risen and either a riot or pre-riot situation would have been successfully engineered.
The problem with what is now called "Post-truth" discourse(s) is not that they are all built on lies but that they deal in the sensation, (unverified) impression(s), rumours and fears, many of which are unverifiable. There is a whole ocean of such hyped up emotion which is waiting to hit the shore. Logic and information to carefully de-construct the emotions on which such upheavals are constructed are not creatively or craftily constructed. Simply proving the information to be ‘lies’  won't always quite work because some people, or more than some, who would love to believe Mr. Unnikrishnan's version of events posted in response to a FB post of a temple being vandalised.  Had it actually been a Muslim who was responsible for the act that in fact Mr. Potti committed, there would have been cause enough for retaliatory bloodshed to follow. Now that we know that it is a Hindu who was actually responsible, there still remains mental space for enough numbers of people to believe that it was a "secular terrorist" who is the guilty party! The puzzle however is, how we have ended up in a position where a person fit and able to instigate violence and a riot commands more power in public discourse while the peacemaker who commands rational co-existence appears weak?

The post though doesn't sound incorrect, though it may sound totally inane to a person who is reading such content for the first time. But then, the curious thing is, the post has a well crafted already existent, vast viewership of readers who are not reading such posts for the first time. There is a whole constituency of people who have been hearing such terminology for a while now.
There is also the other question:  though the culprit behind the temple terror might have been caught, the whatsapp groups and secret Facebook groups might have only heard of the first part of vandalisation, where it was assumed that it was a Muslim who was the culprit. These vast numbers of faceless Indians might not have heard the second part at all, telling us that actually Mr Potti was responsible. The feeling that Hindus have no option but to resort to reprisal, even genocidal violence might have thus been reiterated, all over again. Given the arbitrariness, fear and hatred that drive such collectives, the real question that we need to ask is, how can there be a break in to these spaces to dispel dangerous propaganda? 
Immediately, all concerned citizens and peace loving individuals need to stay with this particular available example, understand it thoroughly and communicate it to the people around, without labeling or targeting discussants. If we are genuinely interested in the future of our lives, we must demonstrate the dangers of this one single act that was aimed at seriously disturbing social peace in Kerala, at the beginning  of the Holy month of Ramadan.  We need to take this to the mass media, social media and write letters to the ministries pointing out the venomous possibilities. We need to keep coming back to it, till it is seen for what it was meant to be: a wasted future weapon aimed to generate oceans of social antagonism. What Mr. Unnikrishnan (and understandably his party/group) wanted to make an asset should be turned into a social and political impossible liability. Besides, some soul searching backed by historical investigation is also in order.
An Inventory of the Unverifiable: Course Corrections in Order

Malappuram, North Kerala and Mappila Rebellion: where do these terms assume dreaded associations? Are they only creations of the Hindutwavadi discourse?  By omission or commission, other sections have also contributed to them acquiring the meanings they now collectively hold in society.  

The feeling that Hindus have no option but to resort to reprisal, even genocidal violence might have thus been reiterated, all over again. Given the arbitrariness, fear and hatred that drive such collectives, the real question that we need to ask is, how can there be a break in to these spaces to dispel dangerous propaganda? 

Malappuram as Mappilastan is a narrative Congress championed as the district was getting formed in 1969, when they were in the Opposition. They should apologise for this and dispel the issues around this labelling which have been in the political subconscious of the state. Though it was Congress that started this level of discourse, the present Communist Party has also been known to relapse into using these analogies with the best example being of V. S. Achuthanathan, the much respected and veteran Communist leader. 
One of stalwart leaders of Kerala, V.S. Achuthananthan,  defender of the formation of Malappuram district in Kerala Assembly in 1967 had forcibly argued that the Congress Party was then opposed to its formation on grounds identical to those put forward by the Jan Sangh. The same V.S. Achuthananthan was later heard making awfully ill-founded insinuations about students from Malappuram , referring to them as ‘cheaters in exams’ when they began topping merit lists in the state. This 180 degree turn by one leader and the labelling of Mallapuram by others usually always depended on who the party with the most support in this region- Indian Union Muslim League(IUML)- was, at that point, aligning with. When the IUML was with the CPM, the party had nice things to say about the district and when the IUML was with the Congress, the Congress had nice things to say about the district. The flip side was, that whenever either party was on the ‘other’ side minus the IUML as alliance partner, Mallapuram  district (euphemism for Muslims of Kerala) was invoked abusively.
Ironically, IUML has also been milking this Malappuram= Muslim community equation, in reverse gear, by furthering their real estate interests in the area! When it comes to Malappuram, nobody asks socio-economic questions on issues of power, transparency and responsibility. This is a dangerous reality that needs to be addressed and corrected if the Hindutwavadi propaganda has to be taken on realistically and effectively. Malapuram as the name of the disctrict invokes blind emotions and these need to be responsibly de-constructed so that present challenges may be dealt with.
North Kerala
As for the propaganda that RSS workers are getting killed in Kannur, North Kerala, which is what allows Mr. Unnikrishnan to make the connections that he does, there has been, for decades now, a culture of political violence (leading to murders) between the RSS and the CPIM- yes, it is two sided and not a one-sided narrative as the RSS would have us believe. Beginning as far back as 1968, murders from both sides have created and engendered a culture of violence and fear. At the root cause are local, rural issues that need to be addressed outside the ideological blinkers or frameworks of the parties contributing to them. The RSS-driven central government on the one hand and the LDF-run state government, have undoubtedly fed into this animosities. It is important that the larger public sphere understands the grammar of this phenomenon, renders it intelligible and acts on it. 
Mapilla Rebellion
As for the Mappila Rebellion, there are four readings of this uprising: Nationalist, Marxist, Hindutwavadi and Islamist. Nationalists see it essentially as an Indian uprising and as a part of Gandhi's Khilafat movement, Marxists read it purely as anti-feudal and anti-imperialist movement by peasants, Hindutwavadis negate all of these and say it was a project to make Hindus refugees pointing only to the fact that the landlords who faced physical attack were Hindu and that a number of forceful conversions in certain parts took place; for the Islamists, it was a Muslim resistance for regaining of the Khilafat (in their reading, Islamic rule).
The trouble is that while there may be some truth in all of these accounts, the truth lies somewhere in between. What I find missing in all these accounts is the fact that the rebels were not just Indians, peasants, anti-upper caste or Muslims- they were lower caste Muslims, Dalit Muslims if we use current understanding and terminology. The very introduction of caste will make clear how limited all these available versions are. Similarly, a woman's narrative or a historiography of the riots that can create women's voices that breaks away from the silence of the male narrative, can also pull us out of the current vicious circle of arbitrariness. We do need a new paradigm to replace the theoretically bankrupt, politically counter productive ones we presently have. 
Am I arguing that dispelling Mr. Unnikrishnan kind of throwaway comments require quite a lot of ground work? Yes, absolutely. Unnikrishnan’s FB post may read like a-spur-of-a-moment emotional whip-up. But it isn't quite. It is the outcome of years of prolonged and consistent work that has got people like Mr. Unnikrishnan to a point where they say what they do, even if it is based on half-truths, the impressions they make have the power to stay. Undoing this damage needs not just vigilance and spirited opposition, but a lot of hard work. 

(Social commentator and dramaturge, the author is Assistant Professor of English at St. Stephen's College, Delhi).  



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