ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Imagined Kerala

Why was public outrage in Kerala against the brutal chopping of the hand of a teacher in July, for allegedly denigrating Islam, far more than many other such violent acts in the state in the past? Perhaps the episode ruffled too many emotional and moral feathers because it impinged on the two virtues that provide a distinct identity to the imagined community of Kerala. It was seen as sullying the image of a communally harmonious and literate Kerala. And Muslims and Islam were to be blamed for the blot. They had, in this perception, once again placed themselves outside the boundaries of that imagined space.

On the morning of 4 July, a group of assailants cut off the hand of T J Joseph, a professor of Malayalam at Newman College in Thodupuzha (Idukki district), close to his home in Moovattupuzha (Ernakulam district). Joseph had been in the eye of a storm in March this year after a Malayalam question paper he drafted for an internal examination carried a question allegedly denigrating the Prophet Mohammed. There were widespread protests and he was booked in a criminal case for hurting religious sentiments. Most of the people arrested in connection with the attack on Joseph were members or sympathisers of the Popular Front of India (PFI), an organisation formed in 2006 to champion the rights of Muslims and other marginalised sections.

Widespread police raids in PFI offices across the state allegedly produced a huge cache of arms and country-made bombs, VCDs containing images of Taliban methods of punishment, anti-national literature and clues about large-scale illegal financial transactions. There were also claims that a parallel illegal network of shariah courts existed in the state, though these were later rejected by the state Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan. The assault was widely condemned. The ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) – CPI(M) – branded it the “Taliban model”, and while its home minister interpreted the attack as part of an attempt to establish an “Islamic state” in Kerala, Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan drew attention to the PFI’s alleged plan to turn Kerala into a “Muslim majority state” in the c oming 20 years.

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