News reports had indicated that his last article in a series of six on Ramayana had been withheld by Mathrubhumi, after threats from a fringe Hindu group called Hanuman Sena. The Indian Express had said that Basheer had to stop his last piece because of the sustained campaign on the phone by unnamed persons who upbraided him for writing on Rama when he was a Muslim.
“I have never stopped writing and wouldn’t cave under pressure from anyone. I have finished the series of articles though I got many abusive calls. I will write till the time I am alive,” Basheer told IANS over the phone from Calicut.
He said Mathrubhumi had told him that they were postponing the last piece, after receiving threats and abusive calls. “I never called it off,” Basheer added.
Basheer said that he had given Mathrubhumi six articles at the stipulated time. “I have seen lot of posters and hoardings outside the newspaper office calling them Hindu haters and calling for boycott of the paper for letting a Muslim writing on Ramayana. That might have been the reason for them to withhold the last one,” noted Basheer.
He is widely respected as a scholar and teacher. He is a practising Muslim but has never been associated with any religious group. Basheer’s pieces for Mathrubhumi spoke about the brilliance of Valmiki’s critique on Rama’s call to Sita to go in for ‘agnipariksha’.
The author said that he used to receive several abusive calls a day. “After my articles were published, I used to get at least 250 calls a day abusing me for writing on Ramayana. The callers were only bothered about a Muslim writing about Ram, though they had no idea about Ramayana or anything. They used to resort to abusive language if I questioned their academic credentials. It was humiliating.”
The callers, he said, were angry that the writer had attributed human characteristics to Rama. “I have only interpreted Valmiki’s version of Ramayana. Valmiki has portrayed Rama with human characteristics criticising his actions,” he explained.
The author said that he was saddened by the attacks. “I am deeply hurt that at 75 I was being reduced to just a Muslim. I have never lived my life as a Muslim,” he said..
Basheer, a Professor of Malayalam at the University of Calicut, has written more than 40 critical works on Malayalam poetry, short stories and novels.
The author said India had more than 700 versions of Ramayana and the story was interpreted in different ways by many authors. “In one version, Sita is depicted as the daughter of Ravana. In Kerala, we have more than 25 versions, including even a Muslim version called ‘Mappilah Ramayanam’,” he said.
The scholar was perturbed about the divisions in the state in the name of religion. “I have been writing about Ramayana for many years. It’s the first time that I am facing such an outrage from fanatics. It’s unfortunate that it is happening in Kerala,” he said.
The author attributed the incident to the growing intolerance to the freedom of expression across the country. “We are witnessing bans on books, movies and beef. The writers in India are going through hard time. Instances like silencing of Tamil writer Perumal Murugan and the killing of Karnataka writer MM Kalburgi only shows the growing tendency to curb freedom of expression,” Basheer said.
He said he is finalising his upcoming book which may be a good response to fanatics. “My book on Ramayana will come out soon. I think that will be the best reply to people who oppose a Muslim writing on Ramayana,” he said.