Mathrubhumi, Kerala’s second largest newspaper and one of the top ten in the country, was forced to issue an unconditional apology after religious and political organizations held widespread protests outside its offices for publishing ‘blasphemous’ content about Prophet Mohammed.
The newspaper had, on Wednesday, printed audience feedback sourced from social media on another of its news items related to comments made by Justice Kamal Pasha of Kerala High Court on Muslim Personal Law.
Pasha had, over the weekend, asked why Muslim women cannot be allowed to have four husbands under the law if Muslim men can be allowed to have four wives.
A facebook user had supported Justice Kamal Pasha’s stance and said in a comment that India should have a uniform civil code. In comments that were reproduced in Mathrubhumi newspaper, he or she went on to say that people who opposed the implementation of uniform laws for all Indians were primarily afraid of losing their ability to keep multiple wives, some very young.
However, the comment led to widespread protests from the Muslim community in Kerala, many of whom considered it an affront to their religious beliefs.
Several Muslim political organizations, such as the Campus Front, SDPI and PDP held protests and rallies through many towns in the state.
On social media, many devout Muslims put up photos of themselves with burning ‘Mathrubhumi’ in their hands, decrying the ‘blasphemous act’.
Most of the ‘secular’ political parties — including the Congress and the Left — have refused to comment on the controversy, wary of losing votes ahead of state elections in May. About 27% of the state’s population profess Islamic religious beliefs.
Today, Mathrubhumi published an unconditional apology for publishing the content, clarifying that the comments were carried as ‘feedback’ from the people on the article about Justic Kamal Pasha’s comments on Muslim Personal Law.
India has different laws for its citizens based on their religion. As a result, the laws of marriage, divorce, inheritance and so on applicable to each Indian citizen depends on whether he or she believes in Islam, Christianity or any of the Hindu religions.
Though this is a legacy of the British administrative machinery — which recognized different communities within the same geographic area — the makers of the Indian Constitution could not agree on abolishing separate laws for people belonging to different religions in the country.
However, they did add ‘Uniform Civil Code’ as a desirable goal for the Indian state, including it in the so-called Directive Principles of State Policy.
The Supreme Court is currently hearing a petition around Uniform Civil Code, especially with regard to discrimination faced by women under religion-based laws in India. It recently sent a notice to the center seeking its stand on a petition by a Muslim woman seeking equal status under the law.
Meanwhile, leaders of Kerala’s strong rationalist movement have decried the “intolerance” shown by religious people towards criticism.
E A Jabbar, a prominent pro-science and anti-superstition activist, criticized Mathrubhumi for “giving in” to religious intolerance, and said Kerala has had a long tradition of criticizing, often very harshly, religious practices through films, articles and literature.
He said the stance of certain groups that “no opinion will be tolerated” on anything related to their religion was unacceptable.