On the wall of the living room of Abu and Asiya Backer’s house at Perumbavur, 41 km from Kochi, two numbers are written in black—one is of the local police station and the other is of the circle inspector.
“When people attack us, we get into a panicky mood,” says Asiya, 68. “So, it is easy to dial the number from where we can see it.”
It all began in 2013, when their daughter-in-law, estranged from their son Mujeeb Rahman, went and complained at the local mosque that her in-laws were praying to Hindu gods.Indeed, they were and are. There is a 150-year-old snake temple at the rear of their house. “It has been there from the time of our ancestors,” says Abu, 76. Whenever they go and pray at the site, they say Muslim prayers.
But that is no comfort for the community members. A couple of years ago, when the elderly couple was away, a mob of 500 demolished the temple. Abu and Asiya filed a police case, and even rebuilt the temple.
However, soon after, when Abu went for the Friday prayers at the local mosque, the imam mocked his faith and the way he wore his skull cap. “I stopped going at once,” he says.“It has been a very difficult time.”
“It is a deeply spiritual experience for me. We will never leave this holy place,” Asiya says, despite receiving some tempting offers from affluent locals, who said they would purchase them an apartment.
This resistance is all the more remarkable because the family is going through financial difficulties. Mujeeb had taken a bank loan to set up a flour mill near the temple. But because of the disturbances, the mill had to be shut down. “Now I am struggling to pay off the debt,” says Mujeeb, who runs a taxi service.
For a long time, Abu and Mujeeb did not go to the mosque. But a few months ago, Abu started going again. “By this time, our names had been struck off as members,” says Abu. “So we don’t get any financial benefits.”
In fact, Abu senses a change in attitude. “I believe that people have begun to accept the reasons behind our worship at the temple, although nobody has voiced anything aloud,” he says.
But local municipal councillor Imbichi Koya is not sure. “The people in the area do not have any contact with them,” he says. “It does not mean they have accepted the situation. But there is no harassment now.”
However, Abu says that their immediate neighbours, who happen to be his relatives, have not eased up. “Every now and then stones are thrown at the house,” says Abu. “They want us to leave so that they can demolish the temple. But God has given us the strength to stay firm.”