Ashraf Kunnummal, a postdoctoral fellow at the Johannesburg Institute of Advance Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa, has closely studied the Beemapally firings. He had come out with a paper in 2011, two years after the state’s biggest police firing. TNIE’s Rajesh Abraham caught up with Kunnummal for his take on the film Malik and its depiction of the events. Excerpts.
Q. Is the criticism justified that the movie tried to whitewash some incidents including police shooting?
The political context of the movie is problematised because of its specific location in the politics and history of state violence in Kerala. The disagreement arises in the way it problematises the state violence against Beemapally’s Muslim fishermen.
Beemapally is the name of a Masjid in the seaside town by the same name in Thiruvananthapuram with around 28,000 Muslims living in its vicinity, most of whom are lower-caste converts. Beemapally was famous for its ‘informal economy’ based on the sale of ‘illegal’ foreign goods. It lies near Cheriyathura dominated by Latin Catholics. Both communities have lived in the area for a long time, with certain conflicts.
On May 17, 2009, the Kerala police entered the Muslim residential area of Beemapally and shot six men and injured more than fifty others. They also killed a 16-year-old boy, Firoz, by attacking him with a bayonet. The police claimed it was done to control the “communally inspired mob” of Beemapally that was trying to attack the neighbouring Latin Catholic community and the Church. However, the fact-finding reports by the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and the National Confederation of Human Rights Organisation tell a different story. Their findings said there were no “communal conflicts” at that point in Beemapally. However, the movie shows that there were Muslim communal forces — as an invisible hand — that made the police shooting possible.
Q. The film shows the police were responsible for the shooting while giving a clean chit to the political leadership. It also gives an impression the Left is not in power.
There is a misrepresentation of the political leadership. The Beemapally police shooting happened when CPM leader V S Achuthanandan was the chief minister and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan the home minister under the LDF. The Judicial Commission Report by Justice Ramakrishnan was shelved by the LDF until 2011.
The subsequent UDF government also didn’t want to discuss the commission report in the assembly. Moreover, the crime branch approached the Trivandrum First Class Judicial Magistrate to drop cases against police officers involved and there was no criticism from either side of the political spectrum.
The way the movie portrays the Muslim political leadership of Beemapally is part of the larger politics of Islamophobia. It tries to shift the blame by showing that the residents are manipulated by their own community leaders. The irony is that an elected local CPM leader was in charge of the Beemapally ward then.
Q. The movie shows guns being brought in from abroad.
A CBI investigation had proved that there were no explosives in Beemapally.