Ashraf Kunnummal, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Johannesburg Institute of Advance Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa, has studied Beemapally’s layoffs closely. He released an article in 2011, two years after the state’s biggest police layoff. Rajesh Abraham of TNIE met Kunnummal for his interpretation of the film Malik and his description of the events. Extracts.
Q. Is the criticism justified that the film tried to whitewash certain incidents, in particular police shootings?
The political context of the film is problematized due to its particular situation in the politics and history of state violence in Kerala. The disagreement arises in how he problematizes state violence against the Muslim fishermen of Beemapally.
Beemapally is the name of a Masjid in the seaside town of the same name at 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 region for a long time, with some conflicts.
On May 17, 2009, Kerala police entered the Muslim residential area of Beemapally and shot six men and injured over fifty others. They also killed a 16-year-old boy, Firoz, by attacking him with a bayonet. Police claimed this was done to control Beemapally’s “community-inspired mob” who attempted to attack the neighboring Latin Catholic community and the Church. However, investigative reports from the Popular Union for Civil Liberties and the National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations tell a different story. Their findings indicate that there was no “community conflict” at that time in Beemapally. However, the film shows that there were Muslim community forces – as an invisible hand – that made the police shooting possible.
Q. The film shows that the police were responsible for the shooting while giving a clear note to the political leaders. It also gives the impression that the left is not in power.
There is a misrepresentation of political leadership. The Beemapally police shooting occurred when the head of the CPM, VS Achuthanandan, was the chief minister and Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, the interior minister of the LDF. Judge Ramakrishnan’s Judicial Commission report was shelved by the DFL until 2011.
The UDF government that followed was also unwilling to discuss the committee’s report in the assembly. In addition, the criminal branch approached the First Class Judicial Magistrate of Trivandrum to drop the cases against the police officers involved and there was no criticism from either side of the political spectrum.
The way the film portrays Beemapally’s Muslim political leadership is part of the larger politics of Islamophobia. He tries to shift the blame by showing that residents are being manipulated by their own community leaders. The irony is that an elected local leader of the CPM was in charge of the Beemapally neighborhood at the time.
Q. The film shows weapons imported from abroad.
A CBI investigation had proven that there were no explosives in Beemapally.