Published: 28th November 2018
This Kozhikode school's play about women calling azan has run into controversy, but the director isn't fazed
The play titled Kithab, directed by Rafeeq Mangalassery ends with a Muslim girl calling the azan. The students are set to perform it in the upcoming Kerala State Youth Festival
In the past couple of months, Kerala witnessed a lot of debates, controversies and violence when it came to topics that linked gender equality and religion. While the past debates were on the Sabarimala issue, the latest one is based on a play, that a group of school students in Kozhikode performed. So what prompted a few Islamic fundamentalist groups and activists to stage processions against a 30-minute-long play performed by a group of tenth graders, you may wonder. Titled Kithab, the play that won the first prize in the Kozhikode district youth festival, ends with four Muslim sisters calling the azan.
Now in traditional Muslim cultures, azan is called only by a muezzin, who is a male. The protestors alleged that the play had apparently hurt their religious sentiments. So we decided to catch up with theatre artist Rafeeq Mangalassery who directed the play. Rafeeq tells us that the controversy came as a total shocker to him. "This is definitely a topic that will be difficult for our society to accept. But even then I didn't expect the people of Kerala to behave in such orthodoxy," he says.
But this playwright also alleges political foul play in this issue. "The play was performed by the students of a Memunda Higher Secondary School, where the management is mostly left-leaning. So, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) and the Muslim League might have thought of taking a dig at the CPM by making a huge deal out of it," he says. These students won the first prize for the same play at the sub-district youth festival earlier this year ad Rafeeq remembers how it was applauded by all sections of people.
So what motivated Rafeeq to come up with this play? He tells us, "Societies are growing and developing every day. We're trying to promote gender equality through this play. I'm someone who believes that gender equality must exist in every society and community. Since I'm living in a society with a Muslim majority, I narrated the story from this context."
There were also reports about how the play is based on the short story 'Vaangu' by author Unni R. But the author had asked the media to leave his work out of the controversies. But Rafeeq tells us that Kithaab wasn't based on Vaangu, but it was merely inspired by the story's idea. "Women calling azan is not an idea that was conceived in Unni R's book. We've performed plays and read books with this concept. But we didn't want to look like plagiarists and that was why we thought of crediting the author. Kithab is an independent production," he says.
Despite all the controversies, the parents and teachers of the students are in support of Rafeeq and the play. "They are hoping to see the play being performed in the state youth festival soon. Also, we're not incorporating any sort of change here. I never felt that this play had a wrong message," he concludes.