A 30-second-long video showing a large gathering of men-attired in white clothes and skull caps- marching with placards and sloganeering, is going viral on social media platforms. Those sharing the video claim that it showed a protest by Muslims in Kerala against the appointment of a Hindu Brahmin IAS officer. Newschecker found that the video is being shared out of context, giving a communal colour to the event.
RSS-affiliated Organiser Weekly was among several others who shared the video. In a Twitter post, it wrote “Kerala: Muslims in large number took out a procession opposing the appointment of new IAS collector, who is a Hindu Brahmin.”
Archived links to such posts can be found here, here and here.
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Newschecker began the investigation by ascertaining whether visuals seen in the viral video are from Kerala’s Malappuram or not. On carefully analysing the video, we spotted text on several buildings written in what appears to be in Malayalam script. In addition, we also noticed ‘Poly Dental Clinic’ written on one of the buildings. Taking a clue, we conducted a Google keyword search for ‘Poly Dental Clinic Malappuram’ which led us to an image of the clinic uploaded on Justdial, same as one seen in the viral video.
We also spotted ‘Beauty Spot Up-Hill, Malappuram’ clearly written on one of the boards. We could thus conclude that the incident seen in the viral video is actually from Malappuram.
Following this, we tried to understand the context of the protests by carefully listening to the slogans in the video. Newschecker Malayalam team translated the slogans for us. The men seen in the video can be heard saying, “Government not ashamed of giving milk and honey to a person who did a murder in a drunken state? Withdraw the order of appointing him as collector,” in Malayalam. No communal slogans were heard in the video, Newschecker Malayalam team confirmed to us.
What Were The Protests About?
We continued our investigation to understand more about the cause of the protests and conducted a keyword search “Malappuram Kerala Protests IAS” on Google which yielded several recent news reports on the same. One such report by Onmanorama, dated July 31, 2022, stated, “Protest marches were held to the Secretariat in Thiruvananthapuram and Collectorates in other districts against the appointment of Sriram Venkitaraman as the Alappuzha Collector.”
It added that Sriram is accused in a drunk-driving accident that caused the death of journalist K M Basheer a few years ago.
“Deciding the posts of IAS officers is a policy decision of the government. By appointing such a person to the post, the government is abetting the subversion of justice and law,” the report quoted Kerala Muslim Jamaath state secretary Wandoor Abdul Rahman Faizy as saying while inaugurating the march in Malappuram.
The protests against the appointment of Sriram Venkitaraman as the Alappuzha Collector were reported from several places across the state. Muslim Jamaath state vice-president Pattuvam K P Aboobakkar Musliar, who inaugurated the march in Kannur, said “We cannot accept the government stand to give a promotion to the accused in a murder case, instead of punishing him.”
To know more about the case in which Venkitaraman is an accused, we conducted a keyword search for “KM Basheer Death” which led us to a report by The News Minute, dated August 03, 2020, titled ‘A year since journalist Basheer’s death: No trial yet, accused IAS officer back in service.’
KM Basheer, who was the Thiruvananthapuram bureau chief of regional daily Siraj, died after getting hit by a high-speeding car allegedly driven by Venkitaraman in the wee hours of August 4, 2019. The report noted, “Although eyewitnesses said that Sriram was behind the wheel and was in an inebriated state when he stepped out of the car, there was a major lapse in initiating the immediate legal proceedings, which eventually weakened the case.”
Reportedly, there were allegations that police had extended all support to save the IAS officer from the case. Venkitaraman blood samples were taken for testing for alcohol only after over eight hours. The chargesheet in the case was also filed after six months.
A report by Mathrubhumi, dated September 27, 2021, also noted that the case was initially investigated by Museum police and their apathy in collecting evidence weakened the case. Read the full report here.
The officer is also accused of tampering with the evidence in the case. You can read other reports on the protests here, here and here.
Venkitaraman was reinstated by the Kerala government and appointed as the Joint secretary in the health department in March 2020 after a few months of suspension.
Congress & Other Organisations Also Protested
Notably, KM Basheer worked for a local newspaper Siraj Daily which is considered to be a mouthpiece of All India Sunni Jamiyyathul Ulama. Sheikh Abubakr Ahmad who is the General Secretary of the Ulama is also the Publisher of Siraj Daily, explaining the protests by Sunni groups like Jamaath against Sriram’s appointment.
However, Jamaath was not the sole torch bearer of these protests. There were a series of protests across the state against the appointment of Venkitaraman as Alappuzha’s District Collector helmed by different organisations.
The Congress had staged a dharna in front of the District Collectorate to protest the appointment of Sriram Venkitaraman as the District Collector of Alappuzha on July 25, 2022.
It was organised by the District Congress Committee and was inaugurated by KPCC general secretary AA Shukhoor who also said that Venkitaraman is a tainted bureaucrat. He urged the State government to immediately revoke his appointment as Collector.
On July 26, 2022 when Venkitaraman assumed the office of Alappuzha district collector, Youth Congress activists waved black flags at him as his car entered the collectorate premises
Leader of opposition V D Satheesan had also condemned this appointment. The Congress leader had said that the government’s decision was improper, and the government was trying to save Venkitaraman from the very beginning itself, when he became involved in the drunken driving case.
Reportedly UDF had also announced a demonstration in front of the collectorate on August 6 from 10 am to 6 pm, to pressurise the government to remove Sriram.
Not only the opposition, journalists also carried out protests against the government’s decision to appoint Venkitaraman as Alappuzha district collector.
The Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) held a protest march in Alappuzha outside the district collectorate on July 27, 2022.
Newschecker reached out to KUWJ Outgoing President K P Reji who told us about the Union’s protests at different headquarters over the appointment of Venkitaraman. Reji said that the KUWJ was involved in the matter from day -1. When Sriram’s suspension was revoked by the government, Reji said that the Union “held several protest meetings, gave representation to the government, issued public statements against the appointment and some social media campaigns.” The opposition front had also protested against the same, he added.
The Union also protested against Venkitaraman’s appointment as Alappuzha district collector. Reji said, “Firstly we conducted a collectorate march at Alappuzha, then a secretariat march and collectorate march at various district headquarters.” He further told us that the Union was planning to observe a state-wide protest on August 3, to commemorate the death anniversary of Basheer as well as against Sriram’s appointment, however since the government revoked the appointment so the protest was cancelled.
He said that various organisations were against the appointment. “I think… almost all the organisations except the ruling front constituents had opposed the appointment..” Reji said. The Congress was the first one to hold a protest against the same.Reji also clarified that there was no communal angle to the protest.
He also shared several photos and videos from the KUWJ’s protest across the state. The same can be seen below.
Reportedly, the Indian Cultural Forum (ICF) also held protest rallies against Sriram’s appointment.
What Happened After The Protests?
Following the massive state-wide protests, the Kerala government on Monday revoked Sriram’s appointment as Alappuzha district collector and he was moved to the Kerala Civil Supplies Corporation as the general manager.
Viral posts claiming to show members of a particular community protesting against the appointment of Hindu IAS officer in Kerala have been shared out of context giving communal colour to the incident.
Result: Missing Context
Report By Onmanorama, Dated July 31, 2022
Report By The New Indian Express, Dated July 31, 2022
Report By The Hindu, Dated July 25, 2022
Telephonic Conversation With KUWJ Outgoing President K P Reji On August 3, 2022
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