On 25 November last year, P Noushad, a 32-year-old autorickshaw driver in Kozhikode city, learned that two cleaners, unknown to him, had fallen into a manhole and were trapped inside. Noushad rushed to help. As he was trying to pull them out, one of the trapped men clung to his leg, and in the process, pulled Noushad into the drain. All three were asphyxiated to death.
The tragedy stunned Kerala. Responding to the popular mood, the state’s government announced an ex gratia payment of R10 lakh to Noushad’s family. Kerala’s chief minister, Oommen Chandy of the Congress party, promised a government job to Noushad’s young widow. These decisions were universally applauded, before a solitary voice of dissent emerged some days later.
“Noushad’s family was given this compensation only because he was a Muslim. Would this government make such gestures if he was a Hindu?” thundered Vellappally Natesan, the general secretary of the powerful Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, or SNDP, a 112-year-old organisation that represents the Ezhava community, founded by Kerala’s social reformer Sree Narayana Guru. Natesan claimed that the compensation was “yet another instance” of Kerala’s Congress-led government’s appeasement of minorities.