The day after radical Muslim groups stated protests against the Malayalam daily, Mathrubhumi, for publishing allegedly offensive comments about Prophet Mohammed, Kerala’s second-largest newspaper faced a social media offensive, as Facebook users on Wednesday posted photos of the publication being burnt and others posted audio recordings of telephone threats they had made to the newspaper’s offices.

Members of several Muslim groups on Wednesday protested vociferously against an item in the AppTalks column of the 94-year-old newspaper’s Thrissur and Kozhikode editions. Crowds gathered outside the newspaper’s offices in several places, burning copies and calling for it to be boycotted. The protestors also stoned the Kozhikode office.

The comment referring to Prophet’s marriage had originally appeared on a social media site as a reaction to a statement at a seminar on the weekend by High Court judge Justice B Kemal Pasha criticising the practice of polygamy among Muslims and some clauses in Muslim Personal Law that discriminated against women.

Ready apology

The Popular Front of India, whose activists had chopped off the hand of a professor at the New Man’s College at Thodupuzha in 2010 for setting a question involving the Prophet, was the first to hit the streets. They were followed by other radical outfits like the Social Democratic Front of India, the National Development Front and the People’s Democratic Party.

The daily readily obliged to their demands by tendering an unconditional apology in its print and online editions on Thursday, social media pages and television channel. This was followed up with a detailed apology on the front page in all its 10 editions in Kerala, four editions in the metros in the country and two overseas editions.

“We understood that the reactions to the remarks made by the judge while inaugurating a seminar on the Domestic Violence Act at Kozhikode on Sunday had hurt the believers,” the apology by the Editor said. “We regret for publishing them.”

In another statement along with the apology, the Mathrubhumi management urged the government to take immediate action against those who made the comments. The statement said that the daily had reproduced them due to carelessness and promised to take action against the people responsible for this.

Mathrubhumi Editor Kesava Menon was not available for comments. Deputy editors at the Mathrubhumi headquarters at Kozhikode refused to comment on the incident. However, a senior member of the editorial desk told the on condition of anonymity that the comment was carried by mistake.

“The AppsTalk column, which is a forum for debate on socially relevant issues, had carried comments for and against the high court judge’s views,” this person said. “The comment related to the Prophet crept in by mistake.”

However, outfits like the People’s Democratic Party rejected the publication's clarification. Party state general secretary Muhammed Rajeeb said that the party’s central committee had viewed this as a deliberate provocation.

A statement issued by Rajeeb said that the publication of the offensive comment by the daily was a strong indication that the hate campaign against Islam and Muslims in several parts of the world had hit the Indian shores.

The campaign against Mathrubhumi also continued online.

This isn’t the first time Mathrubhumi has been targeted by religious groups. In September 2015, the publication discontinued a six-column series on Ramayana by well-known literary critic M M Basheer after his criticism of Rama provoked Hindu organisations though the protests were mainly directed against the writer, a Muslim.