It’s a rare tribute that is drawing as much attention as the tragedy that led to it. A temple in Kerala stopped offering pujas for two days this week to mourn a 23-year-old Muslim man who was beaten to death in an incident that was captured by an eyewitness in a video clip that went viral.
M V Shabeer, 23, was a member of the executive committee that organises the annual festival at the Shiva temple at Puthennada near Attingal in Thiruvananthapuram district. According to police, he was beaten to death on Sunday afternoon by four men following a dispute over an elephant running amok during the festival last year.
On Monday and Tuesday, the Shiva temple’s office-bearers decided not to blow the conch or ring the bell as a mark of respect for Shabeer. The temple, which holds five pujas a day, did not offer them on those two days after the morning “darshan”.
”It was a friendship beyond religion, We never considered Shabeer as a Muslim in the temple committee,” said N Unni, another member of the executive committee for the temple festival.
“Shabeer was the most active member in our committee. This time, I had gone out only for a day to collect provisions from houses for the annadanam (offering of food). But Shabeer was out collecting rice and coconuts for a whole week,” said Unni.
Following Shabeer’s death, the temple has also decided to abandon the “annadanam” and the traditional procession for the 10-day festival starting February 9.
“Shabeer was a religious Muslim who loved our activities and took part in them sincerely. We always considered him as one among us and included him in the festival committee two years ago,” said C Gouri Chandra, convenor of the committee.
“Since the priest wanted the temple to be opened, we did so on Monday and Tuesday but suspended the pujas. There was no blowing of the conch or the ringing of bells in those days. In the evenings too, the temple opened but did not offer any puja,” added Chandra.
He said the committee has decided to abandon the “annadanam” and procession in the wake of Shabeer’s death.
According to local residents, Shabeer had been struggling to provide for his family – a mother and two younger brothers, both students – after his father abandoned them years ago. He even abandoned his degree course to work as a construction worker.
Panchayat member M Lalija, who represents the temple area, said Shabeer did not face any problem at his mosque for being associated with the festival.
According to police, the dispute that led to the lethal assault arose last year after the four youths were arrested for provoking the elephant by pricking its tail with a needle as it led the procession past another temple nearby they were linked to.
Shabeer witnessed the incident and deposed against the four, police said. The “grudge” led to a few fights between the two sides with Shabeer’s name being linked to a petty criminal case, they said.
The Puthennada temple, which is owned by ten families and managed by a trust, was consecrated by the early 20th-century social reformer Sree Narayana Guru, who preached the concept of one caste, one religion and one god.