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India: Kerala: Muslim woman’s Hindu children inspire an Indian film

Tuesday 4 April 2023, by siawi3


Kerala: Muslim woman’s Hindu children inspire an Indian film

3.04.23 1 day ago

From left, Shanawas, Leela, Sreedharan and Jafferkhan grew up together with two other siblings Image source, CV Lenin

A new film on a Muslim woman from the southern Indian state of Kerala who raised three Hindu children has brought attention to the family’s unusual story. BBC Hindi’s Imran Qureshi spoke to the siblings who inspired the film.

When Jafferkhan first watched Ennu Swantham Sreedharan (Yours Truly, Sreedharan), he says he was moved to tears.

But it was his brother Sreedharan, sitting next to him at the screening, who ended up “crying uncontrollably”.

Jafferkhan and Sreedharan, both of whom use only one name and are 49 years old, are not biologically related - Jafferkhan is a Muslim and Sreedharan is a Hindu.

But ask Jafferkhan what Sreedharan means to him and he says: "He is a brother. No, he is much more than that. He is always around me. I don’t know who he is… he is a saathi [companion].

The woman who brought them together - Jafferkhan’s mother, Thennadan Subaida - died in 2019. Her story, a heart-warming reminder of humanity triumphing over religious differences, has found resonance at a time when tales of polarisation and communal disharmony are regularly reported in India.

Subaida took in Mr Sreedharan and his two older sisters - Ramani and Leela - in 1976 after their mother died while giving birth to a fourth child who also didn’t survive. The children’s mother, Chakki, was a domestic worker in Subaida’s house.

The brothers say that Subaida did not legally adopt the children as the laws around it were not as strict at the time. They add that they didn’t have relatives willing to take care of them, and that their father had given permission to Subaida, saying he was “incapable of taking care of them”.

Subaida already had two sons - Jafferkhan and his elder brother Shanawas - at the time, and gave birth to a daughter, Joshina, four years later. The children grew up together in perfect harmony.

Photo: Subaida with Shanawas’s son FawasImage source, CV Lenin
Image caption, Subaida, pictured here with Shanawas’s son Fawas

Their story first made headlines in 2019 after Subaida’s death - Sreedharan, who was working in Oman at the time, had written an emotional tribute to his umma (as Malayali Muslims call their mother) on Facebook, asking friends to pray for her “grand welcome in heaven”.

The post caught the attention of many people who wondered why a man with a Hindu name was calling his mother umma.

"They asked, ’who are you, a Hindu or a Muslim?’ It is quite understandable because my name was Sreedharan,’’ he said.

The questions were endless and sometimes nasty. But Sreedharan answered them all patiently even under the weight of grief.

He also emphasised that neither Subaida nor her husband Abdul Aziz Haji had ever asked their adopted children to convert to Islam.

“It was painful for me. My parents always taught us that caste and religion do not matter,’’ he says.”Goodness is what we need. It is we humans who make changes in the belief system."

That’s the philosophy by which Subaida lived her life and raised her children.

Leela, now 51, says her mother would take her to the temple “whenever she wanted” - transport facilities weren’t as developed at the time, so they usually went together in a group during festivals.

“My umma would always say it didn’t matter if you practised Hinduism, Islam or Christianity. Each religion teaches us the same thing, which is to love and respect everyone,” Sreedharan says.

His siblings also have many stories about their childhood.

Shanawas remembers the day his mother returned home carrying two-year-old Sreedharan.

“Leela and Ramani were behind her. My mother said that they would live with us now since they had no one to take care of them,” he says.

After that, they were all one family.

Shanawas recounts stories of the children sleeping next to each other on the floor; and the joy they felt when Joshina was born four years later.

Growing up, the bond between Sreedharan and Jafferkhan deepened and they “were like twins” who did everything together.

Shanawas and Jafferkhan say the siblings rarely fought, even though “Sreedharan was their mother’s clear favourite” and often received special treatment.

“Unlike me, Sree [Sreedharan] would run all the errands and was very honest. Maybe that’s why Umma loved him more,” Jafferkhan laughs.

A still from Ennu Swantham SreedharanImage source, Siddik Paravoor
Image caption, A still from Ennu Swantham Sreedharan, which has not released in theatres yet

The siblings say they also learnt important life lessons from their parents. For instance, Shanawas remembers how their mother would go out of her way to help people irrespective of their caste, class or religion.

“Anyone could approach my mother and ask for money for education, marriage or health reasons and she would arrange it somehow - often by taking informal loans which she paid back by selling some of her ancestral land,” he says.

These stories form the backbone of Ennu Swantham Sreedharan, directed by Siddik Paravoor.

Paravoor was among the many people who were inspired by Sreedharan’s facebook post about Subaida.

"There is so much of humanism in this story that the society needs to know,’’ he says, adding that he attempted to capture the beauty of human relationships through the movie.

The film had a special screening at a theatre in Kerala on 9 January. Paravoor is now trying to raise funds for its commercial release.

The siblings, who live in different cities now, say there couldn’t be a better tribute to their mother.

“I have only good memories of my umma. It hurts to realise these memories were finite, but I am happy that a film will now remember it,’’ Leela says.”It was only when umma passed away that we realised that people saw a difference between us,“Shanawas says.”But we are the same even now."