via Pradeep Kumar published on September 27, 2007

Pradeep Kumar



Malappuram: The family of a young Muslim girl in India’s southern state of Kerala is being shunned and excommunicated by the local mosque committee (mahallu) because she is practicing Bharatanatyam, the Indian classical dance. The mahallu treat her family with contempt.

A membership in the local mahallu is imperative for the Muslim family- that allows the family lots of rights. Without this, her parents will not be allowed burial in the local cemetery. And the local mahallu will not legalise her marriage.

VP Rubiya, 18, came first in Bharatnatyam, Kerala natanam and folk dance competitions at the recent Kerala Higher Secondary School Festival. She also won the dance competition at the Veeran Haji Memorial Higher Secondary School at Morayur in the Muslim-dominated district of Malappuram. Now she has an offer from the celebrated Indian dancer Mrinalini Sarabhai’s dance academy, Darpana, her father Syed Alavikutty says.


Rubiya was three years old when she began dancing

Sitting with me in the dilapidated home in Valluvambram, Malappuram, in a predominantly Muslim area, Mr. Alavikutty, Rubia’s father said, “The local mosque committee at Valluvambram is not impressed by my daughter’s feats, If she had won prizes in ‘oppana’ and ‘mappila pattu’ [traditional Muslim art forms], she would have been flooded with gifts by now. The mahallu leaders would never openly admit that it is her dance that makes them treat us as virtual outcasts.”

The walls in the small and congested drawing room is completely covered with certificates, shields and trophies Rubiya had won for her dance. She proudly showed me the certificate issued by the famous Chennai dance academy of Tamil Nadu. “When I went to dance there in a temple near Mylapore, an area dominated by Hindus, particularly Brahmins, they had no objection in a Muslim dancing to the bhjans praising Hindu Gods and goddess. After the programme they came and congratulated me. Strangely in my native place, my family is facing neglect and criticism,” she says with sadness.

Rubiya, who started learning music and dance when she was three, is now busy preparing for school examinations due next month. But she snatches time in between for stage performances at local temples. She has no choice because stage shows help her with some extra income to support her and her parents, as well as an elder brother and a younger sister.

The first time Rubiya faced the rigidity of her religion was when she performed in front of the Guruvayoor Sri Krishna temple, the world famous Hindu shrine. “When I came back home, I received fierce criticism from the local “mahallu”. They were angry and agitated that Rubiya had performed a Hindu worship dance at a temple!

“The backlash I received strengthened my resolve. It gave me immense courage. I decided then, that Rubiya and Mansiya (her younger sister) would master these dance forms,” says her father.

“The Hindu dance is a tribute to the Hindu Gods. Which is why there is so much outrage against her dance. After Ramzan, the mahallu distributed rice and other food items in the locality. Ours was the only house they didn’t send any to. Such blatant contempt hurts,” said him.

Parameswaran Namboodri, a well known dancer and art critic said, “ This is about artistic value. If you have talent as great as this, why must you give it up because a handful of people don’t understand it?”

Rubiya’s parents have encouraged her to dance. With her late Mother Amina and father Alavikutty

As a father of two beautiful daugheters, Alavikutty seems worried about their future. I asked Rubiya if she is worried about being in the center of a controversy. “I am to afraid of anything, but I hate that my father is being forced to bear the brunt of this. My father need not worry about my marriage. We are very poor. My mother died of cancer. The most terrible thing was that the mahallu did nothing to help us because of my dance,” she said calmly.

How about the support from Hindus? “I am happy that Hindus are supporting me in a big way. Several temple committees have been inviting me for dance performances. My friends at school, my teachers, my gurus, everyone is proud of what I am doing,”

What are her plans? “ I have much more to achieve. I want to research art forms and learn the history of classical dance. I want to learn from more great Gurus. I want to make it accessible to everyone. Financial support would be welcome because contemporary dance is very expensive.”

About the local mahallu, Alavikutty said, “They have so much poison in their minds. It is very sad. If we were rich, no one would raise a finger. Our priorities are clear. We won’t eat for a day if necessary but we will not miss her dance class.”

There is a large picture of ‘Kirata moorthy’ (a form of lord Shiva (Mahadeva)) and a bronze idol of Nataraja in her room which she worships every day along with her namaz. When asked about worshipping Shiva she said candidly, “It gives me great strength. Before every performance, I spend a few minutes in front of the idol to guide me. All our dance forms originated from Nataraja. I have visited the famous temple of Nataraja at Chidambaram (Tamil Nadu) to make my dance more perfect. The idol, which I keep with me, was worshiped in a temple.”

Teachers’ favourite

Rubiya has become a role model in school In NCC uniform.

Rubiya is the darling of her teachers and friends at the Veeran Haji high school. “God is one. When I pay ritualistic obeisance through mudras [hand signs], I am imploring not just the Hindu gods but the supreme creator, which we call by different names,” she says.

It is the Hindu worship content in the classical dances that her family says has driven a chasm between her and conservative elements in the community.

A class topper and a National Cadet Corps cadet, Rubiya has already scored 30 bonus marks which would enhance her exam scores and improve her chances of joining a professional course after secondary school.


‘Heavy price’

Rubiya’s mother Amina, who passed away recently due to cancer, was instrumental in sending her daughter to dance. With tears in her eyes, Rubia says, “But we had to pay a heavy price. For my mother’s treatment well wishers sent us money. But the parish leaders ensured that all official help bypassed us.”

When my mother died the refused to bury the body in the local mosque. Mr Alavikutty says that his cousins who live outside Valluvambram are members of the mosque committee.

“The parish doors might never open for us, but the world is not too small for the brave,” he says with bright eyes. This talented and poor girl seeks help from friends and well-wishers to pursue her quest. Her address is: Rubiya. V.P., D/o Sri. Alavikutty V.P., Velluvambram P.O., Malappuram District. Kerala. 673651. Mobile: 09387507601.

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