Two Fathimas, Taliban and Muslim League
Nimisha Fathima and her husband were among 21 persons who had left Kerala five years ago for Afghanistan to join the terrorist ISIS and been in a jail in Kabul for more than six months. She has now been reported to be among the many prisoners freed by the Taliban after it took over the country now. This was among the many measures initiated by Taliban to convince the world that they were no more the fierce fanatics and the tormentors of women of the past.
Fathima Thahiliya is the national vice president of the Muslim Students Federation who along with her 10 women colleagues is at the receiving end from their own political party, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML). Their offence: raising charges of sexual harassment against some of their own leaders.
Now, look at the irony. While Nimisha was being granted freedom by the extremist Taliban in an attempt to claim itself a moderate face, the predicament of Thahiliya has unsheathed the fangs of the IUML, considered Indian Muslims’ most moderate and modern political organisation.
It is not fair to compare the fierce Taliban with the moderate League which practices only “transactional communalism”. Yet the incident exposes the little Talibans living within all of us. At the same time, the incident is also an instance of Malayali women’s rising resolve not any more to suffer silently the deep rooted misogyny pervasive in the avowedly progressive Kerala society. Leadership of all political parties and religions, irrespective of differences, have been the worst enclaves of patriarchy. They have been most responsible for perpetuating Kerala women's much debated “invisibility” or the “enigma” in spite of her advances in various fields.
The dramatic revolt by Lathika Subhash, state president of Mahila Congress, in April against the Congress leadership for denying her ticket to contest the last assembly election was a recent pointer. The shrill debates about the entrenched patriarchy inside the CPI(M) which always cries hoarse about gender equality were rekindled on the occasion of the passing of K R Gouri Amma, the symbol of Malayali woman’s discrimination and resistance. In spite of their progress in human development indices like education, health etc, they lag behind men in employment rate or in political leadership. Their presence in legislature has been as pitiable as of the notorious northern “BIMARU” states where women lag behind men in every field. In the six decades since Kerala was born, women’s number in the state legislature has never crossed 10%, even though the first MLA to swear in the first assembly was a woman - Rosamma Punnoose of CPI.
The way men in these parties have hit back at women’s attempts to breach male bastions shows that the battle would not be any less tough even in the 21st century. Congress just ignored Lathika even after she tonsured her head in protest and walked out of the party. CPI(M) turned blind to the discrimination faced by Gouriamma even when it proudly claimed her legacy. The IUML has now frozen the activities of Haritha, the women’s wing whose 10 members raised charges against three MSF leaders - PK Navas, state president, Kabeer Muthparamba, district president and VA Wahab, district secretary- for making sexually derogatory remarks against them. Apart from a few MSF male leaders like its vice president Abdu Samad who resigned in protest, none from IUML leadership including the supposedly progressives like MK Muneer or even Noorbina Rasheed, the secretary of the women’s wing, have come in support of Haritha women. Instead, they have gone on record reprimanding Fathima and others for “violating discipline”. Haritha women have been abused heavily in social media with sexual innuendos etc by males for “denigrating IUML”.
Nevertheless, that the flag of revolt has risen –however, transient it could be- even inside the Muslim League, a party and community where the male-dominated leadership has openly treated women as secondary as an article of faith, certainly gives hope. Following Fathima, more women are now coming forward to fight. Bareera Taha, who resigned as the vice president of Haritha protesting against IUML’s disciplinary action, wrote on Facebook: “They tried to silence us by slut shaming for questioning the patriarchy inside the organisation”.
Contrary to what the leadership believes, it is to women like Fathima and Bareera that the IUML should be thankful most. For Thahaliya who has castigated the League leadership in the most restrained and refined manner, is the best thing happened to IUML’s image. The young woman’s brave words against the leadership’s wrongdoings, her resolve to fight and stand with her comrades, her claims that they enjoyed the democratic freedom inside IUML to uphold their views and the reaffirmation of her faith in the party have surprised many outside. For most of those outside the party believe that League was nothing more than an obscurantist coterie of self-serving, power hungry, corrupt males capitalizing on the community's religious faith.
Whatever be the leadership’s efforts to suppress, it is clear that winds of change have started blowing inside even IUML. The “Haritha Viplavam” has come on the toes of the seven decades-old IUML fielding a woman candidate –Noorbina Rasheed- in the assembly election for the first time in 25 years after the sole exception of Khamarunnisa Anwar who fought and lost in 1996. Noorbina too was defeated in IUML’s sitting seat of Kozhikode South by Ahamed Devarkovil, a lightweight from the tiny INL. It is clear that her loss was also on account of the handiwork of some men in her own party as Samasta, the Sunni religious body allied to it had openly opposed IUML fielding women. Ironically, Noorbina, who suffered the ire of the conservatives in her party in the election, has come to defend the party and criticize Thahaliya and other women.
For IUML the Haritha issue is only the latest among the spate of crises it is made to go through. It has come on the heels of many unprecedented challenges; the scam related to the disappearance of Rs 10 crores from the account of the party mouthpiece Chandrika and the summons issued by Enforcement Directorate to the IUML’s revered and ailing chief Panakkad Hyderali Shihab Thangal; the first ever public conflict between a prominent member of the Thangal family and the all powerful PK Kunhalikutty over these issues; the allegations related to the account belonging to Kunhalikutty’s son in AR Nagar Cooperative bank; the accusations over the fund collections made in Qatar etc and a furious KT Jaleel thirsting for vengeance. What has triggered all these challenges can be traced to the erosion of IUML’s once total hegemony over the community owing to various reasons including the inroads made by the CPI(M) and also many newer outfits as shown in its less than impressive show in the last assembly elections. The worst is the first ever predicament since the state’s formation to sit in opposition continuously for 10 years for a party whose oxygen is power. However, IUML is one of the biggest survivors in Kerala’s political sphere and it has gone through many life threatening convulsions in the past too. The League cannot forget the 1960s when the Congress party, after having won all its votes, treated it like scum or in 2006 when even Kunhalikkutty and many green bastions fell before a vaulting Red wave led by VS Achuthanandan. Only time will tell if Kunhalikutty and Co can wait for this too to pass.