Vol. XLIII No. 11 March 17, 2019
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Women Rise Up In Kerala

ON new year’s day, January 1, Kerala witnessed a historic and unique event.  Over 5.5 million (55 lakh) women came together to make a Vanitha Mathil (Women’s Wall) which covered 620 kilometers from the northern tip in Kasargode to the southern tip at Thiruvananthapuram.

The women who assembled in this massive wall took a pledge to uphold renaissance values, gender equality and to not allow Kerala to become a lunatic asylum.  Women from all walks of life, from different religious communities and age groups flocked to the national highway which traverses the whole of the state to make this wall a spectacular show of women’s unity and resolve.

The Women’s Wall was a collective response to the three month-long agitation against the Supreme Court verdict on the entry of women to the Sabarimala temple.  The agitation represents the regressive and communal forces who want to roll back the rights of women achieved through decades of social reform movements and struggles based on renaissance values.  

The agitation led by the BJP and the RSS has seen repeated attempts to intimidate and assault women wanting to enter the temple, hartals, destruction of public property and open defiance of the court verdict.  Shamefully, the Congress party has been acting in tandem with the RSS-BJP combine in challenging the Court verdict and undermining the Constitution.

The Women’s Wall has given a fitting rebuff to these forces.  The campaign for the wall saw hundreds of meetings and assemblies throughout the state where people were educated about the history of the social reform movements, the emergence of renaissance values and the progress made by women through these movements and struggles. By this massive display of solidarity and unity, the women of Kerala have sent a powerful message to the country as a whole – that they are not prepared to be cowed down and that they will go forward in their fight for equality and justice.

On the day the Women’s Wall came up, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to justify the BJP-RSS stand on Sabarimala. In an interview, he said that triple talaq and Sabarimala entry for women are different matters – while triple talaq is an issue of gender equality, Sabarimala is a matter of temple tradition. By this false dichotomy, Modi has revealed the true Hindu communal mindset which advocates gender equality for Muslim women but refuses to extend it to Hindu women.

Hence, the manifestation of the Women’s Wall is relevant not only for Kerala but for the whole country which is ruled today by the Hindutva forces who stand for manuvadi values. 

Fortuitously, within 12 hours of Women’s Wall being formed, two women below the age of 50 entered the Sabarimala temple and prayed at the inner sanctum.  They did so with a police escort – a step in line with the declared policy of the state government that any woman who wishes to pray at the temple would be given protection to do so. 

The RSS-BJP combine and the outfits set-up by them have protested the “sacrilege” of women entering the temple; their rage seems more to stem from the fact that their elaborate arrangements to forcibly prevent women going to the temple have been foiled.  Their protests have been marked by stone throwing, forcible closure of shops and clashes with the police.  They called for a statewide hartal on January 3 – a senseless action based on their frustration and anger.

But the Women’s Wall has sent out a clear message that there can be no going back to the ancient regime in Kerala.  All the Left, social and women’s organisations in Kerala can be justly proud of this magnificent wall.  As far as the CPI(M) is concerned, it has made it clear that this is a fight about principle and it cannot be based on electoral calculations. 

Standing firm behind the Supreme Court verdict and the struggle to get it implemented is one step forward in the ongoing battle between the forces of progress and reaction. 

(January 2, 2019)