Vol. XLIII No. 02 January 13, 2019

Women’s Wall and Kerala’s Rejection of the Sangh Parivar

Kodiyeri Balakrishnan

KERALA'S renaissance movements in the past 100 years made big strides. These movements had helped women in the struggle to shake off patriarchy and advance towards gender equality. But unfortunately, following the recent Supreme Court verdict which allowed the entry of women of all ages to the Sabarimala temple, there had been attempts to belittle the achievements of the women in Kerala and to sideline them as second class citizens. The Sangh Parivar had been in the forefront of these attempts which sought to deny women the equality that they fought for and won over the centuries through the renaissance movements and which had now been constitutionally granted to them, regarding their freedom of worship. The regressive forces behind these moves were even able to garner the support of a few women in their devious designs, which cast women as impure and sought to prevent them from accessing public spaces.


In the wake of heightened propaganda against women and our renaissance values, the LDF government in Kerala sought to resist them and called for a meeting of all the organisations in Kerala which emerged through the state’s reform movements. 190 organisations were invited and 170 of them attended the meeting that was convened on December 1, 2018. In the meeting, the participants expressed concern at the counter reformation tendencies emerging in the state and suggested that strong resistance need to be put up to ensure that Kerala remains a progressive society. It was suggested that a resistance of women should emerge to counter and defeat the Sangh Parivar’s propoganda against them. Thus, the women's wall was conceived as a counter initiative against these regressive forces.

The Navodhana Moolya Samrakshana Samiti (Committee for the Protection of Renaissance Values) was formed to protect Kerala’s renaissance values and an organising committee was formed to realise the women’s wall, which was proposed to be organised on January 1, 2019. The Left Democratic Women’s Front came in support of the idea. Several other groups which struggle for women’s rights came forward to support the initiative and participate in the women’s wall which was organised under the leadership of the Left and progressive forces. The government of Kerala also expressed its support to the ideas and objectives behind the formation of the women’s wall.

More than a hundred public meetings were held across the length and breadth of the state in the run up to the women’s wall. From all sections of Kerala society, women themselves came out in large numbers to campaign for the wall. Wall paintings, songs, posters, dramas, flash mobs, videos and so on in support of the wall emerged throughout the state. The one month prior to the wall became a process of education for the entire Kerala society on our history, renaissance movements and its leaders. The status of women and their rights became a focal point of the discussions. It was a transformative process that once again affirmed the equal position and status of women and men, living up to the slogan ‘adukkalayil ninnu arangathekku’ (from the kitchen to the centre stage).


When the regressive forces sought to relegate Kerala's women into the interiors of their homes, the women's wall rose up as a movement of resistance against it. On January 1, 2019, 5.5 million(55 lakh) women joined hands together and formed a wall across the state from Kasargod to Thiruvananthapuram, and proclaim that they will not give up their status as equal citizens, which they have fought hard for and won, over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries; and which has been granted to them by India's constitution.

The women's wall was an exercise that pledged to protect the renaissance values that has made Kerala the modern society that it is today, and to promote gender equality and gender justice which Kerala is renowned for. On new year day, Kerala's women declared that they will not allow Kerala to go back to being the lunatic asylum that it once was. Standing shoulder to shoulder on a 620 kilometers long stretch, the participants of women’s wall pledged to carry Kerala's society forward, in keeping with its progressive values. Such a movement led by women was unheard of in our history and thus even created world records.

The participation of women from all sections of the society, especially the minorities, was a big blow to the UDF leadership who tried to defame the women’s wall as a communal wall. Even in the state assembly, they had mentioned this movement of the women as a communal initiative. The BJP also got a befitting reply to their tactics which sought to prevent the wall from realising. In some places like Kasargod, they even resorted to physical violence to prevent women from participating in the wall. Despite all such propaganda and tactics, the women’s wall was realised, proving to be a revolutionary and empowering movement of women in the state.

A movement of resistance such as this was indeed empowering, as evidenced by the fact that two women visited Sabarimala as part of their pilgrimage and had ‘darshan’ the very next morning. Ever since the Sabarimala pilgrimage season had started, several women encouraged by the Supreme Court verdict had tried to have ‘darshan’, but could not succeed due to the resistance put up by Sangh Parivar elements around the Sabarimala temple premises. The state government and the police, exercised caution and restrain to prevent the miscreants from interfering in the pilgrimage process, while at the same time ensuring that the pilgrimage site doesn’t turn out to be a battle field.


Following the entry of women at Sabarimala, as allowed by the Supreme Court judgement, the Sangh Parivar has unleashed large scale violence across the State. On January 3, they called for a harthal - the 5th state level harthal (2 district level harthals were also conducted) on the Sabarimala issue in a period of just 3 months - and resorted to widespread violence. Many innocent people and even members of the media and police force were injured in these attacks. More than 100 KSRTC buses were destroyed. There were several instances of rioting against government vehicles, government offices, private vehicles, shops and houses. Offices of the CPI (M) and CPI were also attacked. Homes of political leaders including elected representatives were also attacked in several places.

The police have registered around 1,800 cases across the state. If we examine the politics of more than 3,000 people who have been arrested in these violent protests, it will be clear who the real aggressors are. The visuals of an RSS leader hurling bombs at Nedumangad police station has been published in the all mainstream media. On examining the instance of violence, it becomes clear that the Sangh Parivar initiated violence, be it against individuals, houses, shops or political party offices.


It is the BJP and the RSS who are disturbing the peaceful lives of the people of Kerala by unleashing orchestrated violence across the state in the name of women entering Sabarimala. The very same people are alleging that law and order is in peril in Kerala and threatening that the centre will intervene in the state. There is no law and order problem in the state except the planned and organised violence perpetuated by the BJP and the RSS against the Supreme Court verdict.


The LDF government is only carrying out its constitutional obligation to implement the verdict of the Supreme Court, which states that men and women have equal right to worship. It is ironical that those who are organising riots against the court’s verdict are threatening that the state government will have to face constitutional repercussions. Threatening a government that is performing its constitutional responsibilities is the real unconstitutional act. If the central BJP leadership has an iota of allegiance to the constitution and has any commitment to people, it should direct its cadres to put an end to violence.


The use of riots and communal polarization for political means are characteristic traits of the Sangh Parivar. One can recall the recent incident in Uttar Pradesh, where a police officer who took a strong stand against violence was shot dead. In our state also, they are making attempts to selectively attack police officers who have demonstrated integrity. Attacks against women are uncommon in our state. However, this time, Sangh Parivar tried to introduce mob attacks similar to those they frequently employ in other states. Democratic forces must rise in unison against such tendencies.   


Sangh Parivar has conspired to communally polarize our society with the aim to undermine Kerala’s long-standing secular ethos and to disturb the peaceful atmosphere in the state. Efforts to malign Kerala employing profuse propaganda have occurred in the past too. The people of Kerala have stood together and resisted such efforts. We have set apart our political and other differences during such times. It is the love for our state that brought us together, and the present situation also demands a similar united resistance.

This time around, it is a full fledged attempt to create riots. These attempts are being made at a time when the State is trying to rebuild itself after a flood havoc. Their attempts are not limited to the perpetration of violence, but also involve measures to tarnish the name of the state among foreign tourists, thereby seeking to destroy the tourism sector in the state. We must be able to see through their subterfuge to realize that their true intention is to hamper the development of the state.


The Sangh Parivar has resorted to violence to silence the voices from even the media. By and large, the media professionals in the Kerala have resisted the politics of violence and communal polarisation propounded by the Sangh Parivar. The media has an active role to play in overcoming the hostilities that are thrust upon the state by vested interests. Values that emerged in the crucible of Kerala renaissance and the state’s long-standing secular traditions continue to guide the media profession in Kerala. Media’s service to an effective democracy cannot be undermined and hence those who carried out attacks against journalists, and those who have conspired, should be brought to justice.


The use of social media for inciting violence and for creating communal polarisation has come to the fore during this episode of violence. Strong actions must be taken against the offenders. A wall of resistance against such divisive forces ought to be erected in social media spaces as well. The people who love Kerala must work in unison to uphold the spirit of democracy.


The Sangh Parivar is trying to implement its tired and tested tactics from other states in Kerala. The Sangh Parivar is trying to get a foothold in Kerala by conducting riots. However, they will not succeed. It would be better if the BJP leadership understands that such attempts will not be successful in Kerala. The people have come together to resist all attempts to ignite violence and riots. The government is also staying true to its constitutional obligation and putting an end to violence, thereby ensuring peace. Neither the people of Kerala, nor the government will yield to any kind of threats. The CPI(M) and the Left and progressive forces in the state will ensure that Kerala remains a progressive and inclusive state that is safe for all sections of the society.