This is a guest post by BINDU MENON M
Jazeera V, who began her fight against sand mining mafia in Kerala one and a half years ago in the North Kerala coastal hamlet Neerozhukkumchal, is now on a sit-in, in front of the Kerala House near Jantar Mantar New Delhi. She had first approached the village office, the local panchayat, police station, the district authorities and Kerala State government with the appeal to stop sand mining in the beach which grossly violated the Coastal Zone regulations. Ridiculed by the local media and intimidated and physically assaulted by the supporters of the sand mining mafia, she sat in front of Kerala State Secretariat for several weeks before moving to Delhi. She demands that the central government should immediately take action against the gross violation of laws for protecting the coastal zones. Her struggle in front of the Kerala secretariat at Thiruvananthapuram for 68 days against the inaction of Kerala Government forced Chief Minister Oommen Chandy to invite her to his chamber for discussion. Although he assured her that he would take necessary actions against sand mining on the coast, he was reluctant to give her any written reply. She finally decided to shift her sit in from Kerala to Delhi in protest of Chief Minister’s callous attitude.
While the issue of sand mining has been discussed in many forums, the political question she raises has not received enough attention yet. She began her struggle in front of the Pazhayangadi police station in Kannur district of Kerala along with her one and a half year old child under an umbrella ignoring the heavy downpour during this year’s monsoon. The initial response of course was that she is out of her mind. When she moved her struggle to the district head quarters, though very slowly, she began getting attention from media and public in Kannur and outside. By the time she started her sit- in at Thiruvananthapuram, the issue has been well discussed in various public domains. There were the usual suspicions regarding her modes of struggle which came out both as criticism and false concerns. It was speculated that there should be somebody behind her; otherwise how could a poor Muslim housewife continue to struggle against the powerful sand mining mafia which enjoys the support of politicians for such a long time? Who gave her this idea because originally — it cannot be her idea! Another set of false concerns centered on the future of her children who are present with her in her sites of struggles. Isn’t the situation of the children alarming? The education of the two girls who were in class 7 and class 5 are interrupted by their mother’s adamant decisions and the one and half year boy is living his life in the street for months. In short did she fail as a mother? Some of those from the Left were critical about the space given by media for this ‘individualistic’ protest while they were constantly ignoring the mass struggles led by the left parties.
It is clear that the political question she raises is not just about the failure of the state to implement certain laws. She brings forth the important question regarding citizenship. Who can demand from the state the full right of the citizenship? She also brings forward the question of the procedures prescribed not only by the state but also by the current political practices regarding the public grievances redress mechanisms.
Jazeera from the beginning of her struggle asks this question: “Why is everybody interested in my children but not in the issue I raise even while they agree that my fight is genuine!?” It is already pointed out that women, Dalits and Muslims are marked in public and more so in the case of Dalit women and Muslim women. In a fitting reply to the patronizing attempts by A.P .Abdullakutty M.L.A, Jazeera calls our attention to many of these aspects. She described his patronizing attempts and his insulting address — “moley” (used to address daughters but can also be ‘babe’!) as arising out of the discomfort when women enter the public domain and engages in civil rights questions. To the general sense of his letter which accuses activists of instigating her and keeping her on the streets, Jazeera wrote, “You are trying to accuse that I am someone who is controlled through some remote control by some others. It is your misconception that a purdah-clad woman has no ability to think or act on her own which makes you say this”. The numerous newspaper reports, comments by visiting officials like the NHRC member, social media discussions and so on, whether in support or opposition seem to be focused on the singular aspect of Jazeera as a Muslim mother. Many of my friends in Delhi believe the significance of Jazeera’s above question, still when we heard that she is coming to Delhi the immediate worry for many was that how will she survive with three children in Delhi streets which are infamous for violence and cruelty against women and children. The National Human Rights Commission member who visited her the other day stated that the issue she raises is of course a basic human right issue, but as a parent she is violating the right of the children to study in school. In other words, is it the case that as a citizen a mother’s right is connected to her responsibility towards the family? Are her rights then suspended until she proves that she has performed her motherly responsibilities!! I am not in anyway concluding that all these concerns are just part of the middle class hypocrisy or that they are irrelevant. But just want to underscore the different scales in which the rights and responsibilities are measured and demanded. Nobody asked Anna Hazare or Arvind Kejriwal whether they were fulfilling their responsibility to their families!!
To the criticism that hers is an ‘individualistic’ struggle, Jazeera explains that in her case public support cannot be a measure of the significance of her struggle. She is not asking to enact a new law which might need discussion and debate. On her own words, “even Jazeera is not needed to implement an existing act.” There was friendly advice from individuals and groups that she should try to align with other groups who have raised similar issues before, Jazeera’s reply was that let these groups start their own struggle and she will be very happy if they succeed in solving the problem. But she will continue her sit- in struggle here until the issue is addressed.
Jazeera laughs at those who try to dissuade her pointing to the monstrous power wielded by the sand mining mafia. She refuses to be intimidated. According to her if the mafia were that powerful she would not be alive today. She sees that the state’s pretensions of helplessness as part of admission that sand miners are supported by the government mechanism like police and other government offices. She also mentioned about an instance she witnessed which confirmed her doubts regarding the link between the police and the sand miners. The workers usually run away to escape arrest when the police conduct their routine raids on the coast. She once happened to see a woman worker running away during a police raid. But hilariously enough, the police constable was suggesting to this woman that “you only have to pretend to run no need to run too fast.” Obviously he has been instructed not to arrest anyone during the raid.
Extremely bitter experience of braving the politicians, police and government officials and intimidation and attacks by the sand mafia in the last few months, has taught her immense lessons of endurance and resolution. Her grit and determination to fight the cause of coastal protection has only grown from strength to strength. It is the responsibility of all of us who believe in civil society’s watch-dog role and in upholding democracy, to support her struggle in Delhi.
Political thinkers have pointed out that exception in law is what proves the rule of the liberal state. This may be correct but Jazeera shows that for a liberal state exception and rule are not two separate aspects but one indistinguishable norm. Yes, you have to run but no need to run that fast.
(Bindu Menon M teaches at Lady Sri Ram College, Delhi University)