On October 3, students, human rights activists, muslim-dalit-adivasi-bahujan organisations from all over India are converging in Thiruvananthapuram to march for the freedom of the twenty-four-year-old Hadiya, who is under virtual house arrest in the home of her father, Mr Asokan after the shocking annulment of her marriage to her chosen partner by the Kerala HC. The march will begin from the Martyr’s Column, Palayam, at 11 AM and end at the Kerala State Government Secretariat junction. Through this we hope to draw the attention of the public to the grave dangers posed by these decisions of the judiciary and by the shameful silence and criminal inaction of the Kerala government , which claims leftist and secular credentials. We invite all to participate in this march and strengthen the hands of those who are fighting to undo this unspeakable violation of justice to an Indian citizen and the gross attack on the fundamentals of Indian democracy. We also request you to kindly change your Facebook profile pictures to Citizens for Hadiya and/or write supporting posts.
The debate on the Hadiya issue continues to be intense in Kerala, and new questions have been raised by the media exposure of a Sangh-run torture camp in Tripunithura, Ernakulam, disguised as a yoga and counseling centre to re-convert young Hindu people who chose partners born in other faiths. This terrifying news, however, seems to be largely ignored by the CPM; its spokesmen continue to talk of how Muslim extremism cannot be treated with kid gloves ! This is clearly to give in to Sangh claims and enter into a competition with the Sangh over the defence of Hindu interests. Indeed, despite pressure from the AIDWA and important figures like Brinda Karat, the party in Kerala as well as the Women’s Commission and Human Rights Commission controlled by the ruling LDF have chosen to look away. No doubt, the Hadiya case is worrying evidence of the judiciary turning further towards the Hinutva right, relying more upon brahmanical ideas of the right of families to control young women and less on the Indian Constitution. In an unprecedented gesture, the HC annulled her marriage to her chosen partner, and the SC has failed to set aside this atrocious attack on her rights. Instead of allowing her to speak, it has unleashed an NIA investigation to ascertain whether she was about to be taken away to Syria to join the ISIS, just because her partner used to be associated with an Islamicist group, the Popular Front. I have been observing the so-called ‘love jihad’ cases from 2009, and it appears to me that this discourse has masked the differences between these cases and highlighted a single aspect of similarity, of the woman converting. But in some of these cases, not just the woman, but also the man converted to Islam. The pervading atmosphere of Islamophobia has made us incapable of taking this discourse apart and forging an alternate language. It is a shame indeed, and evidence of the intellectual pauperism of the CPM-CPI, that they have continued to use the Sangh’s language. But there is indeed the need to create other ways of representing this : to me, it is not love jihad for sure, but judicial ghar wapsi.
Meanwhile, opposition to the Free Hadiya campaign has come from the most unexpected sources. A group of respected intellectuals and activists who tried to visit Hadiya but were rebuffed by her father, came back with the impression that ‘the whole family’ was in need of care, and that this issue ‘was not Hadiya’s alone’ but also that of her father who was also, apparently, a ‘victim’. This is an appalling claim, which flies in the face of evidence that shows that the man had strong connections with the Sangh and indeed worked actively with them, all the while claiming to be a left supporter and a rationalist even. The CPM cyber warriors took this up with gusto. The second line of attack has been to rake up the earlier political views held by Hadiya’s partner Shafin Jahan, highlighting his support for the Popular Front and quoting misogynist statements he made. This seems to backfired, though.
What the CPM -rationalist-counterattack revealed is the enormous and deep-rooted misogyny of their new generation of apparatchiks, the ones who fix or deeply influence the party’s cultural policies. This new generation, largely between mid-30s and early 50s, is of men, many of who have gained substantial upward mobility in and through the CPM in the 1990s and are indeed a different generation from the architects of the People’s Planning. They are articulate, extremely well-connected, cyber-savvy, socially mobile (married to women born in other religious communities). Some of them at least, have an open history of being violent to their wives. Their positions in the Hadiya case shows the extent to which upward mobility for these men is bound to their retention of patriarchal power. The important context in which their naked bid for power happens is, no doubt, that of public assertion by women in the party and outside, a consequence of a number of shifts in Malayali society post-1990, including the massive entry of women into local-level public life from the mid-1990s and the recent gains made by women in the SFI, no doubt a strategic response to the rising presence of Islamicists on campuses.
Therefore it appears that the deepest misogyny characterizes the CPM now, irrespective of whether these apparatchiks are conscious of it or not. The CPM seems to have changed quite drastically since the 1990s when it advanced a certain limited, if valuable, alternative to capitalist globalisation and absorbed some limited aspects of feminism in the framework of women’s empowerment. The people who shaped that framework have been pushed to the sidelines of cultural policy, effectively, even as they have been given substantial responsibilities. In their place is a leadership which oversees development as displacement, closes their eyes to the creeping security state, and finds the task of building democratic socialist hegemony irrelevant, such that they pander to the deep conservatism and Hindutva proclivities of their mainstream followers. The older generation has generally shifted to welfare and development work, where they are doing some commendable things – but they are now silenced in most other crucial debates.
This, combined with the rise of the ambitious set of upwardly mobile men in the party cyber front, means that women’s rights are readily sacrificed. Furthermore, since left-democratic hegemony building is low-priority, the easiest route to placate the little patriarchs-in-nuclear-families who constitute a substantial section among left supporters. There is no other way to explain– and the inability of the Left, rationalists included, to consider the possibility that Hadiya may have had other reasons to leave her home, such as domestic violence which she may not want to or be ready to speak of now. It is a well-known fact that levels of domestic violence, especially psychological violence, are high in Kerala, and physical violence against daughters is taken as normal in small ‘doses’. See, for instance, the popular advertisement by Kalyan Jewellers, in which the father curls his fist to hit a daughter who attempted to elope, but is restrained by her total surrender. Below I present a small sample of arguments from the facebook writings of the CPM cyber warrior men and our rationalists. It is not representative, actually, of their attack; actually it is worse. Nor am I saying that these men are all domestic abusers, or equally virulent in their patriarchy. Such clarification is necessary only because over the past days, I have discovered that our rationalists cannot or don’t care to apply the rules of logic.
Consider, for example, the FB posts of Sebin A Jacob, who is the president of the Swatantra Malayalam Computing, which waxes eloquent about the father’s right to ensure ‘his daughter’s welfare’, and dismisses the very possibility of domestic pressures and violence on Hadiya. Mr Jacob later argues that he has issues with not the conversion but the marriage, which, to him, looks hurried and ‘fixed by the Popular Front’. How does he know what Hadiya’s life was like in the hostel the High Court had initially sent her to? Hadiya clearly indicated her dislike of the place which she found utterly hostile and in which she was humiliated by pro-Hindutva women, who did not allow her any privacy, claiming that she was a ‘terrrorist’. Anyone who reads the full court order can see how the HC distrusted her right from the beginning, remarking that her intelligence was ‘modest’ and she did not seem capable of converting on her own. This should be read in the light of the Farooqi acquittal, in which the women’s protests were called ‘feeble’ by the court. What is evident is that the courts seem to be actively rewinding back to the 70s, undoing all the gains of the Indian women’s movement regarding women’s right to equal and impartial treatment by courts. The AIDWA, at least in Delhi, seems to be seeing the dangers at least partially, but the male coterie of cultural advisers seem impervious to the dangers.
Others like Stanly Johny, travel on both boats adept at balancing. He says that it was a clear violation of individual liberty but ‘with more facts coming out of the closet’ (for him, not for the rest of us) it was clear to him that Hadiya’s parents were worried not because of the conversion but because they thought their daughter would be taken away to join the ISIS. Of course, if that was the only fear, why Asokan had to then get the RSS and Sangh agencies to work on her for re-conversion under solitary confinement is a question to which there is no answer from party intellectuals and apparatchiks. A certain Sreehari Sreedharan, who claims to be a rationalist, generates the ultimate irony — at a time when the young woman is confined in a house and subjected to the violence of RSS re-conversion therapy, that we ought to distinguish between consent and informed consent, claiming that Hadiya’s choices do not seem animated by the latter. There is also the shocking demand that the privacy judgment applies also to ‘the privacy of the family’ by some, whatever that means!! Even more alarmingly, a Francis Nazareth, another rationalist, wants the ‘elders’ of different communities to meet Hadiya’s father and solve the problem. If I had not met this person earlier on FB I would have thought that Madhu Kishwar had taken on a rationalist FB avatar to promote her idea of mini-khaps disguised as ‘family welfare committees’ of ‘elders’ to decide whether complaints of domestic violence made by women should be addressed or not!Meanwhile, CPM’s Rubin D’Cruz seems to blame Hadiya (refusing to use the name of her choice by referring to her as Akhila) for the troubles she has landed her ‘CPI-supporter’ family by passively walking into the trap the Islamicists laid for her.
All these men refuse her a voice; if they had any sincerity, they would have heard her out first. Those of us who have asked for that are jeered at as irrational, hyper-feminist, hysterical and so on. Many of these men, I know, have chosen partners born in other faiths. They are middle-aged men, most of these, and if it were now, their wives too would have faced the possibility of getting locked up. For rationalism – and the CPM — represents not the absence of faith and a structure of expressing faith and adherence to community — it is yet another faith and community, in Kerala at least. So the women who chose these men could well have got locked up had they married now, and they would have been branded ‘dangerous anti-Hindu blasphemer’ or ‘Maoist’. And that it is apparent from the cases emerging from the Hindutva torture camp. The woman who escaped had not converted to her husband’s faith. Surely, these men’s children face the prospect.
It is a combination of Islamophobia, pervasive misogyny, deep resentment against women who speak, that fuels their stand. I do understand the last – many of these Pinarayi-bhakts are men who find it hard to be challenged by women who speak up, who they feel enjoy many privileges denied to them in their youth. That resentment should have been transformed into truly political questions which would serve to expand and strengthen our democracy. Instead, their prepolitical, often unconscious, grievance generates ill-disposition towards such women — ranging from barely-felt pique to raging hatred. And it has led to them joining the Sangh cultural assault on women’s rights in the name of opposing Muslim cultural conservatism. In that sense, they are all clones of Mr Asokan. The only option left is to fight them and Hindutva alike.