An open letter to Brinda Karat: why do female supporters of the Kerala CPIM spew such venom at Hadiya?

Dear Comrade

I can hardly describe the joy and relief I felt reading your piece on the Hadiya case in the Hindu yesterday. By now I am nearly deaf from the cacophony of misogyny, islamophobia, and sheer short-sighted rage that CPM supporters on Facebook are unleashing against this young woman.

Your voice of sanity, Comrade, is therefore a great restorative. If not for your writing, one could have well thought that the CPM was nothing more than a bunch of short sighted, power hungry, strategisers, whose total lack of ethics and values is covered up by a vapid, outdated rationalism and an equally problematic liberalism. You refuse to condemn Hadiya for choosing Islam. You acknowledge that she is brave. You unequivocally reject the father and other minions of patriarchy. You rightly criticise state patriarchy evident in the Supreme Court. Unlike many CPM supporters here, you have no illusions about the times we live in; you are clearly aware that the NIA is not something which will spare us if we stay good. Importantly, you put paid to the idea that the High Court judgement that sanctioned her illegal custody was justified — an idea assiduously nurtured by certain public figures allied with the CPM against religious Muslims. Comrade, thank you again for being so forthright and in the face of snarling islamophobes in your own ranks actually gunning for the voice you raised against her illegal custody long back.

I write to you to also express my gnawing worry about the rising and totally unchecked respectability of islamophobia among vocal CPM supporters on Facebook. They ostensibly criticise one particular group, the SDPI, but inevitably, their venom falls on all practising and religious muslims.  A few weeks earlier, we saw them justify the father’s violence publicly, but now that he has been revealed to be a criminal by Hadiya’s own words, they have shifted to a kind of islamophobia reminiscent of that unleashed by US imperialist feminism in the wake of the bombing of Afghanistan.

There are many such instances, but what worries me especially is that many young women closely associated with the CPM are spreading it nonchalantly. For example, a young CPM supporter, an academic in a technical university outside Kerala, does not bat an eyelid as she spreads the idea that religious muslim groups are necessarily inimical to women’s education. This young woman is pretty pleased with her life choices, with her life as a non practicing muslim woman. She then glibly uses that to measure other muslim women. Noting that the Supreme Court ordered Hadiya to finish her education, she expresses surprise that the SDPI activists rejoice at it. According to her, they should not, because they like to keep their women wretchedly ill-educated. This is of course an absurd response since the SDPI has been supporting Hadiya’s education right from the beginning, and she had been quite fixed on acquiring her degree. Indeed, it was Asokan who had unlawfully taken away her certificates, which the court had to order to return. In another instance, another young AIDWA activist, a lawyer herself, from Thiruvananthapuram, insists that Hadiya’s choice is no choice at all because she chose a religious Islamic life. Today she moved up a notch asking whether Islam is a religion that taught believers to hate their parents!! A cartoon that CPM supporters have been sharing widely shows a niqabi woman holding up a placard saying Free Hadiya as if that were a contradiction in terms. I was reminded of the infamous public unveiling of Afghani women by American imperialist feminists justifying the war there.

We of course agree that all religions, including islam the world over, are deeply patriarchal and that we need to fight patriarchal authorities in majority and minority religions relentlessly. But we also do know that religious women are not brainless puppets and that they do struggle hard within their community. The Indian Women’s Movement as we know has debated this carefully. Surely, none of us there believe that Muslim women will be saved when they abandon their faith and join urban atheist circles. None of us non-Muslim feminists have the temerity to think that lack of self reflexivity is a shining virtue. Yet among many women supporters of the CPIM in Kerala today, blatant islamophobia and vulgar rationalism have become necessary components of what is projected as ‘progressive’ leftist identity. This is despite the fact that the AIDWA had complained early against Hadiya’s illegal custody. The Kerala government’s gender adviser had taken a humane and sensible stand early on. Yet these voices were sidelined and ignored. Even the recent essay by the Kerala Women’s Commission’s lawyer, PV Dinesh, is so utterly condescending and driven by motives other than justice for the wronged young woman.

I truly am concerned when I see that this is not a regional issue anymore. It is a national issue. Can the Left campaign among hijabi women in Lucknow or Kanpur or Hyderabad with such hostile ideas about women in religious dress? Is that done, even? I do hope you will be able to convince comrades in Kerala that the ethical stance towards muslims and muslim women cannot be hijacked by their calculation of short term political gain. In Kerala, the CPM is closely connected with the worst misogynists not just among the Muslims but perhaps among all Malayali communities, the Kanthapuram faction. They also often have a ground level understanding with other ultra conservatives among Muslims. The positions of the SDPI are often not as conservative, nor is the National Women’s Front led by dumb dolls. Clearly, the CPM has other reasons to fight it. Whatever those may be, this reckless use of islamophobia will only end up eroding the ethical core of the Left all the more. That it is already emaciated is evident from the manner in which left adherents are deploying an impoverished version of liberal feminism.

Lastly, may I please ask a clarification? In your essay, you mention that Muslim women in Kerala marrying Hindu men are being violently threatened by extremist Muslim groups like the Popular Front. I would like to know what sources you may be basing this claim on. Since this group has been the target of much attack from quite long, since we now know how wary the general public is of muslim extremism here, surely, many cases must have been filed against these alleged ruffians? I have been trying to trace these cases since yesterday and have found very few, but none in which the Popular Front is directly involved. If you have information – say case numbers, the police stations etc. – please do publicly share them? I am saying this because I have observed since 2008 that the Popular Front has been the target of consistent demonisation by both the left and right in the state.It is high time we start going by clearly identifiable acts. Otherwise, it will end up like the Sanghi complaint that the CPM is mercilessly butchering their people here – powerful claims which seem plausible to diehard CPM haters, but with no factual basis whatsoever. In this case, given the heavy climate of fear against religious Muslims, complaints must have been filed and pursued as well. But if no such evidence is available then maybe that remark should be withdrawn. There could of course be goons in every party. Moral policing by SFI activists is very common in Kerala. But that doesn’t mean that SFI as an organization approves of moral policing. The continuing demonisation of the SDPI may bring gains in that this may mobilize terrified Hindu voters for the CPM. But certainly, that is  a great wrong to do for minor electoral gain.

None of this takes anything away from your principled support for Hadiya. I hear that some CPM supporters have been fuming and calling you a ‘sudapini’, a derogatory term they coined to refer to those of us who did not succumb to the father’s right theory or buy the terrorist muslim discourse. Never mind, all of us in the Indian Women’s Movement should be ‘sudapinis’, by that reckoning.

With love and respect, as always,

Yours truly

J Devika







8 thoughts on “An open letter to Brinda Karat: why do female supporters of the Kerala CPIM spew such venom at Hadiya?”

  1. It may be helpful if the supporters of ‘ left’ learn rationalism first so that they think logically. Their uproar against Hadiya reveals that communalism has seeped into the cadres, unfortunately even women supporters. Unless they are liberated from ‘ blind’ mindset and hindu dogma, they may not be qualified to be called leftist supporters. The first step of the communist parties should be to educate and train cadres on logical and rationalist lines so that they do not support communal forces, directly or indirectly


  2. CPI(M) has been pro-muslim demanding reservations, implementing sachar commission recommendations etc. Perhaps in Kerala they do not support some muslim oufits or have reservations about them. Is it necessary for any party that claims to be leftist to support all muslim outfits at all times and in all issues. How does criticizing islamic groups or contesting their idea be equated with Islamophobia.


    1. Certainly not, not just muslim, no group is beyond criticism, and the Popular Front too should be approached critically. The issue here however is whether islamophobic abuse targeting religious muslims can be unleashed in the contest against muslim groups. That is what is happening and it goes against whatever pro muslim positions the party has taken. Secondly, the party has never taken a call on how to engage with groups like the PFI seriously. Instead, it relies on mainstream demonisation of the pfi, ignoring the fact that the accusations leveled against it like for example, gruesome violence, can well be equally or more raised against the CPM as well. In this case, Karat makes the accusation without offering any evidence. Maybe she has it, but she doesn’t feel obliged to offer it. That is because it is OK to say anything about these people, spread any kinds of lies, and that is taken as morally acceptable.


  3. Given the (political) attractions of alignment and alliance with majoritarian (cultural) constitutency, a plausible strategy began to emerge: you don’t argue with (cultural) demographics, but try and use them to advantage.

    This conundrum has begun to be internalised especially by SFI members, acutely conscious of the distinction between hare and hound, but seeking rapproachment. Among the latter, then, praxis becomes a liberal kow-towing to both in the interests of attracting adherents. It is presumed that the targeted adherents will eventually respond to rational appeal. Thus, an SFI leadership dilutes its (own) standatds with the immediate objective, the desire to acommodate (the cultural element).
    I position myself ‘externally’ to describe above perceptions, and how they could segue into a generic? islamophobia, and (i hold) an extremely problematic patriarchy (bringing to the fore ideas of purity and defilement), indeed inscribed on a social hierarchy. Needless to add, further discontents with other cultures remain, and could be renewed


  4. Ms. jdevika, you speak about misogyny, you said you are deafened by the cacophony against islam and women that follow islam. I wonder how do you decide that a person is a CPM supporter? How can you judge that some one is a CPM supporter and then make a terrific discourse of English vocabulary to establish, that someone is mistreating all the practicing muslim women. if some one is atheist or rational does that mean they are pro CPM? How do you arrive at such an one-sided decision? Isn’t that fascism, isn’t that feudalism, isn’t that aristocracy. So who is being prejudice here, who is judging someone that is only a facebook friend and that too since a year or so.

    And about the high profile liberal stands of SUDUS, hope you have seen the recent post of a famous sudu navas jane on the flash mob done by few muslim girls at Malappuram. They cant even tolerate such a popular dance form which is being used as an awareness campaigning way all over the world. And if you browse through youtube you could find many videos were sudus urge muslim women to stay at home citing the holy book.


    1. Mr Mohan, unfortunately, the so-called rationalists (actually they are a bunch of pathetic scientism-blinded people) whether consciously or not have been taking the side of the CPM — and of course the Hindu right-wing as well — in their obsessive desire to crush religious muslims. Many of them have now turned anti-CPM now that two of their friends have been attacked by the police in Kochi. What these scientism-blinded folk don’t see is that CPM does not care for their liberal proclivities; it merely wants to use them, in this case, against Muslims. As for your second point, Mr Mohan, this is where you grossly err. Yes indeed many SDPI activists have attacked the young dancers, but many have not. Indeed, conservatives are rife in Kerala and evenly spread in all political parties.The CPM is no exception and the official rationalists are among the worst sexual conservatives I have ever met. The CPM activists are often flagrantly hypocritical too — speaking of women’s empowerment in one breath and making terrible suggestions about Barsa’s morals on the other! The PFI leadership has clearly said that these are personal matters, but I cannot forget what Pinarayi Vijayan said about the Kiss of Love.

      Stopping fooling yourself about your Islamophobia and stop blaming my English.


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