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a bunch of short sighted, power hungry, strategisers, whose total lack of ethics and values is covered up by a vapid, outdated rationalism and an equally problematic liberalism.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,