It looks like the CPM’s enmity towards the Muslim organizations is such that they do not mind sacrificing women’s human rights and reinforcing the patriarchal family just to teach them a lesson. So they are happy to stick with the Sanghi understanding of conversion as necessarily forced in some way, ideological or physical. Media One broke news yesterday about a Sanghi torture camp for Hindu women who marry Christians or Muslims concealed as a yoga center. A woman incarcerated there for marrying a Christian managed to escape and complain to the police. Sixty-five women were reportedly incarcerated there when she was an inmate (a later report, after the place was shut down today on the order of the High Court, said 22 women and 23 men were allegedly for reconversion) . The reconversion therapy includes physical assault and threats. This 28-year-old woman married a Christian man without converting and her family seems to have initially accepted it. However, she was taken to this yoga cum counseling center by her own family without her consent and they left her there to the mercy of the criminals who ran the place. She also confirms that a young woman, Athira from Kasaragod, who had chosen to convert to Islam on her own who recently ‘returned’ to ‘Sanatana dharma’ with much fanfare, was in this place for twenty-two days and that she had continued to insist on her preference for Islam.
This place is in Tripunithura, in the heart of urban Kerala quite near the High Court at Ernakulam, which damned Hadiya’s right to choose her faith and a partner. Apparently, it is the Sanghi gang from this place who visited Hadiya at her father’s house. Here is the story:
So it appears that the Sangh is clearly seeking to reverse what is an outcome of long-term social processes shaped by increasing access to higher education for most social groups in Kerala. Women entered higher education here in larger numbers in the 1980s and Muslims, men and women, since the 1990s till now. The expansion of the media and cellphones is such that young people are not influenced solely by their parents or community. In other words, there is a greater livelihood of women and men choosing partners actors communities. Even sensible people here whisper about how zealous Muslims are about conversion away from Islam but the discourse of Hindu tolerance is so pervasive that it lets concentration camp proliferate in secret. The response of the CPM participant is truly revealing — indeed, this is cutting the nose to spite the face. Whatever be their position about welfare and economic development, the CPM in Kerala seems appallingly on the side of the Hindutva security state. And the questions this raises for the fabled autonomy of women here that the CPM ideologues never ceases to claim credit for, are huge.
This is probably the calculation of utility that underlies the chilling indifference/ outright contempt of the CPM leadership towards the plight of the Muslims: the average CPM and CPI supporter is the middle-caste ex-avarna middle-aged male of the middle or lower middle class. This gentleman’s preferences are such that his utility is maximised by staying with the organized dominant left in matters related to securing public resources to private ends (because the mobilization for that, given Kerala’s demographics and history needs to be necessarily by a multi-community mix) and by sticking to community/caste organizations for family matters. This choice has always been detrimental to women’s personal rights, particularly personal choices. The community/caste organizations of the 20th century are becoming more of economic institutions than social — and they manage the vast community assets once secured from governments for public ends now securing mainly the interests of the community elite. The social, however, is undergoing rapid transformation, and indeed, sections of the young now even dare to define the social for themselves. Into this gap steps the Sangh, desperate to make an entry, now that their efforts to secure the ex-avarnas have failed (because of their own irremediable casteism). The above-mentioned gentleman finds it prudent to use their services in making sure that the young stay under his patriarchal thumb. Especially young women, for they have nobody to really defend their rights. Thus arise the thriving if silent business of reconversion, well-protected from public view by the pervasive Islamophobia of the Right and Left, believers and rationalists. Also remember that in a post-demographic society, children are few and they are more akin to trophies that future labour for the family. The dominant left sees that as long as they don’t disturb this gentleman’s efforts to secure his patriarchal authority through whatever means, however violent, crude, and abhorrent to democracy they may be, they retain influence. In other words, the tattered influence of the dominant left — no longer hegemonic — endures through, among other things, looking away from the social and the familial as hierarchical institutions and the abuses. This is why a sexual attack on a film actor elicits a huge response from the feminist supporters of the CPM, while the unlawful confinement of a far less privileged young woman is largely ignored or supported ‘personally’. The dominant left leadership reasons this to be its best strategy, since it loses nothing by letting the Sanghis handle family affairs. The presence of the Sangh works well for it too, since very many Muslims and Christians, who are sizeable in demographic and economic terms, will turn to it for protection from the Sangh!! This strategy has worked hitherto, and the sole risk lies in the gentleman ceasing to remain a Rational Agent and joining the ranks of the Indo-Gangetic barbarians, essentially irrational in the Kerala context (I keep urging them to leave for Haryana in pursuit of what must be their choices if they choose to become such barbarians). But this has been largely limited to the upper caste Hindus and some sections of elite Christians who regret the loss of traditional power and hope that the Sangh will restore it. They are not the growing power, demographically or economically. Meanwhile, the effete rationalists generate a ‘secularised’ Islamophobia that serves as a neutral-sounding justification for the government’s inactivity.
There are very few moments in which I have felt so lonely. Almost everyone I know seems to be a player, a rational agent, in this game, either participating or creating justifications for the strategy or participating by simply looking away and remaining silent. But this loneliness is so much more dignified — and indeed, more human. I stand with the six young women who braved the Sangh and the police trying to reach Hadiya; I condemn those who serve up her father’s sickening sentimental patriarchal shit in the public in a way that renders them vulnerable. Hadiya’s father who had not the slightest compunction in approaching the High Court and painting his own daughter a potential terrorist such that her entire life promises to be hell (even if she escapes his confinement), is showered with sympathy by our critical intellects for being a poor worried father. Meanwhile, a radical student who claims to be on Hadiya’s side flings abuse on me for wearing a sleeveless blouse, for leaving my hair untied – she does not even notice that her tirade is so like a Brahmanical patriarch’s diatribe against the well-known signs of Kali — immodest women with their hair open — such missiles seem convenient for all, radical Ambedkarites even, to use against those they dislike. The only silver lining in this mess is that it reveals with unprecedented and astounding clarity, the enormous risks, dangers, and material losses ahead of anyone who wants to remain human, and not what is substitutable with Artificial Intelligence. And that in order to be popular, you must swim with some tide or the other. But I’d rather be human than popular, still.
Shame on all of you — AIDWA leaders, Brinda Karat, M S Josephine, C K Asha, Geeta Nazir, Sreemathi teacher, Shylaja teacher — all of you women adherents of the CPM and CPI. If Hadiya dies in that horrible hell, her blood is on your hands. Her rights are already dead and you have done precious little.