Tag Archives: Rehana Fathima

Break the Chain, Break the (Unconventional) Family?

My earlier posts on the Kerala Left’s inability to forge an adequate and democratizing response to the ‘societal emergencies’ that have challenged Malayali society in the 21st century, and on the completely-unjustified attack on the body artist Rehana Fathima seem to have irritated, even angered, many supporters of the CPM on Facebook.

These people are not youngsters, a detail that is really important. Indeed, they largely belong to the upper-middle-class professional elite, indeed, perhaps among the best-off sections of Malayali society, which include medical professionals, male and female. Their responses reveal very interesting details about how the pandemic shapes our understanding of ‘useful expertise’:  at this moment, we are told, just listen to medical professionals, and not just their views on issues pertaining to health, but also to ‘social health’.  Many of these professionals believe that the brazen violence unleashed against Rehana Fathima’s family — her mother-in-law has been denied free dialysis simply because she is Rehana Fathima’s mother-in-law, and BSNL has ordered the eviction of the family on completely ridiculous grounds – is a minor diversion, an irritating, trivial one, compared to the task of controlling the pandemic on the ground, which of course, brings the medical professional (even when he/she works in Kerala’s private hospitals, which are surely not the epitome of altruism) to the centre of public discourse as the ‘hero’ that everyone should be eternally grateful to. And if such heroes tell you that Rehana Fathima is just a child-abusing publicity-seeker, then you have to just say yes. And, as as the artist Radha Gomathy put it, participate in the Break-the-Chain-and-Break-the-Family campaign — or punish Rehana’s supportive family for not being freakishly conservative, like good Malayali families.

Bolstering their claim to be the only ‘real experts’ to talk about Malayali society at the moment is their implicit understanding that medical professionals are somehow more ‘scientific’ than others. Yet I was amazed — indeed, alarmed — by the carelessness with which they dealt with empirical information and their easy abandonment of logic.  The tendency to equate technical training with scientific is very strong in these Facebook debates, as also the idea that social science and history are some airy-fairy romance that lacks scientific basis.

I am mentioning these features not to put these people down — and I am also aware of, and grateful to, many other medical professionals who expressed unease at these acts of hubris. I wish only to flag what seems to me an emerging axis of power in post-pandemic Kerala. A form in which the state’s apparatus of biopower is projected insistently as the sole benevolent source of human sustenance that must engage us constantly; it is not that critical discourse should be abolished, but it must focus, and gently, on this pre-given object. In it, the biological body is the object on which the state builds its new protectionism; the only kind of body it is bound to protect. The ‘new expert’ wields power on it, and their technical interventions will henceforth be recognized as ‘scientific’  — and the significance of the gap between the two will be ignored. The suspension of neoliberal logic during the pandemic has indeed allowed the Left to behave, even think, like the left — this emerging protectionism seems to be actually riding on it.

It is not surprising at all then that for some of these experts, those of us who contested the purportedly ‘scientific claim’ that Rehana’s children will be necessarily harmed psychologically by the sight of their mother’s exposed torso, or the equally-shaky idea that they necessarily lack the psychological strength the resist the taunts of society, seem dangerous to society.  Rehana’s use of the body is aimed at the long-term; it signals the possibility of seeing the body as the site of aesthetic play and creativity; its androgynous appearance and breaking of stereotypes about the maternal body make it defy gendered classification (so necessary for the state). Her husband deserves punishment because he had abandoned the role of Reformer-Husband so central to the twentieth-century reformist discourse. Our experts’ ‘scientific temperaments’ do not allow them to perceive the fact that the Reformer-Husband carried the burden of ushering his wife into (a gendered) modernity, while in twenty-first century Kerala, women no longer need such ushering — there is data that shows that more women than men complete their education and enter higher education; that they outperform men in most examinations and have entered most modern professions; that in marriages, the bride is now likely to be more educated than the groom. The family needs to be punished as a whole for allowing such explorations of the body.

I still repose faith in the democratizing possibilities that this window of time gives us, but that does not make me blind to this wilful shutting out of the long-term and the agency of citizens. It is as if future society may be imagined by citizens only with or after the state. The state sees a vague and uncertain future, and therefore all citizens should, therefore, limit themselves to the immediate and present. Nothing should be allowed to disrupt the Left’s hegemony-building through pandemic-control exercises. Even if that requires that we turn a blind eye to the fact that the refurbishing of this hegemony may not be antithetical to the further entrenchment of biopower and the reign of these new experts.

 

An Appeal for an Artist: Buy Brushes for Rehana Fathima’s Son

I am making appeal here to all people who really care for children’s rights beyond the hypocrisies of the global child rights discourse.

A controversy is raging in Kerala over a video of body art posted by the body-activist Rehana Fathima in which her two children paint an image of a phoenix on the exposed torso of their mother. The children are not nude, they don’t look outside the frame. Rehana herself does not look out, nor is her body being displayed in any explicit sense. There is nothing pornographic; the video was not made for commercial purposes. However, the video has unleashed a storm of outrage and the bitter conservatism of both Right and Left-wing politics in Kerala now engulfs the family like a toxic fog.

Rehana has been subject to unimaginable violence online. She is no stranger to it; her insistent efforts to keep radical body politics alive in a society in which bodies are strictly subject to caste and religions communities and bound firmly within heternormative sexuality, patrilineal family-forms and marriages that insist of huge dowry payment to the groom have stirred all sort of insecurities, unconscious and otherwise, of the Malayali masculinist elite. During the conservative backlash against the Supreme Court’s verdict approving the entry of female devotees to the Sabarimala temple in 2018, Rehana Fathima (who claims that she had converted long back and is also known by the name Surya Gayatri) made an attempt to make the pilgrimage, resulting in her arrest and jailing. She was accused of obscenity for uploading a picture of herself in the pilgrim’s costume, but showing a little skin off her thigh.

In the present case, she is accused of corrupting her children by exposing them to her naked body and then making the video public. The first complaint was filed by a BJP functionary and then the Kerala State Commission for the Protection of Child Rights directed the police to file cases against her charging the provisions of the POCSO Act. Other cases against her have used the provisions of the IT Act and the Juvenile Justice Act.

The police raided her home — and seized the laptop and, appalling, her son’s cherished set of brushes and paints. This violence remains unnoticed. There has been much hand-wringing by hypocrites who claim that they are not offended by the art but because children have been involved. These people do not seem to notice the violence against this young boy.

Rehana’s 13 year old is serious about his art. He is not like the kids who parents force into art classes so that they can brag about it in their circle. He is not traumatised by the sight of his mother’s body, but by the loss of his brushes, taken away by the Kerala Police as ‘evidence’ of the ‘crime’! The investigation of alleged violation of child rights gets an auspicious start, I suppose, with the police committing precisely such violation.

I appeal to all of you who think this is injustice — irrespective of whether it is technically proper or not — to speak up. If you can, please contribute brushes. Or pay Rs 10.  The child’s father, Manoj K Sreedhar, is on Facebook.  The address is : Rujul manav (appu) c/o Rehana fathima Ernakulam 682036 Mob: manoj 9446767666.

 

J Devika.

Why does the Left in Kerala fear Rehana Fathima and not COVID- 19?

Before I start, a request:    Friends who are reading this, if you are close to Noam Chomsky, Amartya Sen, or Soumya Swaminathan, or the other left-liberals who appear in the Kerala government-sponsored talk series from outside Kerala, please do forward this to them? I hope to reach them.

 

The Left government in Kerala is gathering its international intellectual-activist support base to cash on its commendable  — ongoing — success in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.  This is not new — it has always been part of the dominant Left’s hegemony-bolstering exercises, especially after the 1990s, when its unquestionable hegemony in Kerala began to face a series of challenges. It has also been forced to pay attention to the oppositional civil society which relentlessly questions the dominant Left’s fundamental understanding of social justice and forces it to take seriously such ideas as freedom, autonomy, as well as identities not reducible to class. Continue reading Why does the Left in Kerala fear Rehana Fathima and not COVID- 19?

An Open Letter to Brinda Karat about Rehana Fathima: Why are we being hunted in Kerala?

Dear Comrade

Last year, around this time, I wrote you an open letter about the plight of Hadiya Asokan who was being hunted down by the Hindutva groups for her choice of faith and partner while the CPM and its cyber force was either actively abetting the violence or watching passively. I wrote in joy, because you had taken a firm stand and despite angry howls of protest against you from your own party. However, this time, I write in sheer despair at your silence; not just yours, but of the AIDWA in Kerala in general, in the wake of the twisted machinations of the Hindutva forces around the Supreme Court’s order permitting the entry of women of menstruating ages to the Sabarimala temple. Continue reading An Open Letter to Brinda Karat about Rehana Fathima: Why are we being hunted in Kerala?