Didn’t Carry Sanitary Napkins to Sabarimala: Rehana Fathima
‘Break the rules,’ reads the bio of Rehana Fathima Pyarijaan Sulaimaan. Now she is under fire for trying to exercise her right under the law.
She became one of the first women who almost made it to the top at Sabarimala temple. The journey may not have been completed but she feels this is a success after all for hundreds of women out there.
Many at the temple premises and on social media have vehemently opposed her journey. They feel she has upset age-old traditions and this is just provocation and not devotion.
The Quint spoke to Rehana Fathima to find out what she has to say about the anti-Rehana wave and why she made this journey to Sabarimala.
When did you decide you wanted to go to Sabarimala?
I have always wanted to go but I was waiting for the court order. When the Supreme Court verdict came I thought it was apt to go at this time.
Did you follow the vritham when you went to Sabarimala?
We should follow brahmacharya, that is going on the path of God. We should not have relations with men, walk without slippers, wear mala, carry an irumudikettu and only then can you go up the 18 steps.
(Rehana did not clarify if she observed the vritham or not.)
While you were walking to the temple in protective gear, when did the trouble begin?
We knew we were going to meet a lot of opposition. So we treaded every step very carefully and the police and we were on alert. After an hour of climbing, the other woman who was trekking along with me, Kavitha, was attacked directly because she was in the front. That’s why the police gave us vests and helmets for protection. We were just about to enter the temple.
You didn’t complete this journey but would you call it a successful one?
Yes. I won’t say I didn’t complete journey. We climbed the hill and that was a big step. We were going to enter the temple and climb the 18 steps.
But at the entrance they had made little kids stand guard and told us to stamp on them and walk into the temple. We are not bad people to hurt children and enter a temple. We had the support of the police but we were told by the temple authorities that they will shut down the temple if we enter.
Then how would we go? We realised that the more time we waited outside the temple, more we were troubling the children.
Many people who objected on social media are discriminating you for being a Muslim. What do you have to say?
The people had a fixed agenda that they were not going to allow women into the temple. They were just finding reasons to justify that. For me, they had a strong reason that I was Muslim. The temple is usually welcome to all religions but they were very clear they were not going to allow women so they discriminated me for being Muslim.
Many are saying you are an activist and not a devotee. How do you respond?
I have never declared I am an activist. I voice my opinions for any social issues and as a human being and a woman, I think we have to react. I feel there are times we have to step up and talk.
Do you check if all the men who come there are true devotees? Do you know what all men do before coming to Sabarimala?
But because they are fixated on not allowing women they raised these arguments. Is there any method to find if a person is a devotee or not? Every person’s way of devotion is different. How do you measure devotion?
This is not the real problem. The issue is I am a woman. If it is the case of devotion, then why did they deny entry for the women devotees who came before me?
There is this allegation doing the rounds on social media that you carried sanitary napkins in your irumudi. Please clarify.
This was a way to misguide people. In fact, I left my irumudikettu with the police when I left. Usually, a person who goes with the irumudikettu should be able to complete the journey. When this allegation surfaced, the police checked my irumudikettu and my partner’s and even took photos of it.
People were using my Muslim name and tactics like spreading the idea that I was there to create trouble, that I carried sanitary napkins – all to misguide people. When people are already questioning if I am a devotee or not, planting this idea that I was a lady who had gone there to only create trouble, would aggravate them. So no one would anyway believe what I say.
I even had a paper where I had scribbled down a list of items I needed for the irumudikettu which I handed over to the police.
Are your children safe? Your house was attacked and you said you have been receiving a number of threats.
My partner also came with me to Sabarimala. The previous night I had left my children at my friend’s place. We brought our kids back the evening we returned. We have police protection even now.
This is not the first time you are making a bold statement. Earlier when a male professor compared women’s breasts to watermelons and advised girls to cover themselves since they attract men, you retorted by posting a photo that became controversial. You were also part of the ‘Kiss of Love’ campaign against moral policing in 2014. You have been very vocal about what you believe in.
In every religion, there are attempts made to quiet the women and keep them in cages. Men and women are equal. And when there are a few situations when this equality is disturbed, someone needs to stand up and speak. Saying, yes we also want to go there, we also want to do that. We all deserve the same opportunities in life.
Many women have come forward and spoken up, that’s why today there is so much visibility and empowerment for women. This has been a long struggle. That is the reason women have freedom to an extent today.
I have done whatever I can. I am a working mother of two and I have done whatever I can in my capacity. If everyone attempts to do the same for this society, then it will be better.
Many are sharing your bold pictures from Instagram and accusing you of being a Muslim woman doing this for publicity. What do you want to tell them?
If I wanted to pull off a publicity stunt, I would’ve called a press conference and announced that I was going to make this journey. I didn’t want it but because of all that was happening I was forced to have police protection. In fact, media knew about me climbing the hill only after I was halfway up the hill. Until then the media only knew it was some woman. It is because of my name that it caught their attention.
People who know me will know why I did this. This was not for publicity or a protest. The Supreme Court gave us the support that even women can go here and I, like many other strong-willed women, only exercised their right.
Are there any cases filed against you?
I have heard from local channels that someone of Pathanamthitta has filed a complaint against me. But there are complaints filed against all the women who have gone to Sabarimala. The police came to us to record our statements regarding a few people who attacked our house.
What do you want to tell women?
We are not disobeying the law but just doing something legal. If we don’t take a step forward in exercising our right, it will remain discriminatory for women.
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