Rehana Fathima – Activist Who Defied Opposers With Sabarimala Trek
In Kerala, tempers are running high, emotions are fragile, slogans of ‘Swamiye Ayyappo’ are echoing and human chains of men and women are being formed. The Sabarimala temple has opened its gates for the first time for women after the Supreme Court issued an order. But the people of Kerala are not willing to accept the order.
Undeterred by the mounting protests, two women – an activist Rehana Fathima and Hyderabad journalist Kavitha Jakkal – dressed in complete bullet-proof vests and helmets, walked towards the temple amidst heavy police force on Friday, 19 October. Just 500 metres away from the shrine, the fence of protesters grew stronger and the police advised the two women to return.
There has been a lot of outrage against activist Rehana Fathima.
Who Is Rehana Fathima
Fathima is a telecom technician with BSNL and has acted in an art film Eka. The makers have claimed that this is the first movie of its kind to be made in India. The film is about intersexuality. The posters of Eka carried the tagline: ‘I am intersex. I have a penis and vagina by birth. I want to live.’
The 31-year-old government employee was born in an orthodox Muslim family, reported The Indian Express. Her partner is producer Manoj K Sreedhar and they have two children. She said she became disillusioned with religion after her father’s death and has since been quite vocal in projecting her opinions.
"Outside BSNL premises, Ms Fathima alone shall be fully responsible for her actions, in her own personal capacity, outside normal business hours," said the company, dissociating itself from the row, to NDTV.
Fathima’s Sabarimala Journey
Fathima had posted a picture of herself wearing the traditional Sabarimala black attire and mala on Facebook with the caption, ‘Philosophy’.
The picture earned the wrath of several devotees and the anger was quite evident in the scores of protesters gathered at the temple entrance, and on social media.
Early Friday morning, two unidentified men on bikes attacked Fathima's house in Kochi. Window panes were shattered, a gas cylinder and flower pots were thrown on the road.
When Fathima addressed the press while returning from the temple, she said, “My apartment has been ransacked. I don’t know where my children are. My life is under threat. The police have assured complete security.”
Not a Stranger to Controversies
Fathima’s name has cropped up in a number of controversies in the past.
Earlier, in March 2018, a male professor compared women’s breasts to watermelons and advised girls to cover themselves since they attract men. Fathima retorted to this by posting a topless photo holding watermelons. The photo received both support and backlash from people, and Facebook took it down after the number of trolls and abusive comments piled up.
She was part of the ‘Kiss of Love’ campaign against moral policing in 2014. Her partner, filmmaker Manoj K Sreedhar, had shared a clip of the kiss on Facebook, reported The New Indian Express.
Fathima was also one of the first women to participate in the Thrissur Pulikkali in 2016. It is a traditional dance form performed by men dressed like tigers during the festival of Onam in Kerala. She had then told Manorama she had always wanted to “perform in a space dominated by men,” the report by The Indian Express added.
The Anti-Fathima Wave
Hindu outfits and devotees in Kerala are protesting against Fathima for trying to defy the tradition in Sabarimala temple.
Devaswom Minister Kadakampalli Surendran told the Director General of Police that the temple was not a place for activism.
"The government's interest is to protect the interests of the devotees. Sabarimala is not a place for you to prove the power of your activism. I plead to all activists to not misuse the judgment like this. If true devotees come, the government is committed to take them to the sannidhanam. The government is not responsible for providing security to activists," he said.
When journalists asked Fathima if she was a true devotee, she retorted saying,
Many have taken to social media to express their anger saying this is provocation, just an attempt at publicity and not devotion.