A Wall That is Bound To Fall: An Open Letter To Pinarayi Vijayan
The concept of CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s Women’s Wall itself is troublesome and there are many reasons why.
Dear Mr Vijayan,
When there are communal tensions in North India, when minorities or Dalits are attacked, when people are killed because of their choice of food, I look towards my home state Kerala in search of hope. We Keralites, irrespective of our political identities, boast of how you, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, resist divisive and communal forces in the state.
You upheld the Supreme Court verdict on the entry of women into the Sabarimala shrine in spite of strong opposition from religious and political groups. Very few chief ministers would dare to do what you did.
But when it came to implementation, you floundered. Women journalists who tried to enter the shrine were attacked, activists were sent back from airports, some were even arrested, police officers sent back women believers from the shrine. In short, the verdict remains just on paper.
It is strange that instead of providing protection to female devotees, you floated the idea of a Women’s Wall (Vanitha Mathil) – a human wall with lakhs of women coming together as one, fighting for their space and rights.
You announced the Women’s Wall in the aftermath of protests by the BJP/RSS against the Supreme Court verdict allowing women to enter Sabarimala. This is laudable. I agree, in a place as steeped in misogyny as Kerala, we need a united women’s movement. But your idea of a Women’s Wall itself rasies several concerns.
For starters, the government seems very confused about the objective of the Wall. You first said that it will support the Sabarimala cause.
Then we were told that it is a revival movement where women from all communities, will come together to show resistance against regressive forces.
Then why did they government reach out to 190 Hindu organisations and not ones which fight for gender justice?
It is also disappointing to not find a single woman in the organisation committee of the movement. If a group of men dictate what women must do to resist patriarchy and how they should do it, it is still patriarchy Mr Vijayan.
There are in Kerala a lot of women organisations that have braved misogyny and stood their ground, especially regarding the Sabarimala issue. Did the invites fall short? If you want to build a superficial wall to hide your patriarchal intentions, we women want nothing to do with it.
Misogynists On Board
Like bad icing on a very stale cake, you selected CP Sugathan to convene the Women Wall council. CP Sugathan, for those who have forgotten, is the state general secretary of the Hindu Parliament who heckled women journalists at the Pampa base camp near Sabarimala.
He had also openly called for an assault on Hadiya, the woman whose conversion and marriage to Shafin Jahan had the Hindutva brigade up in arms. Their sole target was her agency to choose her partner. The irony is too glaring to miss, sir.
And when Sugathan realised the movement might have something to do with Sabarimala, he withdrew his participation. What a mess.
Your supporters argue that the Wall is a celebration of the rights of Dalit and OBC women and that it offers them visibility. But Dalit activists like Sathy Angamaly and many others disagree. They have been vocal about how this idea discounts the numerous protests that Dalit and OBC women have been holding over the years, asking for land rights among others.
Maybe you should also look into the verbal attacks that your party supporters unleashed on actress Manju Warrier who withdrew her participation in the Wall, stating that she was unaware of its ‘political colours’. A lot of activists who spoke their mind on the issue were also attacked on social media. Whatever happened to the spirit of dissent and the right to free speech?
Even if your objective wasn’t ‘political’ or to indulge in ‘appeasement’—two words your critics are harping on, you should have known that merely proposing a “Women’s Wall” is meaningless in a society divided by caste, religion and political loyalties and one in which women are still constrained by patriarchy. One event can’t change structures and bridge divides that have existed since centuries.
On December 23, yet another group of women will attempt to enter Sabarimala. Will your police send them back? Or will you ask them to disperse and join your “Women’s Wall”.
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