There is much disappointment among women who supported the CPI(M) in Kerala and participated actively in the anti-Hindutva Women’s Wall on January 1. The overwhelming participation of women in this mass demonstration made news across the world — despite the organising of the event being gendered in an all-too-familiar way.

Women handled the gruelling part of mobilising support on the ground, while all-male committees took the crucial decisions. Women’s rights enthusiasts and feminists independent of the CPI(M) had hoped this would bind the party to a moral commitment to fair representation of women as candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The CPI(M) list not only dashed their hopes, it also revealed the leadership’s utter contempt for the women who staunchly supported them.

The critical women’s rights voice in Malayalam cinema, the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC), had ardently supported chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s call for the Women’s Wall — an initiative that he claimed was in support of the values of the ‘Kerala Renaissance’. Leading members of the WCC were prominent faces of the campaign.

Few, however, found it problematic that the massive demonstration had sought to merely utilise women’s bodies without offering them any decision--making role in anti-Hindutva campaigns. Nor were they bothered by the lack of clarity on the so-called ‘Renaissance values’ that were to be espoused in the campaign. But then they probably felt that standing with the CPI(M) in this moment of crisis was crucial to securing their ends. Early last month, it appeared the move had worked, when finance minister TM Thomas Isaac announced an allocation of ₹3 crore for women film-makers. The unprecedented move was much welcomed, given that the leading voices of the WCC are being subjected to a silent boycott and denied work in the industry.

I, however, had other reasons to vehemently oppose the way the Women’s Wall was organised. My discomfort was viscerally related to my life-experience as a survivor of domestic violence.

When I look back now, after putting up with domestic abuse for years and finally escaping it, I can see with clarity the astonishing number of times one had quietly complied with orders, just stood in line silently on occasions which involved a man’s prestige or honour. It was done with the feeling that the show of submission would stop the violence and the abusive control; that somehow, this would convince him that one was really, truly on his side in moments he needed support. Further, it was done with the heartbreaking, poignant hope for recognition: That he might come to love and value one, that he would finally see that one is worth his affection, and that one’s needs should be addressed lovingly and respectfully.

This illusion has made millions of women, including myself, persist in abusive and violent relationships for far too long.

I realise that this is often the mode in which women relate to the state or its powerful constituents, especially the political Left. In Kerala, the relationship women who value a public life have with the CPI(M) is an abusive one — here they suffer violence, rarely complain, and often justify the ill-treatment; it is one in which the CPI(M) comes back to the women after a spell of abuse with sweet words and plenty of promises, only to go back to the abusive mode again. Women keep hoping that with its progressive credentials and promises of equality and democracy, the Left will treat their demands deferentially. They make compromises that seem outrageous to those outside this vicious circle of domination and submissiveness, and justify them too.

By now, Kerala budgets are notorious for making untenable promises, but then abusers are rarely committed to the promises they make to the abused. Am I surprised that Innocent, the infamous leader of the film industry association AMMA, which has spared no effort in defaming WCC, is on the CPI(M) candidate list? No. Because I know too well how abusers really do not care for the dignity of the abused. It is time women’s organisations in Kerala understood that they are the abused and that no amount of nicety will end it.


J Devika


J Devika is a historian and critic based in Thiruvananthapuram