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Same sides of the coin

J Devika | Updated on January 08, 2018

Freedom with restrictions: A group of CPM publicists claim that Islamist groups are a greater threat to democracy than the combined might of the Hindutva forces and the security state, thereby justifying the court action in the Hadiya matter   -  Vishnu Prathap

The Hadiya-Shafin Jahan controversy shows how two different, equally depoliticised outfits are vying to capture the allegiance of Hindus and, more broadly, male patriarchs

The Hadiya case, involving the conversion to Islam of a 24-year-old Hindu-born female homoeopathy student in Kerala, has deeply polarised the Left in Kerala. This is a textbook case of an intersectional issue. It is as though Hadiya does not qualify to be an intelligent subject worthy of full citizenship because of her gender, youth, and choice of faith/community. The Kerala High Court’s (HC) annulment of her marriage and its readiness to hand her over to her Hindutva-inspired father, and the Supreme Court’s (SC) order for an NIA investigation into her partner Shafin Jahan’s alleged radical antecedents, both represent allegiance to Brahminical patriarchy as well as flagrant Islamophobia. Therefore, articles about the ‘defeat’ of the BJP’s recent attempted march in Kerala by the CPM elicit no more than a bitter laugh: for what we see is two different, equally depoliticised outfits vying to capture the allegiance of Hindus and, more broadly, male patriarchs.

What has been truly alarming is the manner in which the CPM’s cyber warriors have attacked those who have stood with her. Leaving out the worst slurs and accusations, the most charitable position they have taken is that Hadiya’s decision to change her faith is tolerable (even though not really acceptable) but her decision to join the community through marriage is dangerous, because the partner she chose holds radical Islamist views. This group of CPM publicists claim that Islamist groups are a greater threat to democracy than the combined might of the Hindutva forces and the security state (which, no doubt, predates the present government). The recent discovery of a covert torture camp run by the Hindutva forces — literally under the nose of the HC, at Tripunithura — which used naked physical violence and coercion to reconvert Hindu women and men who chose partners of other faiths, does not seem to have affected their stance at all.

I am dismayed by this, but should have known better. For the CPM’s commitment to women has been of a very specific sort — to transforming them into subjects of ‘responsibilised’ welfare at the local level, ensconced in family, community and locality, perpetually visible to all these authorities. It was never towards women’s rights to make choices unacceptable to these authorities. But what is really shocking is the unmitigated venomous misogyny and rank conservatism that the CPM cyber warriors have displayed. The defence they put up of the 20th-century patriarchal family, and especially of the father’s right to control his adult daughter, was atrocious, to say the least. Facebook posts by Jahan dating from 2015 and earlier that support radical Islamist politics and try to implicitly justify violent acts committed in its name have been circulated — as though to prove that Hadiya’s choice of a partner is wrong and dangerous. Irrespective of the outcome of the case, the vile patriarchal values that the new generation of CPM adherents holds are out there for all to see. This remains, despite the fact that senior CPM leaders like Brinda Karat and Prakash Karat and many leading AIDWA activists have chosen to stand with Hadiya.

This attack not only freezes Jahan in his past — as if the possibility of him changing his views never existed — but it also denies him the possibility in the future as well. The hatred is against his very life — as a Muslim who owes his education and job not to the blessings of the Kerala Model but to his mother’s hard work in a Gulf country. But the very argument that separates Hadiya’s choice of a new faith from her effort to become part of a new community is spurious simply because the option of keeping these separate was unavailable to her. In the virulent Hindutva-dominated present, where is a young woman who converts, with poor prospects for employment and separate housing, to go? There exist no institutions in Kerala that offer shelter to those who seek to cross the boundaries of faith and community, and no one has any moral right to utter a word against her seeking the help of Islamist groups.

And even if Jahan holds regressive views, how does it help if democratic forces just abandoned him to be swallowed up by the security state for his views? Is it not better sense to stand with him at this critical moment so that a conversation may become possible? Perhaps his political logic and mine are incommensurable. In that case, what will make us abandon rigidity in ideas and practice as a concession to the other? I would say: mutual respect, love, the desire to see the other alive and joyful. This alone, I dare say, irrespective of what the SC rules.

J Devika is a historian and critic based in Thiruvananthapuram

Published on October 20, 2017

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