In a first, a Muslim woman is contesting as the Left candidate in this constituency, traditionally a pocket borough of Indian Union Muslim League, a Congress ally.
And, her secular credentials have invited the ire of conservative elements in this Muslim-dominated constituency, from where CPM candidate P K Sainaba is taking on IUML candidate E Ahamed.
Although Malappuram — which is second only to West Bengal’s Murshidabad district in terms of Muslim population — has surged ahead educationally and economically in recent decades, the women have followed the traditional Islamic dress code here for years. Be it working women or young girls attending madrassas, all are dressed in hijab and full-sleeved blouses. Modern Muslim women are exploring fashion trends within the Islamic dress code, as indicated by the recent launch of denim purdah in Kerala.
In sharp contrast to the Islamic dress code, Sainaba’s photos in plain sari, half-sleeved blouse and head uncovered have come up across the constituency, Many Muslim men said community members have strong reservations against Sainaba campaigning like this. “We have progressed a lot in many areas. But, when it comes to dress, conservatism has an upper hand. It is better if the CPI (M) does not display these photos,’’ said P Rasak, a youth league worker at Kondotty in Malappuram.
Nazer Faizy Koodathai, a Sunni leader, said the community would see her secular dress as unIslamic. “We do not endorse her dress. May be young women inclined towards fashion will support her,” he added.
In 2009 elections, Congress had fielded Shahida Kamal in Kasargode district. Kamal, a native of Kollam district, changed her attire to win over orthodox votes in Kasargode.
Koodathai said Kamal’s decision showed how the community is serious about the dress code. Certain other Muslim women candidates of other parties too are following the Islamic dress, he said.
CPI (M) Malappuram district secretary, P P Vasudevan, however said the IUML-led United Democratic Front is using Sainaba’s secular habit as a weapon to influence orthodox voters. “She is well-dressed and none can find any fault with it. Some people may not be happy with her dress. But we hope that women, who form 54 per cent of the 12 lakh voters here, would take a more mature approach,” said Vasudevan.
Born in a orthodox Muslim family in Malappuram, Sainaba joined CPI (M) in 1983. She is the vice-president of All India Democratic Women Association and has been a member of the State Women’s Commission.