Rehana Fathima is no stranger to controversies. The 33-year-old women’s rights activist is back in the news after she posted a video on her social media platforms showing her two minor children, a boy and a girl, painting on her semi-nude body. The video, uploaded on YouTube and shared through her personal Facebook account, has triggered massive outrage with several people slamming her for subjecting her children to such acts and then posting the same for the world to see.
The Kochi-based activist, in her defence, said her children had merely painted when she lay down due to an eye infection. In a note accompanying the video along with a hashtag #BodyArtandPolitics, she wrote, “No child who has seen his own mother’s nakedness and body can abuse the female body. Therefore, vaccines against false perceptions about women’s body and sexuality should be initiated from home.”
However, the incident has not gone unnoticed by the Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights who directed the police to register a case against the activist under various sections of the POCSO Act. Multiple FIRs have been registered at the Thiruvalla and Ernakulam Town South police stations against her with relevant charges under the IT Act and the Juvenile Justice Act.
On Thursday, when officers from the Ernakulam South station visited her home in Kochi, she wasn’t present. While her mobile phone and laptop were confiscated, efforts are on to trace her and record her arrest.
This, however, is not the first time Fathima has captured headlines. In 2014, she participated in the controversial ‘Kiss of love’ protest in Kochi against moral policing along with her partner Manoj K Sreedhar. Another time, she sought to challenge bastions of male dominance by taking part in the annual Onam tiger dance (Pulikali), a popular event in Thrissur which usually see the attendance of all-male troupes.
Fathima, who has also dabbed in modelling and was until recently a telecom technician with state-run BSNL, was born into an orthodox Muslim family which required her to attend classes at a madrassa and offer namaz five times a day. But post her father’s death, Fathima has said that her concept of religion changed dramatically.
“We were just three women (including her mother and sister) in the house and after my father’s passing, and just about any man in the neighbourhood wanted to come home. They would come drunk or call after dark. I have lost count of the number of times I made a public ruckus but got no support,” she told The Times of India in 2018.
On her Facebook account, the activist has countered lewd and lascivious comments on her photos, mostly from men, with more provocative photographs. “The more you pay heed to regressive comments, the more freedom is chained. It’s my body and I have the right to wear what I want,” she told the paper.
In 2018, when a male college teacher compared women’s breasts to watermelons indirectly complaining that Muslim women do not dress properly, Fathima responded by posting a photo covering her breasts with just watermelons. While the photo was hailed by many as a fitting answer to the sexist professor, it also churned questions of the activist’s style of attracting attention through nudity. The 33-year-old has also acted in a film titled ‘Eka’ directed by her partner which talks about the lives of intersex persons.
It was in October 2018 that Fathima grabbed national attention when she climbed the hill at Sabarimala along with a Hyderabad-based journalist and a posse of policemen in riot gear in the backdrop of the Supreme Court’s landmark order allowing women of all ages to enter the temple. But, 500 metres away from the temple’s main sanctum sanctorum, Fathima had to turn back after a mob of right-wing activists blocked her entry. In order to avoid a violent clash, the police climbed down the hill with Fathima and the others. The same day, two unidentified men on bikes vandalised her home in Kochi in protest against her attempt to enter the temple.
In November that year, she was arrested by the police on charges of insulting religious sentiments through certain posts on Facebook. She got conditional bail from the High Court after spending 18 days in jail in connection with the cases.
In May this year, she was sacked from her job at BSNL following an internal inquiry into the criminal cases registered against her. Her actions had purportedly spoiled the reputation of the firm, officials said.
Over the last several weeks, Fathima had been posting cooking videos on her YouTube account.
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