BSNL engineer Rehana Fathima (31) made a five-hour journey from Kochi to Pampa with an aim to enter the Sabarimala temple. While her attempt was unsuccessful, it raised a storm that prompted the Travancore Devaswom Board to announce that it would move the Supreme Court with a detailed report on the “alarming” incidents in the aftermath of its verdict lifting age bar on entry of women to the shrine.
On her way back to Kochi in a police vehicle, Fathima said on Friday evening, “I thought I shouldn’t wait anymore as three women had already failed to enter Sabarimala in the last two days.” Her house was attacked by a mob in the daytime following reports of her visit to the shrine. Earlier in the day, despite police protection, she failed to enter the shrine due to protests against the apex court order.
After Fathima’s involvement in several mass protests, including the Kiss of Love, came to the fore, Devaswom minister Kadakampally Surendran said the government cannot provide protection to “activists who come to prove their power in Sabarimala”.
Since Friday morning, the news of two women climbing the hill made headlines. Soon, a photo posted by Fathima started doing the rounds on the social media. In the photo posted on September 30, Fathima is seen in black attire — preferred by Sabarimala pilgrims — but many people on the social media claimed that her posture was inappropriate. The photo’s caption was “Thathwamasi”, a Sanskrit phrase meaning “You Are That”.
Also Read | Who is Rehana Fathima?
The photo, which had gone viral, could be one of the reasons that made the LDF government nervous at a time when Hindutva groups have been alleging that the government was fulfilling “anti-Hindu” motives by facilitating entry for “activists”.
Fathima said she reached Pampa police station with her partner, filmmaker Manoj Sreedharan, around 1.30 am to seek police protection. “When I told them my name, they were suspicious. Then I explained that I was not a stranger to Hinduism. I told them my other name — Surya Gayathri,” she told The Indian Express.
Born into an orthodox Muslim family, Fathima at one point joined a VHP-run centre in Kochi to learn Advaita, a Vedantic doctrine that identifies the individual self. She said she joined the three-year course to know more about Hinduism at a point when she was fed up with “intrusive cultural norms and dress codes imposed” by her religion. “When I explained all that, the police officers promised me help.”
Following her bid to enter the temple, Fathima drew flak from many who felt she was adding fire to an already tense situation. She, however, said she has no regrets. “That caption explains all, Tatwamasi. Problem is with the way you perceive it. I posed for that photo out of sheer happiness over the SC order. It was not vulgar, neither was it aimed at ridiculing Ayyappa devotees,” she said.
On minister Surendran’s comments against “activists” trying to visit Sabarimala, she said, “I visited as an admirer of that deity. I was sure that I will reach the shrine, I had that conviction. But my return was unsure, so I sought police help,” she said.
Fathima is mother to two children. “When she is upset, she makes furious Facebook posts. If people bully her for not wearing purdah, she will post seemingly explicit photos. At home, she is a completely different person, a good mother for our children and a daughter for my parents and her mother who lives with us,” said Sreedharan.