Unfazed by the mounting protests against the Supreme Court judgement allowing entry of all women to the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala, Kerala women’s rights activist Rehana Fathima, and Hyderabad journalist Kavitha Jakkal, decked up with body armour and helmets for protection from possible attack, went for the trek on the third day of the temple’s opening after the historic order. While an army of agitating protesters blocked their entry just 500 meters away from the shrine — coming face-to-face with the policemen guarding the two women — kilometres away, in Eranakulam, protesters vandalised Fathima’s home.
But Rehana Fathima is no stranger to controversies or standing up to them. She broke into the headlines in March this year when, in protest against comments from a professor in Kozhikode who said women should cover their watermelon-like-breasts, she posted pictures of herself with watermelons covering her breasts. Hours after sharing the pictures, they were taken down by Facebook after a flurry of trolls and threats.
In 2014, she participated in the Kiss of Love campaign in Kerala against moral policing. Her partner, filmmaker Manoj K Sreedhar, had shared a clip of the kiss on Facebook. She was the only woman in the Ayyanthol PuliKali team, a traditional Onam tiger dance usually done by all-male troupes. She had then told Manorama she had always wanted to “perform in a space dominated by men”.
Rehana, a telecom technician with BSNL, has also acted in an art film named Eka which focussed on intersexuality. The posters of the film carried the tagline: ‘I am intersex. I have a penis and vagina by birth. I want to live’. The producers of the film claimed it was the first film of its kind to be produced in India.
The 31-year-old government employee and mother-of-two, Rehana was born in an orthodox Muslim family. She says she became disillusioned with religion after her father’s death. A report in the The Times of India quoted Rehana as saying she wants to question the restrictions regarding a woman baring her body and make a point on women’s assertion of her own self. Her Facebook bio seems to sum her up well: ‘Break the rules’.
Rehana has come back without entering the temple, but her trek was yet another bid to break the glass ceiling.