What, really, is the ‘vanitha mathil’ or women’s wall?
A human chain, composed entirely of women, from Kasaragod district in northern Kerala to Thiruvananthapuram in the south is expected to take shape on the evening of January 1. The programme, where lakhs of women are likely to stand shoulder-to-shoulder along a 620-km route traversing across Kerala, has been planned by the ruling Left government as a mark of its commitment and allegiance to gender equality and social reforms.
So what does exactly does the programme entail?
Women from all spheres of society, who have agreed to be a part of the event, will begin assembling by the side of the national highways across all 14 districts by 3 pm on Tuesday afternoon (January 1). At 3:30 pm, there will be a trial. At 4 pm, the programme will begin with the women standing beside each other, holding hands, resembling a brick wall. The participants would then take a pledge to uphold the renaissance values that marked the state’s reform movement. The wall is likely to stand for about half an hour before dispersing.
Who all are participating? Who are the notable absentees?
Women leaders and workers of all LDF constituents, notably the CPI(M) and the CPI, will take part in the event. Their families have been encouraged to participate too. Female leaders of CPM-allies like NCP, LJD, INL, JD(S) are also likely to take part in the event. Members of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam, an organisation representing the numerically-strong Ezhava community, will take part. The Jacobite Syrian Church has said it will send it’s community members to be a part of the event. The Kerala Pulaya Maha Sabha (KPMS), that represents the Pulaya community, has also supported the event.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Devaswom Minister Kadakampally Surendran and Finance Minister TM Thomas Isaac will take part in the event in Thiruvananthapuram. Health Minister KK Shylaja will be the starting point of the women’s wall in Kasaragod while Politburo member Brinda Karat will be the concluding point in Thiruvananthapuram. All ministers in the government will take part across different districts.
However, the Nair Service Society (NSS) that represents the upper-caste Nair community, has slammed the event and will give it a miss. Both the Congress-led UDF and the BJP-led NDA have opposed the women’s wall, terming it ‘communal.’
Are there political undertones to the event? If so, is there a catalyst?
Yes, there are strong political undercurrents behind the programme. The women’s wall is an idea that took shape in the backdrop of the row around women’s entry at the Sabarimala shrine in central Kerala. A September 28 Supreme Court ruling, that allowed women of all ages to enter the temple, has produced a sharp rift between the state’s chief political parties. While the CPM took a stand favouring the court verdict and entry of women of all ages, the Congress and the BJP have vehemently opposed that proposition. Both parties argue that temple traditions, that previously barred women of menstruating age, must be respected and followed. Till date, no woman of menstruating age has been successful in entering the temple despite the court orders as they repeatedly clashed against pilgrims and protesters, largely organised by the RSS and the BJP.
In that context, the women’s wall has been planned by the Left parties as a counter to the RSS’ campaign on Sabarimala. The RSS/BJP believes that a stand supporting the sentiments of the majority Hindu community will fetch them rich dividends in the upcoming parliamentary elections. On the other hand, the Left parties, by organising the women’s wall, are aiming to send a message that they stand on the right side of gender equality and justice. By supporting the women’s right to pray at all religious places, the Left parties in Kerala are hoping to be seen as progressive and liberal.