Called ‘Vanitha Mathil’ the women’s wall stretched from Kasaragod in the north to Thiruvananthapuram in the south and was attended by more than 35 lakh women stretched across 14 districts of Kerala on the National Highways.
Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala entered the new year with a renewed vigour in women’s rights. Over 35 lakh women formed a human ‘wall of resistance’ that mirrored the length of the state as they were spread across 620 km on national highways standing shoulder to shoulder signifying the new wave in Kerala’s and India’s women’s struggle for equality and gender justice.
Called ‘Vanitha Mathil’ the women’s wall stretched from Kasaragod in the north to Thiruvananthapuram in the south. Many social activists, film stars, theatre personalities, writers, sportspersons, nuns, farmers joined the resistance and the ‘wall’ was bookended by Health Minister KK Shylaja in Kasaragod and the senior Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Brinda Karat in Thiruvananthapuram. Men expressed solidarity by forming a parallel wall on the other side of the highway. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, along with top leaders of the ruling Left Democratic Front and of other groups backing the event addressed public meetings at different places.
CPI(M) polit bureau member Brinda Karat, who was the last member of the human wall at Thiruvananthapuram, said women in Kerala have scripted history by erecting a "human wall of resistance" against the dark forces.
She also lashed out at the saffron party, saying it was using women for its "toxic, divisive, anti-women political goal" and asked women not to be the pawns in the hands of those who have no thoughts about the future of women.
The initiative also witnessed a group of the Jacobite faction of the Christian community lining up in support of the wall along with members of the Muslim community.
The 'Women's wall' was conceived in the backdrop of frenzied protests witnessed in the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala after the Kerala government decided to implement the Supreme Court verdict, allowing women of all ages to offer prayers at the shrine.
The idea of forming a women’s wall came from a meeting of the representatives of 178 Hindu organisations, including the backward Hindu Ezhava community and a faction of the Kerala Pulaya Maha Sabha, a Dalit group, in December. The meeting was called by the chief minister to chalk out plans to counter the Sangh’s agitation against the Sabarimala verdict.
The event is being seen as a defining moment for feminist politics in Kerala and symbolises the participants’ resolve to uphold the values of Kerala’s renaissance.
After a trial run, the event commenced at 4 pm. During the 15-minute event, the participants made a pledge, which read: “We are taking the pledge that we will uphold Renaissance values, we will stand for equality for women, we resist the attempts to make Kerala a lunatic asylum, and we will fight for secularism.”
Calling it a “historic gathering”, Brinda Karat said, “Very often, religious beliefs and sentiments have been employed to use women in subordinate positions. Today, dear sisters, you have made history. You have resisted against the dark forces that want to push women back into the dark ages. You have built the wall of resilience to take forward the values of social reforms, which are critical for women’s advancement in 21st century. Kerala, you have moved ahead, not only for the women of Kerala but for the women across India.
“Swami Vivekananda once called Kerala a 'lunatic asylum'. But, today, Kerala is seen as the most advanced and developed state because of the communist and progressive movements here. Today, Kerala, with its history of social reforms and the contemporary struggles, stands as the first state in every aspect of human development,” she added.
Right-wing factions react with anger
The BJP state leadership dubbed the wall a "total failure" and waste of government funds and machinery. G Sukumaran Nair, heading the Nair Service Society (NSS), which kept away from the event, said 'God's Own Country' will turn into 'Devil's Own Country' after formation of such walls.
Violence also marred the initiative as participants of the women's 'wall' at Chettukund in Kasaragod district were attacked, allegedly by some BJP-RSS workers, as they lined up at the National Highway.
The workers hurled stones at the women and policemen, injuring three personnel, police said, adding that they had to fire in the air and burst teargas shells to disperse the attackers.
Media personnel of two television channels were also attacked by the activists, who reportedly forced them to delete the visuals of the incident.
Just three days earlier, thousands of women and men mobilised by the Sangh had lit Ayyappa Jyothi, or Ayyappa’s lamps, vowing to save “Sabarimala’s traditions and rituals.”
Several men and women participating on Tuesday were attacked in different parts of the state. Some were pelted with stones while others were hospitalised for inhaling toxic fumes after right-wing elements sprinkled chilli powder on grass and set it on fire.
Other cities gather in solidarity
A group of women in New Delhi Tuesday also expressed solidarity with their counterparts in Kerala by holding a demonstration outside Kerala House at the national capital's Jantar Mantar road where members of National Federation of Indian Women held placards saying, "Equality and Justice is Women's Constitutional Right".
Over 1,000 women formed a human chain in Mumbai to express solidarity with the 'Women's Wall' formed in Kerala. Extending support to the campaign, women from several organisations and social activists came together to form a nearly one km-long human chain from Dadar Chowpatty to Shivaji Park in Mumbai on Tuesday evening.
Sonya Gill, a member of the committee which organised the Mumbai women's chain, said around 1,000 to 1,200 women from the megapolis and the neighbouring Thane district and Navi Mumbai town gathered at the venue to form the chain.
"We gathered to express solidarity for gender equality and what our sisters were doing in Kerala. We are not following our old values and traditions where women used to be given due respect in all fields," she said.