Women in Kerala have rung in the new year with a grand gesture that upheld gender equality, scripting history twice in the last 24 hours. Earlier on Tuesday, 35 Lakh women from across the state of Kerala formed a 620-kilometre-long human chain, demanding equal rights for women in all the spheres, in a government-backed initiative. The human ‘wall’ started at the end of Kasaragod in the North, and ended near the Southern tip of Thiruvananthapuram.
The wall saw participation from women of different age, religions, and included trans women, athletes, homemakers and differently abled women.
Speaking to Newsclick, Maggie Xavier, 61, Kochi said, “It was quite overwhelming. Firstly, I was not expecting such a huge gathering, and when I reached the place where I joined the Wall, the crowd was massive, and everyone present came with a clear sense of occasion and purpose, cutting across political allegiances or religious groups. I got separated from the friends from my locality in Fort Kochi, and ended up standing with a group who came from Piravom, from the outskirts of Ernakulam. They soon became my friends, symbolic in itself of the larger cause that bound us during the pledge.”
Another participant, 65 years old Usha Bhargavi said, “It is a great moment for women like me in the state and the whole country. Adukkalayil ninn arangathekk. (Women have come out from the kitchens to the centre stage). We are here to assert our rights and to protect the constitutional values given to us as women in India.”
At the one end of the wall stood social justice minister K K Shylaja, near the Kasargod new bus stand. The human chain went through 10 districts – all except for Pathanamthitta, Idukki, Kottayam and Wayanad – before stopping at Vellayambalam in the state capital with CPM Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat being the last person in the line.
Calling the BJP anti-women, CPI(M) Karat said that women in Kerala have created history by erecting a “human wall of resistance” against the regressive forces. She added, “Women will no longer be pawns in the hands of those who are not concerned about the future of women.”
Showing extreme apathy to the women’s demands and their assertion, the BJP state leadership dubbed the wall a “total failure”, and waste of government funds and machinery.
Some reports suggested that some of the participants were attacked at Chettukund in Kasaragod district, allegedly by some BJP-RSS workers. They reportedly hurled stones at the women and policemen, injuring three personnel, police said, adding that they had to resort to firing in the air and bursting teargas shells to disperse the attackers.
Employees of two television channels were also reportedly attacked, and were forced to delete the visuals of the incident.
Thousands of devotees also lit ‘Ayyappa Jyothis’ and lined up from Hosangadi in Kasaragod to Kanyakumari, vowing to protect the “customs and traditions” of Sabarimala.
The hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa at Sabarimala witnessed massive protests following the Supreme Court verdict allowing all women to pray at the Ayyappa shrine.
Following the formation of the symbolic wall, two women, Bindu and Kanaka Durga, both in their early 40s, entered the hilltop shrine around 3.45 am. A video which has surfaced on social media showed them hurrying into the shrine along with a police team even as a group protested in the backdrop. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan confirmed the visit.
Kerala has been on the boil ever since the Supreme Court overturned a discriminative ban preventing women of menstrual age from visiting the Ayyappa temple on September 28 last year. Over a dozen women attempted to do so, but were stopped by hoards of protesters.
However, the Left government has reiterated its commitment to stand by the Supreme Court verdict.