For long, Kerala has been seen as a shining example for other Indian states with the country’s highest literacy rate and one of the best sex ratios. In 2019 again, Kerala became an inspiration for the rest of the country, and this time it was the women of the state who made headlines everywhere. On the very first day of the year, 5 million women took to the streets of Kerala, forming a 620 km long wall to protest the denial of entry into the Sabarimala Temple for women of menstruating age.
Despite making major strides towards development, equality and justice, the society of this South Indian state continues to be dominated by the rules and principles of Brahmanical patriarchy. Caste pride continues to play a significant role in social interactions, and it’s no surprise that these men who continue to glorify Brahmanism and its ideologies still view women as subordinates to men.
Vanitha Mathil, as the women’s wall is commonly known, has become a symbol of intolerance and resistance for women of all castes, classes and religions. Although the demonstration was organized and backed by the left government in Kerala, it was most definitely not restricted by political ideologies. Even lower caste groups and other social organizations were vocal in their support for this protest.
However, as is the case with every movement in India, the critics were not far behind. Several right-wing Hindu groups were outraged at the idea of age-old traditions being broken, and they saw the women’s wall as a blatant attack on their religion despite the Supreme Court ruling in the women’s favour back in September of 2018. They further attacked Muslim and Christian women attending the protest in their traditional cultural dresses for ignoring the patriarchal structures present in their respective religions. Many Savarna Hindus also decided to take to social media to mock Muslim women who showed up in burqas and called them out on their hypocrisy. Supporters of the protest felt that all these moves were aimed at diluting the agenda of the movement and diverting attention from the real issue at hand.
Vanitha Mathil is a perfect representation of women’s strength and resilience in the face of opposition. It is a symbol of what women are capable of when they come together. These women found not only strength but also solace in numbers after years of being oppressed and shunned by their male counterparts. Even though the women of the wall were divided by class differences, religion and other distinctions, they were united in more ways than one. They were united in their desire for a free and egalitarian society, in which women enjoy the same treatment and opportunities as men. They were also united in wanting equal access to the public domain. But most importantly, they were united by their refusal to stay quiet any longer.
By Tanisha Dasgupta