In the wake of a spurt in dowry-related cases, CPM distances itself from M.C. Josephine.
It was long overdue. This time the ruling CPM had no other choice but to remove 71-year-old M.C. Josephine from the post of chairperson of the Kerala Women’s Commission after her remarks to a woman complaining of domestic violence on a live TV show mid this week created widespread indignation across the state. Josephine was supposedly addressing women’s issues, mainly domestic violence, via live phone-in programme on Manorama News channel when a woman from Ernakulam called in to complain about harassment she was facing from her husband and mother-in-law. There was a slight disturbance on the line. A visibly irritated Josephine could be seen repeatedly asking the woman whether she had lodged a complaint with the local police. When the woman replied that she had so far not discussed the matter with anyone else, Josephine could be heard replying in a sarcastic tone enna pinne anubhavicho (then you better suffer). Social media erupted with even left leaning intellectuals joining the chorus calling for her resignation. A chastened Josephine tried to defend herself by saying that she had lost control “thinking of the indignation of the woman” and advised her critics to take her words as that of a mother, and remember, not as a mother-in-law.
Three years ago, this very same Josephine, when questioned by newspersons on why the police had not been informed about a particular sexual harassment case, had replied that “the party (CPM) has its own police and judicial set up” and hence there was no need for any involvement of the police. The case in question was a complaint filed by a woman comrade belonging to the party’s youth wing Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) against a prominent CPM legislator from Palakkad. Josephine is a member of CPM’s highest decision-making body, the Central Committee, and in the past four and a half years of her tenure had unabashedly shown her true colours umpteen times, throwing to the winds the independent character of the quasi governmental body she was heading. Even while enjoying all the perks of her position as head of the Women’s Commission, Josephine had no qualms to travel to Delhi to attend party conclaves. Those who questioned such behaviour were asked to shut their mouth.
But things did not end there. While the Manorama News was seen by millions live all over the world wherever Malayalis reside, another video clipping surfaced on Friday which went viral. In that video Josephine (purportedly) was heard telling a woman complainant who said she was a victim of alleged marriage fraud “I don’t have time to listen to your old saga and you deserve to be beaten.” For all its patriarchy, Kerala was indeed astounded to hear this from someone who was supposed to protect underprivileged womenfolk. Everybody in the state knows that it is the poor who approach the women’s commission for justice and CPM claims to represent the interests of the working class. And all this happened when the state has been witness to a chain of dowry related so- called “suicides” by young women. Kerala is one state where giving and receiving dowry is a criminal offence. Still, seldom a Hindu marriage in the state is held without exchanging gold and cash, not to speak of property and expensive cars. Interestingly, one of the latest dowry victim’s father happens to be an office-bearer of the CPI, one of the constituents of the ruling Left Front. Dowry has been a bane of Kerala society despite efforts by social and community reformers such as Mannthu Padmanabhan, the founder of the powerful Nair Service Society, a socio-cultural organisation of the predominant upper-class Hindu community in the state. Ironically, even now it is the Nairs who patronise and perpetuate the system of dowry in the state.
This time around, CPM was clever enough to distance itself from Josephine, perhaps because the state is witnessing a spurt in dowry-related cases, most of them leading to the death of young girls married just for two or three years. The only exception was DYFI which came in support of a beleaguered Josephine. That the organisation’s leadership had to hide its face in no time is another story. It is important to note that Josephine’s uncalled for behaviour happened just hours after chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s announcement of a round-the-clock police helpline for women to report dowry harassment, domestic violence and other related grievances against the male community. And immediately after the Josephine fallout, CPM has announced its decision to launch a ‘Stree Paksha Keralam’ programme beginning July 1 whereby party leaders are supposed to visit each and every household and spread the message of women’s safety. People see it as just another political gimmick to cover-up the Josephine fiasco. The government is sure to find another party card holder to head the commission and the same old story would follow.
Kerala society‘s claims to be of a matrilineal one is pure humbug. It is the men who call the shots, be it social or political. A classic example was the decision of the previous Left Front government, headed by the very same chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, deciding to form a women’s wall to counter the Sabarimala agitation not so long ago. It is common knowledge that not a single woman was consulted before Vijayan announced that a million women would line up and form a wall across the state in defence of the state government’s decision to allow entry of women to the hill shrine in view of the Supreme Court verdict allowing the same. That hundreds and thousands of women obediently lined up sums up Kerala’s story of “Stree sakthi”!