‘People may say the situation of women is much worse in the Governor’s home state UP’.

 

New Delhi: Kerala Governor Arif Mohamed Khan is no novice to politics. Having started with the now non-existent Bharatiya Kranti Dal of leader of all farm leaders, the late Chaudhury Charan Singh, in the seventies, Mohammed Khan had been with all except perhaps the communist parties before reaching Thiruvananthapuram on a gubernatorial post in his second stint with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

It is no irony that he has ended up in a state where communism still holds sway. And it was no accident that his new masters had thought of sending Mohammed Khan to Kerala which has a sizable Muslim population and a government not to the liking of the ruling dispensation in Delhi.

So when Mohammed Khan does something beyond the confines of his gubernatorial duties, it draws undue attention. While his decision to observe a 10-hour fast from 8 am on Wednesday at the Raj Bhavan to create awareness against the evil practice of dowry in the state was generally welcomed, questions were raised in political circles as to whether the Governor was making a loud statement that women are not safe in Kerala.

Recently, the state had witnessed a spurt in dowry-related deaths. Rather it is correct to say that a few such cases caught the public’s attention. Harassment of women in households is common in the state. Dowry is just another reason for such torture.

According to a data put out by the Kerala Police following the death by suicide of a 24-year-old BAMS student, Vismaya, at her husband’s house in Kollam, 1,080 cases of domestic violence by husbands or their families have been reported in the state till 31 May this year.

The whole of last year saw 2,715 similar incidents, an average of 200 reported cases in a month in the last two years. Charge-sheets in 66 dowry death cases were submitted in various courts in the last five years in the state. Last year, six such cases were registered. The police are yet to compile the data for this year. In May this year, the police launched Domestic Conflict Resolution Centres (DCRCs) across the state to bring instances of violence at home.

Only last month, the ruling CPM was forced to remove 71-year-old M.C. Josephine from the post of chairperson of the Kerala Women’s Commission after her caustic remarks to a woman complaining of domestic violence on a live TV show mid this week created widespread indignation across the state.

In the light of all this, it is understandable that the Governor, too, thought of doing his bit to salvage the condition of women in the state. On Wednesday, an official communication from Raj Bhavan said Khan joined the fast to create awareness against dowry in response to a call made by some Gandhian organisations, including Gandhi Smaraka Nidhi.

The Governor also noted that he had informed Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan about his decision. Vijayan was apparently very “enthusiastic” about it. Khan also said he would talk to all legislators urging them to strengthen the campaign against the evil practice. Mohammed Khan, perhaps, is not aware that a large number of the legislators themselves had in fact married off their daughters with tons of gold and cash. That conveniently does not come under the category of “dowry”.

According to World Gold Council data, India imported over 830 tonnes of gold in 2019. This figure does not account for the yellow smuggled into the state by various channels. An estimated third of it is consumed in Kerala. On an average, a Kerala woman is said to wear 30gms of gold. Most of this comes in the form of “dowry” without which an ordinary Malayalee man would not be happy in his wedlock.

The Governor plans to go farther by instructing universities to ask students to give an undertaking, presumably at the time of graduation, that they would not seek or give dowry. If they are later found violating this pledge, the universities would strip them off their degrees. How much this would be practicable in a state where men, including those very college students, flaunt thick gold chains around their necks and equally thick bracelets on their hands is anybody’s guess. That brings up the question of politics behind the Khan’s fast and whether the Governor would send an official report to the Centre on the plight of women in the state. Or is this just a one-off action plan on the Governor to be in the limelight. Like his counterpart in Bengal, Mohammed Khan, too, likes to talk to the press and be in front of the camera whenever he gets an opportunity.

While the main opposition Congress felt the “propriety of a Governor undertaking such a fast is a different issue”, it was glad that Khan chose to highlight a social issue. The BJP, of course, saw the Governor’s action as an “inspiring gesture”. It is mostly the Hindu women who are at the receiving end of this social evil perpetuated by the very same Hindu men for generations. The BJP, a sworn Hindutva party, is yet to come up with any campaign against the system practiced mainly in the upper caste societies.

The CPM has largely kept away from the subject. Only Politburo member M.A. Baby made a comment which needs to be read between the lines. “It can be seen that the Governor has realised the importance of conducting such a programme…People may say the situation of women is much worse in the Governor’s home state, Uttar Pradesh…” Baby said, adding other governors, too, could follow in Khan’s footsteps.

That Arif Mohammed Khan has come with definite briefing, perhaps not to the extent of his counterpart in West Bengal, was obvious from the very beginning. He made it amply clear by trying to reach out to the minority community as an “ambassador from Delhi” and then taking a confrontationist stand during the state-sponsored agitations against the draconic Citizenship Amendment Act.

It was at the 80th Indian History Congress at Kannur University in December 2019 that Mohammed Khan came face to face with Left students when he deliberately chose to raise the Kashmir and CAA issues. He stormed out of the venue, some say was forced out by protesting students, but that was the last time the Governor tried to assert himself.

Even while publicly maintaining a cordial relationship with Marxist Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Mohammed Khan had on and off gave signals that he is there to keep a close watch on the happenings in the state, especially at times like when the state, rather the chief minister’s office, was under surveillance of various central investigation agencies following the detection of gold smuggling through diplomatic channel. But all his interventions can be considered harmless so far compared to what is happening say in the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata.