Two Haritha leaders ‘dared’ to file a sexual harassment complaint deemed an act of ‘indiscipline’ by the IUML.


New Delhi: In these times of Taliban, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in Kerala is in public glare for all the wrong reasons. The only national party representing the minority community has come under fire for its decision to “freeze” the state committee of the party’s women’s wing, “Haritha” for what it calls an act of indiscipline. The party’s frontline detractors, both CPM and BJP, have lost no time in sniffing out Talibanish tendencies in the highly male-dominated party set-up.

The crime: on 13 August, two Haritha leaders dared to file a sexual harassment complaint with the State Women’s Commission against the state president of IUML’s youth wing and Haritha counterpart, the Muslim Students Federation, Malappuram district president and district general secretary. The MSF leaders are alleged to have made lewd remarks against the women and called them “prostitutes” at an organisational meeting. The women had first filed a complaint with the party leadership on 23 June, days after the incident happened. Since the party did not take any action, not even an acknowledgement, for almost three months, the women decided to move the commission.

As the news broke, all hell broke loose. Terming the action of the two women leaders as “indiscipline”, the IUML early this week suspended the entire state committee of Haritha as the women stood their ground and refused to withdraw the complaint. Defending the party’s decision, IUML state general secretary P.M.A. Salim said: ‘They (Haritha) took the issue to the public when the party was trying to find a solution…The dispute between Haritha and MSF was before the IUML. The women leaders should have waited for our decision. We have asked the MSF leaders to explain and a decision was proposed within two weeks.”

The “two weeks” time span has come after two-and-a-half months and that too after putting the victims, and not the accused, in the dock. It was something not unusual going by the track record of the state IUML leadership. But what surprised many was the brazenness with which the organisation tried to silence the women.

And of course, parties like CPM and BJP, eager to fish in sexual waters, came out in support of the victims. Here too, what surprised many was the concern of the CPM over the stifling of women’s voices in the League. People have not forgotten that not long ago when a woman comrade of its Democratic Youth Federation of India raised graver sexual harassment against one of its young MLAs in the very same Malabar region, the very same CPM had the cheek to say “it was a party affair”.

The then State Women’s Commission chairperson and CPM central committee member took the cake and ate it too. When asked what action the commission had taken in the case, the chairperson had then gone on record that “the party (CPM) has its own police, court and justice”. So you don’t have to worry, she had told press persons then. That CPM was forced to remove the lady concerned from the same post a couple of years later following yet another similar comment is another story altogether. As for BJP, mercifully nothing of this sort has come to light so far.

The Congress, which is heading the opposition United Democratic Front of which the IUML is the second largest partner. was not even in a condition to react. There is none to head its Mahila Congress ever since the previous president Lathika Subhas famously shaved her head in front of the state Congress headquarters in Thiruvananthapuram in protest against denial of ticket in the April Assembly elections and left for good. She is now with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party. By the time the new list of names from Kerala reached Delhi, national president of the Mahila Congress, Sushmita Dev, too had left the party.  Indeed an enviable situation politically.

Congress reaction or not, IUML is finding it difficult to wriggle out of the situation. More women have joined forces with the aggrieved party. In an open defiance of the IUML leadership, MSF national vice-president, Fathima Thahiliya said Haritha leaders were facing personal attacks and insults on social media. “We are being hunted on social media. It is really sad that the IUML has decided to freeze the Haritha state committee…Don’t think that we are alone. Why did they freeze the Haritha committee alone…What about the MSF, which is facing the allegation,” Thahiliya said at her press conference, which itself was something unusual. However, she has a remark to those hawks in the CPM. “Our role model is not EMS Namboodiripad, but K R Gowri Amma, who fought against male dominance in the party (CPM).”

The women’s revolt is a reminder to the male leadership of the IUML that times are changing. The party has to change its attitude to women who are not just “baby-making machines”. It is a pity that the IUML which is formed in Kerala in 1948 has so far not a single woman legislator in the state Assembly. In the last Assembly election in April, the party had fielded a woman candidate from Kozhikode South constituency, perhaps one of the safest for the League in the Malabar region. Yet, she lost the election, apparently thanks to the “overzealousness” of a section of her own party’s male leadership. Grapevine has it that a senior leader from her party had even contributed Rs 5lakh to the rival candidate! The last time IUML put up a woman candidate was in 1996. The IUML decision to blank out its women’s organisation is highly condemnable but it is also equally deplorable to compare it to an act similar to the one practised by Taliban in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Such treatment of women is unimaginable in Kerala, not in this time and period. At the same time, it is not a simple matter that concerns the party alone. Since by name it represents a community, IUML is duty- bound to ensure justice to members of that community irrespective of gender. Haritha is crying out for justice.