“When we were about 100 meters away from the temple, goons under the garb of devotees had three rows of children lie down on the way ahead. Then they told us if you want to go ahead, then you will have to walk over these children,” said activist and telecom technician with BSNL, Rehana Fathima, who has time and again raised her voice for women’s rights. In a historic move, Fathima along with journalist Kavita Jakkal became the only two women who could reach closest to the Sabarimala Temple that has remained in acute controversy over the past week.

FOLLOWING THE LAW

Last month the Supreme Court in a landmark verdict allowed women of all ages to enter the temple. So as soon as the temple opened for a week, last week, a few women tried their luck to trek their way to the hill shrine of Lord Ayyappa. The land surrounding the temple was marred by protests, sloganeering and bullying to stop women from reaching the temple. Fathima — a Muslim by birth who lives with her Hindu partner and filmmaker Manoj K Sreedhar for the past 13 years and has two children with him — had decided last year that she would pay a visit to Sabarimala temple this year. She fell sick with Tuberculosis and prayed that if she felt healthy again then she will visit the temple.

“I thought that if the law has changed I won’t have to wait for too long and can go without any worry. I felt extremely happy with the decision of the Supreme Court. Plus, I had the knowledge that anyone from any community can go to Sabarimala temple and not just Hindus and now to know that women can also go was a moment of happiness for me,” said Fathima in an interview with SheThePeople.TV.

THE BEGINNING OF THE THOUGHT

Born in a Muslim family, Fathima is well aware of Islam, but over a decade ago, she started living with a Hindu man and is now aware of the Hindu religion as well. She doesn’t follow any religion excessively and believes that “whatever we seek is within us” (a famous quote by Rumi). So when the Supreme Court removed the ban against women devotees of Ayyappa, she put up a picture on Facebook supporting the verdict. However, the post went viral and many started abusing her. “I had not even written in the post that I plan to go or anything. There were over 11,000 comments where people even gave me open death threats and said that they would rape my seven-year-old girl. So I quickly reported it to the cyber cell and complained to the police about it,” said Fathima who lives in Ernakulam, Kerala.

THE DRAMA AT THE TEMPLE GATE

What encouraged Fathima to take up the trek and strengthened her will was the unflinching dedication of the police and the government to aid women to reach the temple. On Friday, she called up the police and told them that she desires to trek to the temple. She reached Pamba, from where she and Jakkal had over a hundred-policemen-strong force to cover them and march to the temple. Fathima reports, “On the way, the protestors threw a glass bottle on Kavita so the Policemen gave us helmets. But as we reached up just a few meters away from the temple, the incident with the small kids happened. The Tantri of the Temple said that he will leave the temple if the women entered the inner sanctum.”

“We asked the protestors to let us talk to the devotees or the children so if we try to make them understand that we only want to pray, they will listen to us, but they did not budge. The Tantri also said that they will have to rinse the way from Pamba to the temple with temple’s water as women have put their feet on it and made it impure.

After this, I decided to return because I also started hearing that protesters had reached my house and vandalized the garden and the house. My partner was also with me so we decided to come back. People also spread the rumour that the Irumudi Kettu I carried had sanitary napkins in it so the police asked me to show it. Why will I carry a sanitary pad in Irumudi Kettu?” said Fathima.

ALSO READ: Sabarimala: Women On A Seemingly Never-ending Struggle To Enter

LIFE AFTER SABARIMALA INCIDENT

Fathima came back to a to a half-broken house and tattered toys of her children, which had been vandalized by the protesters. She lives under police protection and her company has transferred her twice to different locations because her safety is in danger. Even on Tuesday, some of the protesters found out where she had joined latest and sat outside her office on a protest.

Talking about, if in retrospect, she thinks she committed a mistake, Fathima said that she does not think at all that she regrets what she did. “I believe that I followed the rules and did what was right. I followed the law and I am suffering so much, those goons who stopped women from entering the temple did not follow the rules and they are living their lives in peace.”

Rehana Fathima
Rehana Fathima (Pic by Madhyamam)

MUSLIM BODY EXPELLING HER

On the Muslim body that expelled her from the community, she said that they had done so 13 years back when she decided to move in with her partner. “They had said that they will not even give space for the burial of my mother’s dead body. I told them that it was fine with me, I will donate her dead body to the medical college so it will help future doctors. I told them at that time that they cannot influence my decision with such threats. Today, by passing such statements, they only want to save themselves.”

Her partner, Sreedhar who has been going to Sabarimala for four years now, supported Fathima’s decision of entering the temple. And now with all that has happened, she says that he has decided that he will go to the temple only when she will be able to visit with him.

In the last couple of years, many temples that never allowed women to enter, opened their doors to them and women happily entered the temples without any protest. However, Sabarimala was a different case altogether. Fathima feels, “Political parties are preparing for the next elections and that’s why they are working towards it by doing all these protests. They are trying to spread fear among people.”

“I believe that I followed the rules and did what was right. I followed the law and I am suffering so much, those goons who stopped women from entering the temple did not follow the rules and they are living their lives in peace.”

She does not feel that her trying to enter the temple will anger Lord Ayyappa. “People just want to scare women by saying that Lord Ayyappa will be angry if women tried to enter the temple. I don’t believe in this. I feel that Ayyappa is within me and will protect me.”

THE ACTIVISM

This is not the first time Fathima has done something that required extreme bravado. Earlier, when a Kerala professor made a sexually coloured remark against women’s breasts comparing them with melons, she posted a topless picture of herself on social media carrying two watermelons in place of her breasts. It was to support a campaign called ‘Maaru thurakkal samaram’ (protest to bare the breasts) for women’s rights and liberty. She also acted in an art film called ‘Eka’ directed by her partner which revolved around the issue of intersexuality.

Picture credit- Malayala Manorama

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta

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