Kerala Muslim League fails to stand up for its women cadres. This is sexist, retrograde politics

A gender bias has always prevailed in the IUML, which may have resonated with its large conservative vote base and influenced its choices.

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) sees itself as the voice of Muslims and has been successful in converting the community’s backing into electoral gains, though mostly in Kerala. Post Partition, the party made itself relevant by transforming itself into a communitarian outfit that skilfully negotiated with the political mainstream to ensure that Muslims were adequately represented in government and their concerns addressed in public policies. However, its approach to gender issues has hardly been inclusive and begs the question if the party can claim to represent the women in the community. The IUML leadership’s recent response to a harassment complaint made by leaders of Haritha, the women’s wing of its student outfit, Muslim Students Federation (MSF), against the state president and two others of the parent body, is revealing for the patriarchal outlook that pervades its understanding of social relations, law, and politics.

Last week, the IUML leadership disbanded the Haritha state committee after its leaders complained to the Kerala Women’s Commission against MSF leaders. The IUML accused the Haritha leaders of “grave indiscipline” conveniently ignoring the fact that the women moved the statutory body because the party was seen to be backing the accused men. The IUML’s shocking move to discipline Haritha comes at a time when the #MeToo movement has forced institutions, including political parties, across the world to lift the veil on male privilege and censure predatory behaviour — high-profile minister and journalist M J Akbar resigned after former colleagues accused him of sexual harassment. A gender bias has always prevailed in the IUML, which may have resonated with its large conservative vote base and influenced its choices. For instance, the party’s reluctance to let women contest assembly and general elections: Just one of its 27 candidates in the recent assembly election was a woman — the first in 25 years — and the party has never fielded a woman candidate in the general election or to the Rajya Sabha. This is despite the reasonably large presence of women leaders in IUML, having been forced to field women in local bodies elections on account of 50 per cent reservation. In fact, the party appears blind to the radical changes within the Muslim society in Kerala, especially among women who have made remarkable gains in education and are now a visible presence in the state’s workforce. The IUML’s conservatism also looks out of place when Muslim women are at the forefront of public protests to protect constitutional values and civil rights.

The IUML’s regressive outlook should not be seen in isolation: it reflects a dominant tendency in Indian politics, which refuses agency to women in spite of having witnessed leaders such as Indira Gandhi, J Jayalalithaa, Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee and Sushma Swaraj. The resistance to removing the gender glass ceiling is perhaps best illustrated by the fate of the Women’s Reservation Bill, which was first introduced in Parliament two decades ago, and put in cold storage thereafter, in the face of abrasive behaviour by male MPs.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 16, 2021 under the title ‘League of men’.

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