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Unfazed by sacking, Fathima Thahiliya wants voice for women in Muslim League

Thahiliya was the face and voice of Haritha, the women's wing of the IUML's student outfit Muslim Students Federation, which was disbanded last month after it raised charges of sexual harassment against some male MSF leaders.

“Our hands and legs are not tied… If the party has become person-oriented in recent years, it should be brought back on the right track… We are ensuring that there is space for women and their voices.”

Fathima Thahiliya is determined to take the battle forward.

“I am going to form a collective of like-minded women within the Indian Union Muslim League to fight as a corrective force within the party as well as the community. The name will be announced soon,” says the 30-year-old lawyer from Kozhikode in Kerala.

Thahiliya was the face and voice of Haritha, the women’s wing of the IUML’s student outfit Muslim Students Federation, which was disbanded last month after it raised charges of sexual harassment against some male MSF leaders.

Last week, she was sacked from the post of MSF national vice-president for accusing the party’s leadership of trying to hush up the allegations.

Thahiliya hails from a conservative family of IUML supporters but remains unfazed. “Our hands and legs are not tied. I am merely an ordinary member of the IUML now. I take the removal (from the MSF leadership) in a positive manner,’’ she says.

That’s not all. This post-graduate in law is also aiming to spearhead a reform movement of sorts within the IUML, which is an influential constituent of the Congress-led UDF that was in power in Kerala until 2016.

Referring to the IUML leadership, which is dominated by the Malappuram-based Panakkad Thangal family, she says: “The IUML is not person-oriented, and the values of democracy are enshrined in its Constitution. If the party has become person-oriented in recent years, it should be brought back on the right track. The party should become more democratic.’’

Thahiliya was the first state president of Haritha, when it was formed in 2012. Until then, women supporters of IUML did not have a platform on college campuses. Yet, Haritha had raised eyebrows within the party since its own women’s wing, Vanitha League, had failed to make much of an impact.

“Recognition for Haritha came later when we helped MSF increase its footprint on campuses and wrest several college unions. But still, we had to wait till last year’s local body elections to get our women fielded as candidates,’’ says Thahiliya.

Two months ago, Haritha leaders alleged that during a meeting of MSF office-bearers in June, three leaders — state president P K Navas, Malappuram district president M Kabeer and district general secretary V A Wahab — allegedly made vulgar remarks against them.

But with the party failing to take action, the Haritha leaders filed a complaint with the state women’s commission in August. Angered by the move, IUML retaliated by first freezing the wing’s state committee for “indiscipline”, triggering protests in several MSF campus units, and finally disbanding it.

“Those in responsible roles in IUML were spreading canards and indulging in character assassination. When the party said you should shut your mouth, we reacted openly. That helped society realise what has been going on,’’ says Thahiliya.

According to her, Haritha did not question the leadership but only wanted to make the political space gender neutral, and ensure “space for women and their voices”. “We wanted to uphold the self-esteem of women,’’ she says.

It is not the first time, though, that Thahiliya has fought for the cause of women in her community. In 2013, when a debate over underage marriages among Muslims emerged in Kerala, she was among the first to oppose the practice.

“I had said ‘Let girls take the decision’. The clerics did not hear the girls before pushing their agenda. I had only echoed the growing sentiment among girls that they wanted to pursue studies,’’ says Thahiliya, whose husband Shahzad K is also a lawyer.

“It is very difficult to fight for the cause of women in communities that have a patriarchal mindset,” she says.

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