A lovely place? Sure. Safe for a woman to roam around alone? No, not unless you take a lot of precautions.
Every time any friend of mine shows some interest in travelling to Kerala, I try to give a realistic picture of my judgemental male chauvinist society. These days, it seems like I should warn couples as well, for moral policing incidents have become commonplace.
People joke about taking along their wedding album wherever they go.
A Malayalee journalist and her husband are the latest victims of moral policing, which ‘God’s Own Country’ is no stranger to. The incident occurred last Sunday while the couple was spending time inside their advertising agency.
The journalist, Jisha Elizabeth, mentioned on her Facebook page that since she was unwell that day, she opted to be with her husband, who was working that day, in his office.
They were questioned by a group of men, who couldn’t digest why a man and woman were spending time alone in an office on a holiday. Jisha had to show those men her ‘thaali’ (mangalasutra), but the vandals weren’t convinced, and an argument ensued.
They even tried to snatch her cell phone while she was filming the ado. Before things could get worse, the cops arrived.
This isn’t a singular incident, though. In February this year, in yet another incident of moral policing, a higher secondary student and her brother were attacked in Kozhikode by a gang, which presumed the siblings were lovers.
Since the latest victim is a media person, the incident got reported and prompt action has been taken against the vandals.
Although to expect some sort of respite from such obnoxious incidents is too optimistic, it’s good that the incident has garnered some attention. Still, I doubt whether the attitude of my society would change overnight.
Keralites boasts of a 90+ percent of literacy rate, but they have a convoluted sense of morality, turning a blind eye towards sexual harassment, and having the audacity to intervene when it comes to consensual matters.
Be it married couples or friends or siblings, any man and woman who spend some time together can be subjected to public scrutiny.
Back when I was in school, I recall that boys and girls seldom used to interact where I studied. In most co-ed schools, the story wasn’t different. Things have changed now, still, there are private educational institutions which have installed CCTV cameras to keep an eye on their students.
On the contrary, there are schools like, ‘Pallikoodam’, started by Mary Roy — a women’s rights activist and mother of Arundhati Roy — encouraging interaction between girls and boys from the primary class.
There are admirers as well as critics for such a system, the latter outweighing the former.
The ramifications of such social demarcations are many, one of them being skeptical about relationships involving two persons of opposite genders.
If a single woman invites a male friend to her apartment, and if he visits more than once, her neighbours will be convinced that they are having an illicit relationship, and they might even intervene and question the same.
Regardless of religion, this attitude has more to do with the collective psyche of the people.
While it is wrong to generalise, the comments featured under some articles posted on Facebook, or under photos of certain actresses, resonate the thought of an average, judgemental, pseudo-moralist Keralite.
When it comes to expressing emotions, not everyone is the same. However, Keralites in general are hesitant to display non-sexual affections like a hug or a peck. At the airport departure gate, we can find sad, but bashful couples who hug hesitatingly; sometimes they even don’t.
Even a friendly hug can be misinterpreted as we aren’t familiar with the different hues of love; we have tunnel vision about that concept. Love, for us is laced with sexuality, and is an abominable word. From such a perverted vantage point, everything looks distorted; that’s why the moral police beat up even siblings.
While only a few have donned the moral police outfit, the attitude of the society has to be blamed for pandering to their wrongdoings.
On the flip side, progressive voices don’t go unheard, thanks to social media.
Let’s hope that it will persuade at least some to unlearn their convictions.