By Anupama Mili.
It was on November 22 that Rajeena, belonging to an orthodox middle class Muslim family in Kozhikode, made a post on her FB page saying ‘Both female and male students were subjected to sexual harrassment by male teachers.” Recounting her childhood days in a madrassa, she wrote that in her class, an Ustaad or teacher called all the boys and touched them inappropriately. “On the first day in class, the Ustaad called the boys and unzipped them, feeling them up at the wrong places,” she wrote. When the boys tried to avoid the physical touch, writes Rejeena, the teacher told them he was “checking the size”. “As I graduated to Class IV, an Ustaad used to grope girls and poke them with a stick during the power cut at night. A girl once blew her top and threatened to report him,” it said. Rajeena spoke to Anupama Mili.
Q: You belong to an orthodox middle-class Muslim family in Malabar and studied in a madrassa run by a particular faction? Where there any religious or political reasons that prompted you to make such a post?
A: I am not a follower of any political party, and as many people claim I am not a member of the Jamaat-e-Islami. Though, I work for a newspaper which subsribes to that ideology, you cannot associate me with a particular ideology. I have specified in my post that the madrassa referred to was ‘E K Samastha Sunni’ madrassa for better clarification. The divide among the separate groups of Sunnis is so deep that a ‘less lucid’ post could lead to further divide among the public.
Q: There is nothing new in your post. There have been sexual abuse cases involving madrassa teachers. Then why did you make such a disclosure now?
A: I was patiently waiting for the opportune time. India is facing a major threat from communal fascist forces. Religious intolerance has grown to such a level that even girls and boys are not allowed to sit together in classes. The major criticism against me was that I gave the communal forces a reason to criticise the Muslims again. See, my point is that, in order to fight the communal fascist elements, we must be clean. We should be tolerant enough to face criticism. It is the intolerant clerics, who have given enough fodder to those flaying Muslims. Had they reacted in a healthy manner, the discussion would have brought in a sea change in the community.
Q: What next? Are you planning to move ahead with the crusade for gender equality or are you withdrawing following the online attack?
A: I am part of a progressive group of Muslim women, who want to usher in change in society. We have issues pertaining to divorce and dowry within the community. There are many questions to be answered like, where should the girl go after the divorce, what is her status? Who should she remarry? And coming to the dowry system, it is a larger context to be discussed in the society. There is no gender inequality in the religion. It is the clerics who create the divide. Those, who threatened me, are a large group of men moulded by the clerics.
Q: Unfortunately, no major political party came to your rescue, especially the secular parties. Why?
A: I got the backing of many activists and writers. B R P Bhaskar, singer Shahabaz Aman, director Ashiq Abu, critic Abdul Kareem Uttalkandiyil, Rekha Raj.. and many other online activists supported me. I have not faced any issues from the media organisation where I am working. I am getting the support of a majority, who are not active on Facebook. This is a positive sign. We are getting more energy to work for the better.
Q: Are you planning to bring the offensive comments to the attention of Cyber Cell?
A: We are taking the screenshots of the offensive comments and will approach Cyber Cell if needed. I am scouring all the comments on my FB wall. This is not the first time a woman has been harassed online for expressing her bold views.
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