Known to be among the progressive faces of Muslim politics in Kerala, senior IUML leader and MLA M K Muneer came out with an uncharacteristically strong statement on Sunday against a move to introduce gender-neutral uniforms in state schools.
The doctor-turned-politician said that such a uniform – trousers and shirts for both girls and boys – was a “Left tactic to promote denial of religion and male dominance”. He was addressing a camp of IUML students’s wing, Muslim Students’ Federation.
However, to political observers, Muneer’s statement was reflective of the tightrope walk politicians of the community have to do on contentious issues – and there are almost no takers for a gender-neutral uniform among them.
Reacting to Muneer’s statement, Kerala General Education Minister and CPM leader V Sivankutty said Monday: “(His) approach towards the issue is outdated and belongs to the 16th century. Times have changed. The Education Department will go ahead with its programmes for creating gender justice, gender equality and gender awareness.”
Last year, a government high school in Kozhikode first introduced a gender-neutral uniform, allowing a concession of full-sleeve shirts instead of half-sleeve and head scarf for Muslim girls. Most students welcomed it wholeheartedly, despite protests by some Muslim outfits.
No Muslim leader has come out against Muneer’s statement.
Back in 2018, while addressing a meeting of a Muslim outfit, Kanthapuram A P Aboobacker Musliyar, a prominent leader seen to have CPM leanings, and general secretary of the scholars’ body All India Sunni Jamiyyathul Ulama, had stated that the concept of gender equality was un-Islamic and “would disrupt social order”. “Women can never equal men. The demand that men and women should sit together is an attack on Islam,’’ he then said.
Musaliyar had drawn flak from the civil society, but not community organisations and scholars.
In May this year, Kerala’s influential body of Muslim clerics, Samastha Kerala Jem’iyyathul Ulema, justified a cleric objecting to a girl taking the stage to receive an award. Samastha president Sayyid Muhammad Jifri Muthukkoya Thangal said: “We can function only within the boundaries of Islamic rules, which are not man-made.”
The IUML, to which Muneer belongs, is a long-term ally of the Congress. Under the BJP’s push to enter the state, the IUML has been facing heat from within the community over the party’s approach towards the Congress. A section of its traditional vote bank sees the Congress as too weak to take on the Sangh Parivar. As a result, both the CPM and the radical PFI, seeing an opportunity to woo disenchanted Muslim voters, are trying to make their way into IUML support. This coincides with hardening of stand within the community on polarising issues, pushing the IUML too to do the same.
Senior Congress MLA and Leader of the Opposition V D Satheesan seemed to support the IUML’s stand on the uniform issue, asking why a particular dress code should be foisted upon students. “Uniform in a pattern. No dress can be forcibly imposed under the guise of uniform. How does the introduction of a particular dress contribute to gender justice?”
Also backing Muneer, Satheesan added: “The IUML leader is a very progressive politician. During his term as a minister in the UDF government, Muneer had been instrumental in introducing a policy for transgenders in the state, the first in the country.”
Meanwhile, other Muslim outfits too are rallying on the issue. Last week, Kerala-based Wisdom Islamic Organisation (WIO), engaged in cultural and intellectual spheres, had a seminar to enlighten youths about the “perils of gender neutrality”, including the recent case of two Kerala Muslim women winning a high court order to live together.
WIO state general secretary T K Ashraf has claimed that a school curriculum revision that suggests doing away with separate seats for boys and girls was an attempt to bring in gender naturality. He warned that gender neutrality had paved the way for “gender dysphoria” in the West, and what was required was not gender equality, but gender justice. “Any approach that would affect the family system should be opposed,” he said.