More than three million women formed an over 600-km long unbroken human chain ‘Vanitha Mathil’ (Women’s Wall) on Tuesday linking Kasargode in North Kerala to Ayyanakali square near the Governor’s residence in Thiruvananthapuram, to defend gender justice and values of renaissance in the society. Men formed another human chain parallel to the Women’s Wall throughout the state in solidarity.
Prior to the main event, there was a round of rehearsal at 3:00 p.m and the Women’s Wall was formed by 4:00 p.m. The participating women took an oath to fight for gender justice and women’s rights, and to conserve the values of enlightenment yielded by the renaissance movement in Kerala.
The call for the mobilisation was given by around 176 progressive organisations who cherish the legacy of the renaissance movement in the state led by social reformers like Sree Narayana Guru and Mahatma Ayyankali. The Left Democratic Front (LDF)-led government in Kerala and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) had overviewed the successful organisation of the event. According to reports, more than a 100 public meetings were also organised along with the event throughout the state. People from all sections of Kerala society took part in the event, making it the largest political gathering in the recorded history of the state.
As per an IANS report, last month, amid the row over the Sabarimala pilgrimage, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had sent out invites to social groups and it was decided to form the “Women’s Wall”. The other objective of the event was to promote gender equality.
“The CPI(M) considered addressing women’s issues as part of the party’s class struggle. Such an initiative (women’s wall) is required to protect the renaissance tradition of the state,” Vijayan was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
Kerala state health minister and CPI(M) leader K.K. Shailaja became the first member of the human chain at the northern end in Kasaragod town. Monday’s estimates had suggested that more than one lakh women would participate to form a 44-km long Women’s Wall in Kasaragod district. In Kannur district, more than five lakh women were expected to participate in the women’s wall covering a distance 82 km. In Calicut, three lakh women were estimated to hit the streets as part of the 74 km women’s wall in the district. Tens of thousands of women from Wayanad district also joined the Women’s Wall in Calicut. In Thrissur, over three lakh women were estimated to join the 73-km wall. In the coastal district of Alleppey, the event was expected to attract four lakh women extending over 97 km, including around two lakh participants from adjacent Kottayam and Pathanamthitta districts. At Kollam 3 Lakh women were expected to participate in the 58 km chain and around 3 lakh women were expected to join the 43.5 km wall in Thiruvananthapuram district.
However, following the huge turnout of women on to the streets, Monday’s estimates were well overtaken, said sources.
The chain ended near the Ayyankali statue in Vellayambalam in the state capital with CPI(M) Polit Bureau member Brinda Karat as the last member in the human chain.
Later, addressing a public meeting in Thiruvananthapuram, Karat lauded the women of Kerala for creating history, and said: “This wall is just not for Kerala but for all the women in the country.”
Congratulating the women in Kerala for “successfully organising such a historic event against patriarchy and upholding gender justice and women’s rights,”, Karat lashed out at communal and casteist forces in the state, accusing them of “back-stabbing the progress of the society and conserving regressive traditions.”
The wall also saw substantial participation from the minority communities despite the call of several religious organisations to boycott the event. In Malappuram district, where a considerable portion of the population is from the Muslim minority, around two lakh women joined the human chain spanning over 55 km.
A large number of political and cultural leaders, artistes, writers, sports personalities, spiritual leaders, etc. participated in the women’s wall and addressed the gatherings organised simultaneously at various parts of the state.
Even as the human chain was formed, Right wing organisations did not leave any stone unturned to create hurdles. In Bekal in Kasaragod district, an incident of stone-pelting aimed at women participants took place while in Chettukund, a CPI(M) member was attacked, as reported by The Indian Express.
The idea of the Women’s Wall was proposed by Punnala Sreekumar of Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha (KPMS) in a meeting of progressive movements called by Kerala Chief Minister on December 2 in the wake of controversies that had erupted in the state related to the Supreme Court verdict on Sabarimala. In that meeting, Sreekumar’s proposal was endorsed by everyone and an organising committee was formed with Vellapally Nadeshan, General Secretary of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam as the convener.
In the aftermath of the historic September 28 Supreme Court verdict that dismissed the ban on entry of women of menstruating age in the Sabarimala temple, Right wing forces in Kerala have been aggressively attempting to spread religious discord over the past few months.
These reactionary groups have raised the bogey of Hindu religion being under threat due to the verdict. However, the LDF and the CPI(M) launched a grassroots campaign to approach the people on this issue. The Women’s Wall was evolved out from such a campaign to resist the Right wing’s attempt to perpetrate misogyny and patriarchy in Kerala.