The Women’s Wall, tom-toming of renaissance values and women’s empowerment make Kerala appear a progressive state. But beneath that facade of gender equality and liberal attitude one can find the ugly tentacles of male chauvinism and patriarchy everywhere in society, which cannot tolerate women in power, be it in the police or the bureaucracy. It became evident when three women IAS officers and a female IPS officer had to face the ire of politicians for refusing to toe their line and enforce the law instead. Special correspondent Ajay Kanth examines
At a time when much is being discussed and debated on rights, equality and empowerment of women in Kerala following the Supreme Court verdict allowing the entry of women of all ages to Sabarimala, three young women officers, which included three IAS officers and an IPS officer, have to undergo a harrowing time for taking a bold stand and face the wrath of political parties.
It’s a fact the state government-sponsored Women’s Wall, organised as part of projecting renaissance values, has created much traction to highlight women’s equality in the society.But, the way the political leadership and the state government handled the incidents brought to light the stark reality of prevailing male chauvinism in Kerala society that is all the more dominant and not ready to accept women in power.
For young IAS officers T V Anupama, Renu Raj and Adeela Abdullah and IPS officer Chaitra Teresa John, life has not been so smooth ever since they took a strong stand against a few powerful men in politics. Eminent Sociologist and University of Calicut Department of Sociology coordinator Dr N P Hafiz Mohamad said, Kerala is under the control of a dominant patriarchal system which does not give enough free space for women. “The leaders and admirers of this patriarchal system have disguised themselves and pretend to be guardians of gender equality,” he said.
“Whether it is politics or bureaucracy, women in power are not allowed to take an independent decision. Though these women officers have achieved a powerful status in the social ladder, the dominant males don’t accept it and their power and decisions are always challenged,” he said, adding the political leadership should back the women officers when they take some bold decisions.
“In the incident involving Chaitra, I don’t think she has committed any civil disobedience or misused her powers by raiding the party office. Her action has only angered the party and not the general public. The government should have stood by her and it would have given a strong message and boosted the confidence of women in society. But instead of that, the government resorted to punitive action against her,” Mohamad said.
Social critic J Devika said, young women in powerful positions are only seen as prospective brides for grooms.“Men cannot accept a woman in a powerful position. Even in the case of the Women’s Wall, the Chief Minister caught hold of a few male heads of various organisations and decided to conduct it. No consultation was done with women. They all remain loudmouthed on women’s rights and gender equality. But on the ground, they don’t really stand behind the women,” she added.
“Only if more women assume charge in powerful posts, the society will start to accept the fact women can deliver an equally better job compared to men. In the case of these four women officers, they were just discharging their duties. In the Renu Raj incident, a senior male politician couldn’t simply accept a direction from a young woman bureaucrat who was doing her job. He could not accept the stand taken by the officer because he has been dealing only with women who obey the party and their diktats,” Devika said.
Actor Sajitha Madathil, who is also a theatre person and documentary film maker, said men simply cannot accept women in powerful posts.“Though society has progressed over the past few decades, men continue to exert their power to keep women under their control. Whether in politics, art or bureaucracy, women continue to face a lot of male dominance. Plainly speaking, men just can’t take orders from
women who have excelled in respective positions,”she said.
Forced to fight a lone battle
It’s a fact the officers who decide to take on the mighty have to fend for themselves as getting open support from their colleagues is far more demanding. Though there are bodies like the IAS and IPS officers’ associations, many a time these associations restrict themselves from coming out in the open, expressing their support to the officers, who have been victimised.
There have been allegations the associations act partial and only come out with support after evaluating various equations: Mainly looking at the political leader against whom the officer had acted upon or whether the incident largely affected the image of the ruling party.
In case of young woman IPS officer Chaitra Teresa John, the IPS association in Kerala did not explicitly come out with a statement supporting her. IPS Association (Kerala) secretary P Prakash said the association will definitely stand by its members if they have not violated any rules.“Whether it is a woman or a male officer, the association has been taking up issues whenever an officer has been victimised. We raise our concerns at the appropriate level,” he said.
A report submitted by ADGP Manoj Abraham on the raid conducted by the young woman officer was also not critical of the officer’s decision to raid the party office. But the report cited certain lapses on the part of the officer, citing she should have alerted senior cops, which she did not do.But in the case of IAS officer Renu Raj, the Kerala IAS Officers’ Association came out with an official statement expressing solidarity with her for the courage, utmost restraint and poise she maintained despite the circumstances.
The association tweeted the statement which read “The recent incident at Munnar, where the government servant was verbally abused, while carrying out her duties in good faith, was in bad taste and the IAS Association of Kerala expresses its concern and displeasure at the turn of events. Dr Renu Raj’s contribution in upholding the Constitutional values and her work to provide efficient and
transparent governance are highly appreciated.”