Home Muslim culture Gender-neutral uniforms: Why a Kerala IUML leader drew the line

Gender-neutral uniforms: Why a Kerala IUML leader drew the line

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Known as one of the progressive faces of Muslim politics in Kerala, the top IUML and MLA leader MK Muneer came out with a unusually strong statement on Sunday against a decision to introduce gender-neutral uniforms in public schools.

The doctor-turned-politician said such a uniform – pants and shirts for girls and boys – was a “left-wing tactic to promote denial of religion and male dominance”. He was addressing a camp of the student wing of IUML, the Federation of Muslim Students.

However, to political observers, Muneer’s statement reflected the tightrope walk community politicians 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Kerala General Education Minister and Head of CPM, V Sivankutty, said on Monday: “(His) approach to the issue is outdated and belongs to the 16th century. The times have changed. The Department of Education will continue its programs aimed at creating gender justice, gender equality and gender awareness. »

Last year, a public high school in Kozhikode introduced a gender-neutral uniform for the first time, allowing a concession of long-sleeved shirts instead of half-sleeves and a headscarf for Muslim girls. Most of the students warmly welcomed her, despite protests from some Muslim outfits.

No Muslim leader has spoken out against Muneer’s statement.

In 2018, while addressing a meeting of a Muslim group, Kanthapuram AP Aboobacker Musliyar, a prominent leader believed to have CPM leanings, and General Secretary of the All India Sunni Scholars Corps Jamiyyathul Ulama, had declared that the concept of gender equality was anti-Islamic and would “disrupt the social order”. “Women can never equal men. The requirement that men and women sit together is an attack on Islam,” he said then.

Musaliyar had drawn criticism from civil society, but not from community organizations and academics.

In May this year, the influential group of Muslim clerics in Kerala, Samastha Kerala Jem’iyyathul Ulema justified a cleric objecting to a girl taking the stage to receive an award. Samastha Chairman Sayyid Muhammad Jifri Muthukkoya Thangal said, “We can only operate within the confines of Islamic rules, which are not man-made.”

The IUML, of which Muneer is a member, is a longtime ally of Congress. Under pressure from the BJP to enter the state, the IUML has faced heat from within the community over the party’s approach to Congress. A section of its traditional vote bank sees Congress as too weak to take on the Sangh Parivar. As a result, the CPM and the radical PFI, seeing an opportunity to woo disillusioned Muslim voters, tried to force their way into supporting the IUML. This coincides with the hardening of the stance within the community on polarizing issues, pushing IUML to do the same.

Senior Congressman and Leader of the Opposition, VD Satheesan, appeared to support IUML’s position on the uniform issue, asking why a particular dress code should be imposed on students. “Uniform in a pattern. No clothing may be imposed by force under cover of uniform. How does the introduction of a particular dress contribute to gender justice? »

Also supporting Muneer, Satheesan added, “The IUML leader is a very progressive politician. During his tenure as a minister in the UDF government, Muneer had been instrumental in introducing a transgender policy to the state, the first in the country.

Meanwhile, other Muslim outfits are also mobilizing on the issue. Last week, the Kerala-based Wisdom Islamic Organization (WIO), engaged in cultural and intellectual spheres, organized a seminar to enlighten young people on the “perils of gender neutrality”, including the recent case of two Muslim women in Kerala who have obtained an order from the High Court to live together.

IOI State General Secretary TK Ashraf claimed that a curriculum review suggesting removing separate seats for boys and girls was an attempt to introduce gender naturalness. 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 must be resisted,” he said.