Fear of sexual anarchy: How gender equality drive in Kerala schools has been derailed

Muslim religious groups accuse the government of using curriculum revision as a cover to promote sexual anarchy.

ByK A Shaji

Published Dec 16, 2022 | 3:50 PM Updated Dec 16, 2022 | 4:05 PM


Sexual anarchy is defined as the “throwing off of God’s sexual order”. The Muslim orthodoxy in Kerala feels mixed schools and gender-neutral uniforms will promote sexual anarchy among students.

Despite its atheist proclamations, the ruling CPI(M) seems to be confused. It has quietly shelved part of its educational policy, which women activists and intellectuals viewed as progressive and in tune with the times.

The party, which promoted gender-neutral uniforms in schools across the state from the beginning of the current academic year, has now directed the government to go slow on the contentious issue. The government has also shelved its plan to convert all schools into co-educational institutions.

The primary reason: Orthodox Muslims have been opposed to the changes, saying they went against Muslim Personal law and the Quran.

The government has put in cold storage a set of recommendations by a committee that studied the quality of education in Kerala. The committee had recommended, among others, uniform school timing, and mixed seating in educational institutions, a move to demolish the gender divide.

Related: Meet the school that ushered in gender neutral uniforms

Once bitten, twice shy

With the Lok Sabha elections just two years away, the CPI(M) fears that any move to implement the recommendations would lead to a political backlash.

The party has enough reason to be careful. In the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the LDF performed abysmally, winning only one — Alappuzha — out of the 20 seats in Kerala.

A review of the 2019 poll result revealed that the party’s stand on allowing women of menstrual age — defined as those aged between 10 and 50 — to visit Sabarimala had affected its electoral fortunes.

The government had then taken a pro-women stand following the 28 September, 2018, Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages to visit the hill shrine dedicated to the celibate God Ayyappa.

For the two Left parties, the CPI(M) and CPI, the number of seats they win will be crucial to remain in the national political mainstream.

The CPI(M) fears that a similar situation to that of 2019 might emerge if the government goes ahead with its proposed multi-pronged educational reforms.

Related: Kerala cautiously examines idea of turning all schools co-ed

The parity ‘myth’ and homosexuality

The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), the second-largest constituent in the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF), has assumed the role of the protector of Muslim orthodoxy against the “onslaught” of Left ideology.

The IUML, which has been projecting itself as a secular political formation, explained that it was not against gender justice. But it opposed gender parity since it felt parity is a “myth”.

The CPI(M) has also invited the wrath of the influential Sunni organisation, the Samastha Kerala Jem-iyyathul Ulama (Samastha), over the gender neutrality issue.

The Left party knows well that antagonising the Samastha will adversely affect its efforts to consolidate vote bases in Muslim-majority areas of Malappuram, Kozhikode and Kasaragod districts in North Kerala.

The LDF had benefitted from the Samastha’s backing in the 2021 Assembly election. The support helped the LDF to wrest several traditional UDF seats in North Kerala for the first time.

The IUML is now escalating its gender parity-related attacks on the LDF, hoping that such a stand would create a Muslim consolidation in its favour.

Meanwhile, General Education Minister V Sivankutty has been repeatedly stressing that the reforms are in the discussion stage and no decision has been made to implement them. He also said that the reformed curriculum will not have any anti-religious elements, or questioning the existing moral norms.

IUML leaders, however, are not convinced. They felt that the government is trying to promote homosexuality through revised textbooks and school norms.

Hardliner view: Lessons in masturbation

Interestingly, the IUML took a pro-religion stand on the school issue even as the CPI(M) has been trying to project the Opposition party as a secular outfit with a progressive outlook.

Abdurahiman Randathani

Abdurahiman Randathani, IUML leader. (Facebook)

While moderate IUML leaders like MK Muneer warned the government of dire consequences if the revised curriculum promoted sexual anarchy, hardliners like Abdurahiman Randathani minced no words while criticising the government.

“What is happening here? In the name of sex education, the Leftists are encouraging homosexuality and pervert acts like masturbation,” he thundered at a protest rally in Kannur on 13 December.

“The government claims that if a boy and a girl are made to sit together, it will bring revolutionary changes in the field of education. But in the name of sex education, children are being taught homosexuality and masturbation, and it will create anarchy,” he added.

According to information available online, Randathani’s educational qualification is SSLC and a diploma.

The state’s intelligentsia and women’s activists condemned the former MLA’s statement. The CPI(M), however, preferred to keep mum.

Also read: Muslim body says worshipping football stars is against Islam

An abject surrender and strange bedfellows

In the state Assembly, minister Sivankutty backtracked from his previous stand and made an abject surrender. He said the government has no plans to introduce gender-neutral school uniforms and change school timings.

Kerala Education Minister V Shivankutty. (comvsivankutty /Facebook)

Kerala General Education Minister V Sivankutty. (Facebook)

Sivankutty, once a fiery SFI activist, added that no decision has been made to convert all schools into mixed ones as suggested by the expert panel.

Interestingly, Muslim organisations found support even from the advocates of Hindutva on the gender issue.

While the state unit of BJP has been maintaining a studied silence, self-proclaimed Hindutva champions like Rahul Easwar stressed that no organised religion could support policies promoting sexual anarchy.

Backing Randathani, Easwar said the League leader had done nothing wrong other than using plain language to voice the concerns of the ‘god-fearing’ people in the state.

Interestingly, Sivankutty had launched a scathing attack on IUML and Muslim organisations in June when they opposed the government’s move to introduce trousers and shirts for both boys and girls as uniforms.

He said the IUML possessed an outdated 16th-century mindset.

The minister had also clarified then that the government stood for gender justice, gender equality and gender awareness.

“The education policy of the LDF government aims at enforcing gender equality and rational thought. We will not allow them to do it at the state’s expense. Such attempts will lead to the negation of religion. Therefore, such plans should not be included in the educational policy,” IUML MLA N Samsudheen told South First.

Hardly a week ago, the Samastha had objected to a pledge taken by members of the Kudumbashree women empowerment programme, terming it anti-Islamic.

The pledge spoke about women having equal rights on the parental property.

“Rome was not built in a day. Every reformation will face the wrath of orthodoxy irrespective of their religious affiliations. Political parties may have limitations in this age when vote banks decide electoral outcomes. But the changes would take root sooner or later,” said Thiruvananthapuram-based women activist PE Usha.