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Activist fighting for minority rights alleges religious discrimination

Sreeja Neyyattinkara

Sreeja Neyyattinkara, one of the state secretaries of Welfare Party in Kerala, has set off a storm among Dalit and Minority activist circles in Kerala by heavily criticizing some orthodox practices among the Muslims of the state.

The criticism has come as a surprise as the Welfare Party is largely comprised of Muslim supporters and activists, and was floated five years ago to build a national coalition of minorities and Dalits.

Sreeja’s outburst came after she was stopped from visiting her Muslim friend — who had lost her husband — by the family of the deceased. “I went to visit her, but was blocked at the door. (According to them) non-Muslims like me and my friends were prohibited from visiting her,” she wrote on Facebook.

“Does  Islam require believers to keep their distance from non-believers even in a place of death?.. Can you blame ordinary people for mistaking and fearing Islam (when such things take place),” she asked on Facebook.

She added that the family of the deceased seemed to belong to the Sunni faction led by Kanthapuram A.P Aboobacker Musliyar — arguably the largest of the various factions that Muslims in Kerala identify with.

The Musliyar had recently hit the headlines for stating that according to Islam, gender equality was a wrong concept and that women were fit only to give birth in a world ruled by men.

The Welfare Party — which has had some success in attracting Dalits in Kerala — is backed by Jamaat-e-Islami, which was formed in 1941 to bring about an Islamic state in India. The organization was formed as an alternative to the Muslim League, which it considered not Islamic enough, and wanted to bring about Sharia law in India. Over time, it has moderated its aims and demands and operates several media outlets in Kerala. It also has substantial presence in Assam and West Bengal.

BLOWBACK

As expected, Sreeja’s outburst drew sharp reactions from orthodox Muslims in Kerala, particularly from the followers of the Musliyar. Many left nasty messages for the activist under her post.

There were also some Jamaat-e-Islami supporters who tried to support Sreeja.

Some Hindus left ‘I told you so’ messages under the post.

“It is too early to forget your Facebook post arguing for the rights of Muslim minister to refuse to light the ceremonial lamp,” said a user by the name of Murali, referring to the controversy caused by Muslim League minister PK Abdu Rabb when he refused to light a lamp at an inauguration ceremony. The minister, it was reported, felt that lighting a lamp was unislamic.

“Why can’t you see this incident also in the same light? Why don’t you accept the fact that some Muslims may have traditions that prohibit women from entering the house where a death has happened?”

Some argued that Sreeja was blocked from entering the house not because she was a Hindu, but because she was trying to enter via the main door, she refused to accept the argument and said she was blocked from visiting her friend because she was not a Muslim.

In a follow-up post, she also questioned the hypocrisy of many of the ‘anti-fascist’ activists.

“To see the tolerance levels of people who fight against the intolerance of the Sangh Parivar and Modi, all you need to do is criticize the header of one of their (publicity) posters,” she said in a stinging reply to her detractors.

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