Russian writer, anarcha-feminist, wannabe-political assassin, teacher, jailbird and all-round rockstar Emma Goldman once said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution.” I wish Goldman had been alive to see Monday morning’s headlines about Muslim women dancing in Kerala, because I know she’d have done a jig.
It all began on 1 December, on the noble occasion of World AIDS Day. Three hijab-clad girls from Malappuram, Kerala began to be trolled for posting a video of themselves dancing to the comical Malayalam song, Jimikki Kammal, on a street as part of an AIDS awareness drive. It was hailed by trolls as the end of the world and likened to a tsunami (some of the responses were feigned shock that such a thing had even happened in conservative Malappuram), and several other folks chimed in to announce that the girls were an insult to Islam.
One Doha-based gent, RJ Sooraj, bit off way more than he could chew when he jumped into the fray. On 2 December, he posted a video of himself confidently expressing his support for the girls and mocking the comments they received in a silly voice. He also called out the hypocrisy of those who would speak in favour of freedom for Hadiya while simultaneously denouncing this video of women dancing.
Soon after, RJ Sooraj began to receive death threats and violent warnings that his radio station would be shut down, so he resurfaced on social media the next day to state that he had no communal agenda. And the day after that, 4 December, he quietly apologised to “all his Muslim friends” for his comments. In his apology, he added, “A lot of young men from Kerala work in my radio station. If they were to lose their jobs because of the video I put up, that would hurt me.” Good to know where the chips finally fall.
Meanwhile, over the weekend, we saw women in Kerala supporting the Malappuram girls in the most exciting way. Social media saw a flurry of videos of Muslim girls dancing in public places, to the same song and others, in synchronised protest against the puerile reaction that the original video had spawned.
And what a picture they painted.
You see women dancing in different public spots in Kerala, holding back laughter as they dance to a ridiculous song about a runaway father and alcoholic mum with the grim determination of political zealots. They’re surrounded by huge crowds, with some people holding up posters and chanting slogans. They seem quite aware, naturally, of how high the stakes are (one video is even shot in the exact same spot as the controversial original in Malappuram), and how many people are watching and recording them, but they’re still unable to ignore the absurdity and sheer fun of it all.
You can also tell, by their precise movements and visible co-ordination, that they’ve been practising this for a while. Isn’t it kind of wonderful to think that so many women channeled their reactive anger at the chain of events last week into this purposeful dance? That all of last week, as we went about our lives, women all over Kerala were furiously practicing dancing to Jimikki Kammal, with all the fanaticism of college kids, as fierce protest against religious extremists?
At first, I was so purely excited upon hearing about this, because really, what could be better than Malayali women taking to the streets in spontaneous political dance-protest? Except a little further digging revealed that it wasn’t so spontaneous after all.
The protests were organised by members of the Student’s Federation of India (SFI), the CPI(M)’s youth wing. The same SFI that’s been known to be involved in several instances of violence against rival party workers, and which frequently clashes with female heads of institutions over their various violent acts on campus. The party is by no means under-funded or apolitical.
Does this complicate the idea of the protest itself? Definitely. Particularly with political protest, it becomes extremely important to follow the money, and to know what fronts political parties maintain through their more covert actions. There’s a huge difference between the significance of a spontaneous, organic protest, and one organised by an established political party, especially the youth wing of the party currently in power.
But does it make you wish it never happened? Definitely not. Sure, the protest may not have been shorn of political overtones, but it was what it was. At those points of time, there were women dancing in defiance and sending a political message on the streets of Kerala. Thousands of people got to see the message that Malayali women wanted to send to those who told them not to dance.
The videos will exist for posterity. Maybe someday, some child in the future will ask her grandmother why these women were dancing so seriously to such a silly song. Where was there a cheering crowd of protesters around them? And she will tell her the story all over again, of how women came together to dance in support of other woman, and the child will smile, and be inspired by – and, possibly, a little alarmed at – the passion of her ancestors. And that will be enough.
Co-published with Firstpost.