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First Muslim woman in CPI-M State Committee
By Mukundan C Menon

Trivandrum: In a notable move, the State Conference of Kerala CPI-M elected the first ever Muslim woman to its State Committee. She is P. K. Zainaba (39) hailing from Kerala's foremost Muslim-populated Malappuram district. She is also one of three new faces inducted into the newly constituted State Committee at the 3-day State Conference concluded at Kannur on Febraury 19, 2002.

Prior to Zainaba, another Muslim woman from Malappuram, K. O. Ayisha Bai, was in the State Committee of the undivided communist party. However, following the 1964-65 communist split, this is the first time a Muslim woman was included in the State Committee of CPI-M.

Zainaba's election to the CPI-M State Committee came in the wake of the gradual erosion of party influence among the Muslim minorities in Kerala, as was reflected in May 2001 general elections in which the then ruling CPI-M led LDF received a severe jolt winning only 39 of the total 140 Assembly seats. In particular, the CPI-M lost its face following the repeated CPI(M)-Muslim League violence in Nadapuram area of Kozhicode district in which a Muslim housewife and her minor daughter became victims of molestation and rape in their house by a gang of 15 CPI-M goons. The Nadapuram incidents occupied the centre-stage of election campaign against the CPI-M. Coupled with Nadapuram, CPI-M's equi-distance theory that minority communalism and majority communalism are equally dangerous and need to be countered also isolated them from Muslim voters. Notably, the equi-distance theory of CPI-M, propelled by Opposition leader V. S. Achuthanandan, was countered within the party by the Kannur group led by CPI-M State Secretary, Pinarayi Vijayan. Before the just concluded State Conference, there were apprehensions that Vijayan would lose his party position on account of the electoral defeat. However, Vijayan has been re-elected unanimously as State Secretary and Zainaba was inducted into the new State Committee led by him as the first ever Muslim woman representative to this highest CPI-M body in Kerala. At a press meet held at Kannur on February 19 after his re-election, Pinarayi Vijayan admitted that the CPI-M could make little growth after its formation in mid-60s. "Though we are the largest party in Kerala, we could not make any advancement mainly owing to concerted moves made by certain forces to keep in check the steady flow of members from the minority communities into the CPI-M. These forces painted CPI-M as enemies of minority communities. Since the minority communities have realised the truth, the chief concern of the party today is how to strengthen the mass base", he said.

Zainaba reached the State Committee after working for about a decade on women's front. She is the State Joint Secretary of CPI-M women's wing, Democratic Women's Association, also a member of State Women's Commission. Zainaba entered public and party life as a trade unionist when she got a job in Raidco in 1983, and became State Vice-President of Kerala Cooperatives Employees Union in 1985. However, she caught attention when heated debates started on Shah Bano case and Shariat and the broad issues concerning women's rights in 1985-86. When the heat was more felt in Malappuram district, the CPI-M kept her on the front firing line of party campaign against the Shariat Bill, and the need to bring the illiterate Muslim women, discarded by their husbands, under the purview of the Divorce Maintenance Act. Because of this, Zainaba had to face the predictable wrath of Malappuram's conservative Muslims, both men and women alike. "Our fight was not against any particular religion, and was not even against the Shariat as was projected out. On the other hand, we fought against the wrong interpretations of Shariat because of which Muslim women, especially illiterates, were persecuted and exploited", Zainaba says recalling the mid-80 hectic days of anti-Shariat debates initiated by CPI-M in Kerala. The role played by Zainaba in Shariat debate elevated her as a member of CPI-M Malappuram District Committee in 1987. Faced with strong opposition from her relatives and community, the party also came to her rescue to find a husband for her in 1988. Zainaba's husband, Basheer Chungathara, is the District Secretary of the pro-CPI(M) Progressive Art-Literary Forum. Continued

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