Pointing it out

Deccan Chronicle.  | cris

Lifestyle, Viral and Trending

Aysha Mahmood’s embroidery, used by actor Parvathy in a recent social media post, has put her back in the limelight.

Aysha Mahmood

It shocked Kerala when the front page of a newspaper screamed FGM exists in the state. This was in August and Aysha Mahmood, one of the writers, can’t forget how it shook her. She had at first been reluctant to even doubt that it happened in Kerala, a society she thought she knew like the back of her hand.

She was born, bred and buttered in Kozhikode, did her studies there – a Masters in Psychiatric Social Work – and worked too, as a criminal psychologist in Kozhikode and Viyyur prisons. She is now not working, but writing, reading and embroidering, somewhere in Taiwan. It is one of her embroideries that brought her back to the limelight now – OMKV, embroidered below fingers showing ‘out’.

The one that actor Parvathy had famously used to tell off a certain director who ridiculed her for her recent comments on a superstar’s film.

It was part of a project that ran with the hashtags 100daysofcreativity and feministart. She had captioned it on her Instagram as “I have a strong feeling that I will end up keeping this one.” Aysha writes in an email interview from Taiwan, “The 100 days of creativity is a hashtag that has been trending on Instagram and social media for quite some time. I love hand embroidery and have been at it since school. It is often; either mocked as or encouraged as a feminine art. Art forms like knitting, crochet, quilting, and sewing have always been ignored in the aesthetic hierarchy.

While arts like paintings and sculptures are coveted, praised and held in high esteem. I have personally been reading and wanting to do something about breaking the stereotypes and using femininity to speak about feminism. Feminism in itself is such a misunderstood idea. People equate it with turning into a man. The feminism I believe in does not come with check boxes or rules. I believe it evolves and relearns everything as it grows.”

Aysha had observed the online attack on Parvathy and does not find anything new there. “What is new is that she chose to stand up and use the same language to answer back. You go to the pages of Malayalam female actors, similar comments flood their pages. The blind superstar worship was very evident during the Dileep case in recent times and also earlier when Mammootty and Mohanlal were slighted. The difference this time was there were no apologies to the fans, crying or backing out,” she says.

She got involved in the FGM writeup when she received a mail from Sahiyo, an organisation that has been working on FGM for many years and is headed by women from the Bohra community, who have themselves undergone FGM. Aarefa Johari, the founder member, came down to Kozhikode and the two of them did some undercover visits. “Our story was that she was marrying into a family here and they were forcing her to do FGM. We stumbled upon the Al Shifa Clinic — where they claimed to have done it for many many for women and children of all ages. It was a very startling experience for me,” Aysha writes.
The bigger shock came when she found people supporting it, throwing Hadiths and other proof of its ‘scientific’ glories at her. People called her RSS propagandist, a millionaire with anti-Islamic forces paying her to say this. “The good that came out of it was that the State Health Minister ordered a thorough investigation and in strong words condemned the act. And in clear words called it an act of crime and said it shall not go unpunished. The bad news is that there is a big possibility of this going underground, being done in closely guarded, secretive places and shady clinics. In earlier days, this was done by non-medical barbers aka ‘Ossaathy’s’- there is a possibility of them getting back on their jobs,” Aysha worries.

They do not end, the worries. She has been making pained posts after the expose of a Telegram group of child sex abusers. “My last case, when I worked in the prison department, was that of the rape of a three-year-old girl. The trauma of sitting through the case — reading up on that and talking to the rapist changed my life forever. Most of them plead the case as a ‘spur of moment, I lost my control’, one off accident or mental instability. But what this Telegram group brings out is the fact that they have gathered into a group, discuss possibilities and ways to train girls as young as 3! One of the screenshots that was given to the public shows a discussion saying ‘You must stop ‘enjoying’ them after they turn 3 or they will remember’. Modern technology, has sadly, also given such criminals a place to safely gather, plan and exchange information that can destroy the childhood of an entire generation,” Aysha says.

“Of the lakhs of men that were in these groups, there must be at least one teacher, one doctor or nurse, majority of them are fathers, uncles, brothers. They hunt for photographs on the net. They take photographs of their own children or neighbours’ children and discuss their fantasies. There is a big lack of support system for the victims in our social system at present. We force each other to hide it or ignore it. Everyone involved in a child’s life — parents, teachers, doctors, nurses, the police — is clueless about what to do. We need to put that in place. We need to start building a safer, healthier environment for the children from ground up. Not after it happens. Prevention should be the key word we work on,” Aysha says.