Monday, January 21, 2013

Muslim girls break conservative barriers at youth festival

KA Antony
Oman Tribune
MALAPPURAM Conservative barriers appear to be fading to a certain extend even as fundamentalism is gaining strength in a section of the Muslim community all over the country.

Sultana Najeeb from Thiruvananthapuram was the star of the day as she stood beaming like a princess while posing for a photo session after winning an ‘A’ grade in Bharatanatyam on Day Two of the Kerala State School Youth Festival now underway at Malappuram.

Bharatanatyam is a classical Indian dance form from the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which takes inspirations from the sculptures of the ancient temple of Chidambaram.

Sitting on a chair opposite to her was none other than Kalamandalam Khadeeja, the first Muslim girl to defy the diktats of the clerics and the community 54 years ago to fulfil her passion to learn dance from Kalamandalam.

Kalamandalam is a major centre for learning Indian performing arts, especially those that developed in the southern states of India, with the special emphasis on Kerala.

Call it an unexpected meeting between Kalamandalam Khadeeja and young Sultana, but it meant a lot as to how time is running fast and changes are taking place.

It is not only in music, drama and instrumental music and dance closely linked with Hindu temples that the Muslim girls are seeking new avenues.

The surge of Muslim girls into the world of Information Technology and medical science in Kearla is also amazing.

It wasn’t Sultana alone who made it great in the 53rd edition school youth festival.

Fatima Shehnaz hogged the limelight through her sterling performance of ‘Nangyarkoothu’ and Manzia from Valluvampuram, Malappuram, who got three ‘A’ grades in Bharatanatyam, Kuchupudi and Kerala Natanam, all Indian dance forms, were proof enough for the way the Muslim girls are changing.

Looking back to the old days, Khadeeja told Oman Tribune that she felt honoured when a girl from her community came to meet her at the venue of the youth festival. “I don’t know if she would be aware of the hardships faced by girls from our community yearning for knowledge and fresh air. It was forbidden in those days and only a few like Nilambur Aiysha and me broke the barriers,” she said adding that she is happy that she could witness a huge presence of Muslim women who had thronged the venues of the festival.

“The psyche of the Muslim women is changing and that too fast. But male chauvinism is not on the wane,” she said.

Khadeeja’s mission is to open a dance school close to her house at Venniyoor near Tirur in Malappuram.

Tears rolled down her cheeks while narrating the hardships she and her family had to suffer after she decided to join the Kalamandalam.

“At that time, my family was in Cheruthuruthy and I was the lone Muslim girl to get an admission. Those were the formative periods of Kalamandalam and poet the late Vallathol Narayana Menon was at its helm. I was one among the seven students selected by him to learn dance. But my family had to face the wrath. Even my sister’s marriage had to be conducted without the knowledge of the community,” she said.

Nilambur Ayisha, who too had bitter experiences said that she should always welcome a positive trend from Muslim girls in entering the world of art, literature and theater.

 She was one of the first women from the community to appear on stage.

“When I decided to act in Ijj Nalla Manushanakan Nokku, written by EK Ayamu, my mother was horrified and cried. It was inconceivable for any one in community that a Muslim girl from a conservative family in Malappuram could become an actress.

She said the late communist leader EMS Namboodiripad had played a key role in her becoming an actress.

“Those were the time of social reformation and it was he who had suggested that it would be great if a girl from Muslim community acted in plays. I made my debut before a huge crowd at Feroke in 1953. My family was promptly ostracised, but I continued to act,” she said.

Rubiya, who had learnt Kathakali, a dance form, had to face the same hardships.

“God is one and when I pay ritualistic obeisance through ‘mudras’ (dance gestures) I am imploring not just the Hindu deities but the supreme creator which we call by different names,” said.

The hope in their eyes still glittered and as Salim Ideed Thangal, a senior journalist pointed out, more changes could be expected in the future. (Oman Tribune, January 21, 2013)