Kerala Activist Rehana Fathima Now Can’t Voice Opinions on Social Media. Is Her Punishment Extreme?

Social Commentary

Kerala Activist Rehana Fathima Now Can’t Voice Opinions on Social Media. Is Her Punishment Extreme?

Illustration: Robin Chakraborty

The Kerala-based activist Rehana Fathima is no stranger to controversy. Since 2018, she has been arrested, had bail denied, and become the target of several religious organisations’ ire. However, a recent order from the Kerala High Court barring Fathima from voicing her opinions through any visual and electronic medium is a first even for her. The order came after Fathima repeatedly referred to beef as “gomatha” during an internet cooking show, hurting people’s religious sentiments. Justice Sunil Thomas, the judge hearing the case against Fathima, passed the order, saying “Choice of the word ‘gomatha ularth’ prima facie appears to be ill-motivated and purposefully made and that uploading of such a highly objectionable video for public viewing may affect the fundamental right of the devotees.”

The order prohibiting Fathima from posting her opinions states that she shall not “directly or indirectly or through any other person publish, transmit, share, upload or disseminate any material or any of her comments through any visual and electronic media open to public”. This order will remain in effect until a 2018 trial involving Fathima is concluded. The court was hearing a petition challenging the bail Fathima received in 2018, citing her objectionable social media posts as reason for revoking her bail. While the court did not revoke her bail, it did pass the order silencing Fathima for the foreseeable future.

Fathima was denied bail by the Supreme Court earlier this year in another case, involving a different video she uploaded to social media. In that video, her two minor children are seen painting on her semi-nude body, causing outrage online. Before that, Fathima had come to national attention in 2018 when she attempted to enter the Sabarimala Temple following a Supreme Court order that allowed the entry of women in the place of worship.

As an activist, Fathima’s work involves pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable under free speech, but it appears her latest attempt ended up overstepping the boundary instead.