Shailaja’s exclusion from Vijayan team unleashes a barrage of criticism

Eminent citizens blame CPI-M’s ‘inherent patriarchy’ for sidelining a woman who as a minister put up a spirited fight against Nipah and COVID-19

KK Shailaja represents Kuthuparamba constituency in Kerala and belongs to Kannur district. File photo: PTI

A day ahead of the swearing-in of the new LDF team headed by Pinarayi Vijayan, social media is raging with hashtags ‘Bring our Shailaja teacher back” in protest against the decision to keep K K Shailaja out of the Vijayan team.

Shailaja is known as the ‘Corona Slayer’, who is globally credited for her performance as the Health Minister of Kerala. She shot to fame during the Nipah virus outbreak and set a world record in bringing down the fatality rate.

The CPI-M State Committee convened on May 18 announced a list of ministers to be in the Vijayan team. Left loyalists were angry that Shailaja, who won the election with a record margin of 61,000 votes, was absent from the list.

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Many women, including writers and film actors, swiftly blamed the “inherent patriarchy” within the party that puts the ‘glass ceiling’ for any woman climbing the ladder of success on her own. The hashtag ‘bring our Shailaja teacher back’ that began with tweets made by WCC (Women in Cinema) members such as Geetu Mohandas and Parvathy Thiruvoth went viral and many prominent persons shared their concern.

Parvathy Thiruvoth has made multiple tweets tagging CMO Kerala demanding a return of K K Shailaja. “We deserve better than this! Bring our teacher back, one of the most able leaders of our times, a rarity; really, Shailaja teacher led the state through the most difficult of medical emergencies.”

She has again tweeted: “Second wave of COVID-19, CPI-M decides to relegate her to the role of a party whip?! Is this for real? No justifications to this. The people chose their leaders and this side-lining puts the party in a very questionable position”.

Also read: Kerala health minister Shailaja is Vogue India’s ‘Woman of 2020’

Actor-director Geetu Mohandas also put out multiple posts on Facebook demanding Shailaja’s return. Rima Kallinkal, another front-ranking woman to lend one’s voice to the rights of women in cinema, also expressed concern over the dropping of Shailaja and demanded her reinstatement. Director Anjali Menon tweeted: “At a time when people need hope, confidence and faith more than ever, it is upsetting to see that a high performing minister like Shailaja Teacher, who won by such a big margin, will not be in the cabinet to do what is good for the people”.

Writer-activist and Congress’ Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor, Meena Kandaswamy and Manu S Pillai are among those who have tweeted against the CPI-M decision. “Sorry to see Shailaja Teacher leave the Kerala cabinet. Aside from her reputed competence and efficiency, I always found her helpful, responsive and accessible as Health Minister, especially during the COVID crisis. She will be missed,” said Shashi Tharoor.

Meena Kandaswamy is enraged as she asked: “What gymnastics are the comrades going to perform to explain why Shailaja is not in, unless it was her choice?” She also says that women are great only when they are “accessories and shadows”. Acclaimed author Manu S Pillai alleges that this is a case of sexism.

“K K Shailaja deserves to be in the Kerala Cabinet. Thoroughly disappointing news about her exclusion. I hope they reconsider. There is a whiff of sexism to this. Even with the criterion that besides the CM, the cabinet will be all new faces, I think Shailaja Teacher merits an exception”, he tweeted.