For Malappuram’s Muslims, a dance contest is still taboo


The 53rd edition of the Kerala School Youth Festival, described as the biggest event of its kind in Asia, was held in this Muslim-majority district but had few Muslim girls participating in its dance events.

Over the decades, Malappuram in Kerala has seen Muslims making much progress educationally, socially and economically but certain things remain forbidden in the community, such as a girl applying paint for a dance item. The handful of Muslim girls who defied the community diktat to dance at the five-day festival, which concluded at the district headquarters this weekend, were mainly students of schools run by non-Muslim managements.

A month earlier, Malappuram had hosted a district-level school youth festival where the results of contests reflected Muslim girls' reluctance to participate in dance items. Of the 18 high school girls each who obtained an "A" grade in bharatanatyam and mohiniyattam, not one was a Muslim. In contrast, the 12 A-graders in English speech included five Muslims, while the 17 A- and B-graders in ghazal (high school level) included nine Muslims.

Even in the just-concluded youth festival, which featured 9,000-odd budding talents from across the state, Muslim girls enthusiastically joined contests other than dance, such as literary contests in Urdu and Arabic, and traditional Muslim art-forms that are backed by the community. Thousands of people, including Muslim women with their heads covered in hijabs, turned out at the 17 venues and stayed late into the night to enjoy the performances, showcased with glamour.

The festival was organised by the education department, which is handled by the Indian Union Muslim League.

Malappuram quazi O P M Syed Muthukoya Thangal stresses that Islam is against girls making a public appearance on stage once they have reached puberty. "Such appearances would lead to anarchy," he says. "However, they take part in oppana dance, which is traditionally associated with Muslim weddings. That is the approach of all Muslim organisations."

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