All is not well with outwardly enlightened Kerala, especially when it comes to matters of ‘morality’. The latest episode is of Rehna Fathima, a social activist who allowed her minor children to draw pictures on her naked body, in an effort to tell people to begin sexual education at home itself, outraging the self-described liberal thinkers of Kerala, cutting across political and religious affiliations, and bringing to light once again the regressive mindset of a frustrated society.

Ironic how a community so highly charged on ‘issues’ social, political and economic should suffer from an obnoxious psychological disorder when it comes to ‘women and sex’. In fact, Fathima posted the video of her children painting on her body with the caption ‘body art and politics’ on social media, to tell society that if a boy grows up seeing his mother’s body he will never disrespect a woman.

The moment she had posted the video on her YouTube page, the self-anointed guardians of morality sprang into action and lodged a police complaint, and the Kerala police who are known for their action-packed discharge of duty raided her house to arrest her under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences and Information Technolgoy Acts – all the while that social media and TV channels were celebrating this bit they had got out of the blue.

From all quarters the cultured lot showered the worst forms of abuse on Fathima, and social and child rights activists and political leaders expressed contempt for her iniquitous act.

A woman’s body has been perceived as ‘a 55-kg flesh’, as Fathima herself put it, by men trained to regard woman as just the object of their desire.

With cases of sexual harassment on the rise, Fathima wanted to tell mothers to give sex education to children at home itself so they will grow up as decent human beings who respect a female body and understand that a woman is not just a sex object, but much more than that. The discrimination and objectification of women is exactly what Fathima is fighting against.

This is not a singular event in Kerala, that women who talk openly about sex and Malayali men’s perception of the female body are made the victims of mindless attacks by cyber bullies and the moral police. Unlike in other southern States, if a boy and a girl are found together in a public place simply hugging or kissing, the moral shits start swarming around, threatening and assaulting them – all in the name of social ethics!

It may be remembered that the police had to baton charge several thousands of frenzied fans who choked Kochi city by thronging on the busy public roads, just to have a glimpse of Sunny Leone who was in town to inaugurate a mobile store early last year.

Hundreds of men, young and old, were seen clambering over barricades and metro pillars in a precarious way – just to have a darshan of their queen of porn!

There were several incidents of students being rusticated from schools and colleges for hanging out together, beaten up for celebrating Valentine’s Day on a beach, and even waylaid and assaulted for travelling on a bike.

The sexual assault on a popular film actress allegedly perpetrated by a matinee idol in recent times threw light into the dark and sleazy world of Tinsel Town down south, which incongruously has produced some of the best films portraying the trials and tribulations of women in a society dominated by males.

Appalling reports of rapes and torments emanate aplenty from nunneries and madrasas, girls from Dalit and other minority communities have been raped and killed, women in public places become the targets of roving eyes and are subjected to lewd comments by corrupted young men - all in a State that sees itself as socially, politically, culturally and economically far ahead of the rest.

Just as in the rest of the country, in most such cases the perps and perverts behind these crimes often go scot-free, thanks to the incorrigible criminal justice system prevailing in the country.

When it comes to upholding women’s rights, those at the helm of affairs always shy away, tending to see ‘the fairer sex’ as an instrument to gratify their desires.

Kerala, which had the first elected Communist government in the world, and where people are regarded as free-thinking and highly educated, is hiding a crooked and contaminated perception of its own women. It miserably failed to implement the Supreme Court order permitting allowed women of all ages to visit Sabarimala, the famous hill shrine that had hitherto prohibited menstruating women from having a darshan of Lord Ayyappa.

Incidentally, Fathima was among the few women who tried to visit the temple after the SC judgment, but in vain.

Some two years ago, when 21-year-old college student Hanan Hamid sold fish at a busy market junction in Kochi to make ends meet and take care of her sick mother, she attracted trolls of the worst sort from the male members of ‘decent’ background. They indulged in a smear campaign, as they do whenever a woman questions the male chauvinism of the Malayali community.

Rehna Fathima has the right to educate her children on the need to respect female bodies. She is not just giving sex education to her own children, but sending a strong message to all parents: to pay attention to their sons’ character formation right from childhood.

A study published in the August 2011 edition of Child Development argues that the mother’s unconditional love and acceptance reassures the son that he is lovable and capable of being a good friend and lover. The more loving a mother, the less the chance that the boy will be distant and cold.

No one can deny the fact that the mother figure is the child’s primary caregiver, and plays a vital role in shaping their moral fibre. More Rehna Fathimas can only forge a better society, where men respect women.

Payam Sudhakaran is a Hyderabad-based journalist and author of the book The Misfit