Very recently, a few photographs of a doctor talking to veiled Muslim women has gone viral and stirred quite a controversy. You must wonder why such a simple photo would go viral and to put your doubts to rest this doctor and the women were separated by a curtain. These photographs have been clicked in Kerala’s Kasaragod district.

Dr. Jamal Ahmed, Medical Superintendent of the Nileswaram Taluk Hospital, visited a religious centre in Nileswaram to deliver classes on the importance of vaccines when this happened. The 100-odd Muslim women who attended the classes sat screened from the speaker by a curtain. Dr. Ahmed said that he had requested for the curtain to be removed but was curtly turned down. He further said that he was visiting the place with an aim to create awareness and not stir up a controversy and hence carried on with the classes even though he felt slightly awkward.

In an article brought to the nation’s attention by The News Minute, Ahmed said he is aware that this is done during Quran classes so that the Ustaad is unable to see the women. The community’ aversion to vaccination had led to a huge rise in cases of diptheria in Mallapuram, thanks to religious leaders telling followers immunization was against Islam. In such a scenario, it became very important to conduct these classes to raise awareness.

Activists in and around the area have expressed their shock at the prevalence of such practices. Indian Union Muslim League’s (IUML) Vanitha League state president Kamarunnisa Anwar said that while some in the community have changed, some do stick to Orthodox practices even though Islam does not demand that women hide themselves. Another activist Sulfath-M said that having been brought up in a Muslim household she has never been aware of any such practices and women in the area used to work in fields and farms. She expresses her surprise at something of the sort having taken place.

Sulfath says that all communities have become conservative due to an identity crisis they face in society and Muslim women whose husbands migrate abroad often take refuge to such beliefs and propogate them.

Irrespective of what might have been the reason, an incident of the sort in Kerala, the state considered to be a lot forward than several other parts of the country, is appalling. The photographs have garnered a lot of flak on social media and people have expressed their angst at such a situation. Some took to Twitter as well.

Here’s hoping religious extremism and orthodox practices in the country soon come to an end, though the situation seems very very dim right now.