Thiruvananthapuram: “It is not just about a dress code. This issue is interwoven with religion" was the resounding response of Muslim Educational Society’s president Dr PA Fazal Gafoor days after he sparked controversy for banning female students across 150 educational institutes from wearing face-coverings.
“As per the above order (WP(C) No. 35293/2018), all colleges are hereby being instructed to prepare a non-controversial college calendar, including a law, that prohibits women students from coming to classes covering their faces from the 2019-2020 academic year,” said the circular dated April 17, 2019.
The order sparked a row as it came around the time of the Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka, which several sections of Islamic scholars denounced. Another controversy was also sparked over over the management’s alleged ban on leggings and jeans.
The 62-year-old neurologist, however, clarified and said, “The order doesn’t say that at all. But let’s not forget the fact that MES is a Muslim organisation. As I have mentioned many times before you must see the enemy at the gate. Fundamentalism leads to communalism and then to terrorism. All three are closely linked. It could be even the transformation of a single person."
Terming the controversy as unnecessary, Gafoor said that the order sparked a row in the aftermath of the attack following which the Sri Lankan government banned face-veils.
“We took the decision before the blasts in April. However, it gained momentum around the time of the unfortunate attack," he said.
He then pointed to a Kerala High Court judgment from December 2018, which “made it clear that private institutions have the right to decide on a dress code within their campus”. This, he said, prompted MES to reaffirm its earlier stand on dress code.
Born in the northern part of Kerala, Gafoor did his primary schooling in Scotland’s Edinburgh after he migrated there with his mother and father, Dr PK Abdul Gafoor – the founder of MES.
The scholar’s interests are wide-ranging and encompass everything from academics to films to social work.
He is a familiar face on regional TV talk shows and is known for his sharp and witty responses.
“I would say I am the only neurologist who reads Nana (a popular film weekly in Malayalam),” Gafoor joked. “I read everything, hence I have a home library about 10000 books.”
Dr Gafoor takes this from his family. His paternal grandfather was among the first Muslims in the state to have sent his two daughters, Amina and Fathima, to college.
His father founded MES in 1964. “My father, the first Muslim student in a Kerala government medical college, was the real leader of the Renaissance in Kerala. He practised what all others could only preach.”
Gafoor took up over MES’ reins following the death of his father in 1984 at the age of 57.
Registered under the Societies Act, MES has a total membership of twenty-thousand. The society also has a women's and youth wing. Elections within the society are held at the unit, taluk, district and state levels. It currently runs 150 educational institutions, including 35 colleges among which are several medical, engineering and other professional institutes. 60 per cent of the one lakh students at these institutes are Muslims and 60 per cent among them are women.
A colourful personality, Dr Gafoor has travelled the length and breadth of the country. He completed his Doctorate of Medicine (MD) from Osmania University following which he spent some time in Tamil Nadu, Patna and Sri Nagar.
As a teenager, he had participated in the Sampoorna Kranti (Total Revolution) in Patna and had even been sent to prison along with other agitators.
During his time in Madurai, he met several firebrand leaders of the Dravidian movement and became a voracious reader of Periyar, so much so that Gafoor now describes himself as a ‘Periyarist’.
ADMK leader C Ponnaiyan, a confidant of the late chief minister and film star MG Ramachandran was the scholar’s guardian in Madurai.
Be it Patna, Hyderabad, Madurai or Srinagar, Gafoor witnessed major political developments from close quarters, as a result of his illustrious father’s connections.
“I was fortunate as a young man to interact with prominent personalities and visit all the important places in the country such as the Raj Bhavan and the Rashtrapati Bhavan.”
Dr Gafoor is married to the daughter of AA Rahim, a former governor, union minister and a Congress leader.
“He (Rahim) introduced me to several national leaders including Indira Gandhi. We had a cordial relationship with the Nehru Family,” said Dr Gafoor.
As the head of the Kerala Film Chamber of Commerce, he was at the forefront of many decisions which changed the course of the Malayalam film industry.
“I became the president after leading a protest to increase the number of releasing stations (known as a wide release). This helped to expand the number of releasing stations from 40 to 400 theatres. During my time as the president, the Chamber forced the government to sanction multiplexes which changed the way movies are consumed in the state,” he said.
Needless to say, Dr Gafoor has been at the centre of many a controversy. News18 asked him to clarify about a video was circulated following the controversy over the circular.
In the video, Gafoor while addressing a Popular Front of India event explains how Muslims can grab power in each state. “This happened 10 years ago. The seminar was on the topic of how to empower Muslims and what the Muslim vote should be in the elections them. As a statistician, I was just presenting data on how the Muslims could win by aligning with the regional powers. When we inaugurate a hospital we give the endeavour our best wishes. However it doesn’t mean that the patients should suffer,” he said while bursting into peals of laughter.
Dr Gafoor has remained a strong critic of those from across the political spectrum. This includes the right-wing organisations' for allegedly committing acts of atrocities on minorities, Christian communities for their “double standards” in the educational sector and radical Muslims for their stands in the religion and the big wigs in the local film industry for their unethical business practices.
Despite his fiery views, however, Gafoor’s amicable personality always manages to shine through.