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The long shadow of Puritanism Many have pointed to our poor education system as the root cause of such a despicable act as the brutal gang rape in Ketereh.
Beyond the horrors of the particular incident, this case raises pertinent questions about changing attitudes between the sexes, as well as the link between religious puritanism and the unprecedented perversity that plagues Kelantanese society and Malaysia as a whole.
While this particular case of gang rape is shocking, it is also nothing new.
Even today, women wield more presence and power than men at the local markets in Kelantan and often manage the family expenses.
However, the Kelantanese woman’s robust sense of self seems to be less and less apparent in younger women who have been through the current school system and social conditioning.
Rudie finds that Kelantanese women had greater freedom, scope and authority in household and economic life in the 1960s, whereas by the late 1980s, Islamic revivalism throughout Malaysia had significantly affected gender roles in Kelantan.
The rhetoric of Islamic values saw a gradual redefining of women’s duties and position in the family – including obedience to the male head of the household. Wazir Jahan Karim who asserts in her book, (customary law) provides women with avenues of freedom and participation that have been undermined by the ascendancy of Islamic orthodoxy in Malaysia in recent decades.
By contrast, the revivalist Islam that has gained popularity and influence in the Malaysia since the late 1980s has ushered in a new brand of Puritanism that alienates both Kelantanese women and men from their own cultural identity and sense of self.
From my years of working closely with cultural traditions in Kelantan, I have observed that the older generation of Kelantanese do not seem to be as affected by the Puritan politics and conditioning as the younger generation.
The mythological landscape of Kelantan-Pattani is populated by female figures, notably queens and princesses who were powerful rulers of their kingdoms.
The legendary queen of Kelantan, Che Siti Wan Kembang, said to have reigned during the 14th century, was renowned for her beauty, wisdom and her skills as a warrior.
She and her adopted daughter, Puteri Saadong – who was later installed as Raja of Kelantan – are also believed to have mystical powers.