Blaming Kerala Floods on Women’s Access to Sabarimala Temple is Rape Culture in a Nutshell
Yesterday, the Internet flooded with accounts of Hindutva men blaming the tragic Kerala flooding on the Supreme Court’s consideration of women’s access to the Sabarimala temple, which currently bars women ‘of menstruating age’ (an arbitrary 10 to 50 range) from entering.
It’s easy to write this off as the nut-job statement it is. Except it’s not an isolated belief; rather, it’s a case study of broader rape culture.
The argument to continue women’s banishment from Lord Ayappa’s sanctum is that the god, who took a vow of celibacy, would be violated by the presence of fertile women. There are a lot of logical flaws in this argument, but the biggest problem is that it puts the onus of preserving male celibacy on women. The consequence of women’s request to exist in the same space as a man is widespread displacement and death by natural (disastrous) causes.
This exact same argument is trotted out in response to every public rape case. What was she thinking being present on a bus at night alone (a male space)? What was she thinking of, wearing that short skirt around men (tempting men into un-celibacy)? Violence and violation is the natural consequence; she should’ve known; she had it coming.
History (especially religious history) has long blamed women for their own violation, as well as societal calamity, when they stepped beyond their narrow, male-prescribed spaces. Eve plucked the apple and mankind was banished from paradise. Puritans in 17th century blamed ‘witches’ for storms and other natural disasters. In 2015, a cleric in Iran blamed promiscuous women for earthquakes. In the same year, a Pakistani politician attributed earthquakes to women choosing to wear jeans.
Religion, by virtue of its roots in unprovable faith, cannot be argued with; as a result, it is the perfect backdrop on which to project unreasonable insecurities, instincts, biases, and hate — and the perfect scapegoat for their validation. Imbued with religious justification, inequality becomes holy, and violence, the natural consequence of infringing upon the divine. But subjugation should always be questioned, especially when it is anointed with a higher power.
The latest chapter in this dubious history — blaming the Kerala floods on women’s request for equality in worship, equality in presence — makes clear the Supreme Court’s Sabarimala temple decision, whatever it may be, is not about religious liberty. It is about what kind of society India wants to be — one that upholds rape culture, or one that combats it.