I’m an atheist, but for the sake of the people who have faith in a divine power, I like to think that if there’s a Lord Ayyappa somewhere, he’s steering the makeshift boats rescuing people out of a watery grave in Kerala, where ordinary men and women have taken on the extraordinary task of delivering aid in the face of devastating floods. He’s in the choppers airlifting pregnant women to safety and guiding the tireless hands of volunteers packing aid material through the night for the trucks making the long journey into Kerala’s interiors for the hungry and the homeless.
RSS Man & RBI Board Member Linked Women’s Entry to Sabarimala With Kerala Floods, implying that because women wanted to enter the Sabarimala temple has apparently angered Lord Ayyappa so much that he has caused massive destruction.
I do not believe in Lord Ayyappa. I root my faith in humanity — of the people who are stepping in selflessly to help a state back on its feet. And even if I did believe in a supreme male entity, it would border on the ridiculous to imagine that he is angrily flooding an entire state because women devotees are demanding the right of entry to his temple. And yet, however ludicrous, the suggestion has been made and endorsed on social media to prove without ambiguity that the ability of the human mind to plumb to unimaginable depths of depravity is infinite.
Ridiculous to imagine that he is angrily flooding an entire state because women devotees are demanding the right of entry to his temple.
Women are acutely aware of the discrimination perpetrated by religious fundamentalism. We’ve submitted to zealots for centuries in the name of religion. Since the gods do not sit in on tribunals, it falls on the shoulders of men to define the rules of participation. Hence, it is not entirely surprising to see the canard about women triggering the floods in Kerala taking hold on social media through stray, disruptive voices. Under normal circumstances, these voices are best crushed under a wall of silence. Normally, I advise women to refrain from replying to abusive trolls but report and block them instead. Amplifying their voices encourages copy-cat attacks from others.
But if anything the last couple of years have taught us, it is the power of the narrative and who controls it. There was a time when we could safely assume that cowardly threats online from anonymous sources tend to almost never apply in real life. We could go on about our work if we learnt to insulate ourselves against online aggression. We let this thought lull us into complacence as hate took root on Twitter and Facebook. Select media organisations with reach into the heartlands capitalized that hate to polarise and poison.
Anywhere else in the world, a public official would pay heavily for displaying such antediluvian thoughts in public.
Last week JNU student leader Umar Khalid was attacked by an unidentified man outside the Constitution Club of India in Delhi. The man was armed. Khalid has been a target of a relentless online campaign that has branded him an “anti-national” and accused him of acts against the state. The charges have not been proven but the label of “anti-national” has stuck with fanatics who are now clearly willing to bring the attack out on to the streets. Lynch mobs are being organised online fuelled by rumours spreading through WhatsApp about suspected cow smugglers. We, the common people of India, who do not have a state machinery to back us and save our lives in the face of threat, no longer have the luxury to let our guard down. When a narrative takes hold, it corrupts the minds of many in an age of information.
So the comment of Swaminathan Gurumurthy, a part-time, non-official director of the Reserve Bank of India’s central board and the editor of ‘Thuglak’, suggesting that the Supreme court judges should see “if there is any connection between the case and what is happening in Sabarimala”, is not just shocking and downright reprehensible, but a dog whistle of sorts for those who are toying with the same idea but afraid to state it in public fearing backlash. The stunning misogyny aside, Gurumurthy, co-convener of the Swadeshi Jagaran Manch, is also a person appointed to a public office. It’s not wrong to expect a certain intellectual liberalism, fairness, scientific temper and broadmindedness from a person who holds such an office. But Gurumurthy is not the only one. The current climate of protection and impunity has led a swarm of public intellectuals and politicians audaciously airing such thoughts in public without fear of retribution. To ignore them would be a grave mistake for they inevitably become the cheerleaders for those hesitating to out their misogyny in public.
“Even if there is one in a million chance of a link (between the floods and Sabarimala case), people would not like the case decided against Ayyappan,” said Gurumurthy.
For centuries women have suffered at the hands of men when it came to imposition of social restrictions that will stop them from challenging their authority.
He’s the man who had dubbed demonetisation, a project that caused considerable distress to small businesses, as “Financial Pokhran” to stop people with excessive cash from “irresponsible and heartless spending”.
For centuries women have suffered at the hands of men when it came to imposition of social restrictions that will stop them from challenging their authority. It’s shameful that in 2018 women are still having to fight for their right of entry into a religious place of worship. It’s unfortunate that courts have to decide what society should have a long time ago.
Anywhere else in the world, a public official would pay heavily for displaying such antediluvian thoughts in public. Let’s not hold out hope for similar justice in India.
But for the time being we have to contend with calling out Gurumurthy’s thoughts out as regressive, unscientific, sexist, and downright discriminatory and hope that the powers in place take note.
Views are the author’s own