Sections of the Kerala church getting dangerously communal?

First a bishop talks of ‘narcotic jihad’, now Kuravilangad nuns walk out to mark protest anti-Muslim remarks by priest during a Holy Mass

pala bishop

It has taken a group of brave Catholic nuns to stand up in protest against a priest named Rajeev, who allegedly make anti-Muslim comments during Sunday Holy Mass at Kuravilangad convent in Kottayam, Kerala. According to Malayalam media reports, the nuns Alphy, Nina Rose, Ancitta, Anupama, and Josephine told the media that the priest alleged during this Sunday message that “some people are using chemicals to make Christians infertile.”

News reports quoted Sr Anupama as saying, “Only 4 inmates and 12 nuns participated in the holy mass. When he started making communal remarks, we told him that such statements should be avoided. Protesting against the priest, we walked out from the chapel.” The nuns added, “Christ never taught us to profess communalism”, and recalled that they also made some statements based on Pala Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangatt’s controversial ‘Narcotic Jihad’ remarks. According to media reports, the nuns said they “have interacted with many Muslims and did not have any bad experiences.” It may be recalled that Kuravilangad nuns earlier have come out as whistleblowers against rape accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal. 

The priest, belonging to the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis of Penance, has been accused of delivering a hate speech against Muslims during a prayer service at a chapel inside the St Francis Mission home at Kuravilangad on Sunday by the nuns, reported The Newsminute. Pala Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangatt is no stranger to controversy, and his latest is the allegation of what he terms ‘narcotic jihad’, during his address at a meeting at Marth Mariam Pilgrim Church at Kuravilangad in Kottayam district on Wednesday, September 9. He reportedly alleged that non-Muslims are being targeted with ‘Narcotic Jihad’ in Kerala, has set alight a massive debate and divide in Kerala.


Words divide the people

Some groups are backing the Bishop saying his remarks “should not be made controversial” as “it is a fact that Kerala is facing some serious social crisis” stated news reports. Political discourse however, has been rather muted on the matter. According to a report in The New Indian Express, the Congress has “decided to tone down its criticism” while the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to have “rallied behind the bishop, with Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan alleging that the chief minister and Opposition leader have become spokespersons of jihadis.”

Kerala Congress (M) leader Nirmala Jimmy, BJP former district president Noble Mathew, N Hari and various others even reportedly participated in a meeting after the ‘love jihad, narcotic jihad’ remarks by Mar Joseph Kallarangatt, Bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pala, sent shockwaves across the state. According to an Express report, the town of Pala “has been witnessing unprecedented rallies”, one group protesting, and the other supporting the bishop’s words.

According to the reports, “Protests organised by joint forum of various Muslim organisations literally brought Pala town to a standstill” one day, the next day, various Christian organisations took out a rally “to declare their solidarity with the bishop on the issue” apart from the Bishop’s followers, there were reports of BJP activists also participating in the rally, that ended at the Bishop’s House. It was reported that P C George inaugurated the solidarity meeting held there, and “Kerala Congress (M) leader Nirmala Jimmy, BJP former district president Noble Mathew, N Hari and various others participated in the meeting.” Meanwhile, Pala bishop’s comment on ‘narcotic jihad,’ was criticised by CPI state secretary Kanam Rajendran. He told the media that religious leaders should not indulge in divisive activities, saying, “It’s similar to what the BJP and the RSS have been doing. They try to indulge in divisive tactics to create a divide among the masses.”

Many have flayed the Bishop’s statement 

There are deliberations being held in many Christian rights groups to study and counter the Bishop’s allegations with facts and data. According to Catholic priest and human rights activist Ajaya Kumar Singh there is a need to undertake fact finding studies. He recalled that “the bogey of conversion led to the introduction of the first anti-conversion law in Odisha in 1967 and in the aftermath of Kandhamal violence, it was found out that there are only two chargesheeted cases. Over 50 years, no conviction; yet Kandhamal carnage on the bogey of conversion. Now, there are attempts to file cases even for relief distribution and song practice too on conversion.”

He flayed the Bishop’s statement saying it lowered the dignity and rights of Christian women, and cited the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), ICCPR (Art 1 & 2): “Men and women are equal in dignity and rights and are endowed with reason and conscience’, a woman could choose a partner of her choice, so also religion or belief.” Fr Singh added that the Supreme Court of India reiterates the Right to choose life partner is a fundamental right, saying, “Recently, the Supreme Court held in Shakti Vahini v. Union of India, (2018) 7 SCC 192 held that the right to select a life partner is a fundamental right. The court held that the right to marry a person of one’s choice is a fundamental right under Article 21, 19(1)(a) and 14 of the Constitution of India. Freedom of speech and expression coupled with life and personal liberty manifest the right to choose each other as life partners.”

He said, “Once the fundamental right is inherent in a person, then no one can scuttle such a right by leaning on any kind of philosophy, moral or social, or self-proclaimed elevation” and that “there is an element of Islamophobia among us. This is quite dangerous. The statement puts another religious minority at risk.” 

The statement, said educationist Sunny Jacob SJ who is now the Jesuit Education Specialist for Educate Magis, Galway, Ireland, “has already divided Two minority communities further. I totally disagree with the, not only condemnable but divisive, statement of the Bishop.”

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in his response to the Bishop’s words had also said that the problem of drugs doesn’t affect a particular religion alone, but the society as a whole. 

Who gains if Kerala’s Christians are divided?

It seems that as the Pala Bishop-fuelled controversy brews on, the Kerala unit of BJP has sensed a political opportunity here and sided with the man known for his controversial remarks. According to the Newsminute, the state BJP general secretary George Kurian, has written to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, seeking “protection for Pala Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt”. According to the news report, the letter dated September 11, claims that the Bishop’s remark was “a reflection of the insecurity among Christians and Hindus”. The news report adds that the letter also claimed that after Bishop’s words were criticised by the Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Leader of the Opposition in the state Assembly VD Satheesan some “alleged “extremists” marched to the Bishop’s home, threatening physical harm to him” Kurian urged the Home Minister to “intervene in this matter and take necessary action to protect the Bishop and the Christian community.”



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