Herald: Living with the neighbors
Living with the neighbors
The Church in India today finds itself shaken, trying to negotiate its way between competitive political space with Muslims and Hindus in far-flung Kerala, widespread persecution by non-state actors in the northern and central states , its resources restricted by increasingly vindictive state policies, and its institutions, its social face for two centuries, turned towards an uncertain future in many regions.
This is perhaps the time of his greatest challenge since independence, a time to maintain his strength, consolidate his unity and reach out to friends in civil society for their support. Instead, some church leaders find themselves losing allies quickly, even as they make new enemies and widen internal divides in dogma, doctrine, racism, and caste. The struggle of women against patriarchal religious leadership, which has gathered pace in recent years, gives the crisis just that critical momentum to propel it onto the international stage for everyone to see.
The secular image of Kerala is in danger and the history of community peace, if not of genuine friendship, which has marked relations between Christians and their greater Muslim and Hindu neighbors.
Hindus at 54.7% of the population of 3.34 crore, or 1.82 crore at the 2011 census, remain the dominant community in Kerala, followed by Muslims with 26.5% (around 88 lakh) and Christians at 18.3% (61 lakh). The 2021 decennial census has been delayed in Covid lockdowns, but experts say the population could be close to 3.58 crore at a growth rate of around 7.2%. Christians fear their numbers have dropped dramatically, with family sizes dropping from post-independence figures of six or more children per family to three or fewer now.
No one admits to being Islamophobic, but the Christian caste community finds itself more comfortable with its Hindu neighbors than with Muslims, who before the discovery of oil in West Asia and the employment boom, were less economically well-off. Muslims are also more politically active now, with a presence in the Left Democratic Front led by the CPM, as well as in the congressional coalition.
Christians were a vote bank for Congress until late. A relationship has grown between political leaders who depend on the patronage of the hierarchy for votes, with the promise of safeguarding the interests of the church.
Marxists, who may also have Islamophobia in their ranks, lost the plot in 1958 in their first elected government led by comrade EMS Namboodiripad who angered special interests with his movement against educational institutions belonging to the church. Outrage led to his dismissal by the government of Jawaharlal Nehru in New Delhi.
The church establishment remembers it, even though some people do not. Recent concerns relate to public funds in the form of scholarships and development grants going largely to Muslims. There is some truth to this, as the Marxist government has deviated from national standards by saying that more funds should go to Muslims who were less developed. They retracted, but the damage was done.
This was the situation when the bishop of the Syro Malabar Catholic Church, Mar Joseph Kallarangatt, of the Diocese of Pala, told his congregation that jihadists not only seduce Catholic women, but also make young people addicted to drugs.
Drugs are a real threat in Kerala. But threats to community friendship are a bigger threat. The reactions came from Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, women’s groups, priests and human rights activists. Muslim groups organized a march to the bishop’s residence.
Most critics say the bishop used a dog whistle which heightened the Islamophobia that the BJP and Sangh are diligently stoking as they seek to gain a foothold in this state.
Church leaders sort of laughed at it, saying the bishop was warning about drugs. It cut little ice even with the many other denominations and rites in the state.
Church Metropolitan Mar Thoma expressed his disapproval, mocking attempts to deepen community divisions in Kerala. Metropolitan Yulios Geevarghese of the Malankara Orthodox Church followed suit, demanding a public apology from Kallarangatt.
Women’s groups, including those nuns who waged a high-profile guerrilla war against sexual abuse in the church, scored a point, accusing the church of inventing Love Jehad to control the women’s agency , and in particular their sexuality, while remaining blind. to harm from domestic violence.
Sexual abuse remains the elephant in the room, as well as caste discrimination. Dalit Christian groups who have fought a courageous battle against the Union government in the Supreme Court for the protection of the law (as afforded to Sikhs and Dalit Buddhists) have recently sued the Catholic Church in high courts and urged the Pope to recognize them as a full-fledged -Rite on the model of the two Syrian rites.
Nuns from the Kuravilangad Convent, along with Sr. Anupama, opposed a priest’s attempt to “preach community poison against Muslims” during Sunday worship, during which he reiterated the call for an economic and commercial boycott of Muslims. Muslim businesses.
Smaller Christian groups outside Kerala and in particular in the MP and Chhattisgarh suffer from social discrimination, sometimes even deprived of rations and water in the villages. Violence by radical Hindustva activists seems routine and often takes place in the presence of the police. The victims feel abandoned by the powerful churches of Kerala.
Cardinal Cleemis, leader of the small Catholic rite Syro Malankara, has now launched a firefighting exercise, holding the first of an interfaith meeting. It remains to be seen if things will ever get back to normal.
In a supreme irony, the Government of India in its responses to Parliament stated that there was no example of the so-called Love Jehad.
(John Dayal is a writer, editor, occasional documentary maker and activist. He lives in New Delhi.)