A boiling distrust that must not end

The seeds of communal discontent affecting the social fabric of Kerala today were sown almost a decade ago


In the 1990s and early 2000s, it was common in Kerala to see churches being demolished and replaced with new structures. Most of these churches belonged to the Catholic Church, especially the Syro-Malabar Rite, which made up a large part of the Christian population in the state. The direct reason for these massive demolitions was the paucity of space in the centuries-old structures, but a more immediate reason was that the kind of money that was coming in from the common people in the form of donations and donations was getting richer due to rising prices. Was. of rubber among other cash crops. Major cities with Catholic population in Kottayam district such as Pala and Kanjirapalli would see huge sales of newly launched cars at that time. However, the era of prosperity was short-lived, as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-India Free Trade Agreement and other factors caused a drop in the prices of rubber and other cash crops.

a turning point

With the community’s collective bargaining power eroding, its focus gradually shifted to the new prosperity of the Muslim community due to West Asian remittances. The seeds of distrust are today threatening to tear apart the social fabric of Kerala, which was sown almost a decade ago. At that time also there were signs of ‘love-jihad’ from the clergy, but this Catechism remained confined to classrooms or drawing room conversations. In 2010, the attack on Professor TJ Joseph, whose palms were amputated by Popular Front of India (PFI) extremists, proved to be a significant event despite the Church being on the defensive and even victimizing the professor thereafter. The fallout of this event was implied by the rapid intervention of civil society; Yet, perhaps this was the point when Islamophobia began to take root among Christians in central Travancore. The Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) returned to power in the 2011 assembly elections, but it also saw the Church-backed Kerala Congress being taken over by the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) in the power structure. Brainstorm

political changes, world events

When the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in New Delhi in 2014, the Sangh Parivar saw an opportunity to close ranks with the Christian community to reverse its electoral fortunes in Kerala. By 2016, as the Islamic State (IS) gained prominence, 21 Keralites – some of them Christians and Hindu converts – who had gone missing were traced to the terrorist organization, raising further concern within the church. Around that period anti-Muslim propaganda began to spread within Christian family networks and social media groups.

A scathing remark by state police chief TP Senkumar, who later joined the BJP, Muslim ‘living birth’, with communal colour, and Popular Front of India (PFI) backed ‘Satya’, outnumbering Hindus in the state In the case of ‘Sambandha Sarni’, Akhila aka Hadiya, a young Hindu woman who converted to Islam and married a Muslim youth, further queued up the pitch. This phase saw a gradual increase in engagement between Christian bishops and BJP leaders at the Centre, facilitated by Minister of State KJ Alphons. In those days it was believed that the Church was collaborating with the BJP only to protect its interests in view of the Central Government’s crackdown on Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) over the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA).

gradual mainstreaming

Growing Islamophobia among Catholics that was confined to the realm of social media became mainstream around the 2019 Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, triggering a hate campaign against Muslims. those who were reticent to speak otherwise In Communal ideologies were encouraged by the clergy who began to speak as community leaders rather than as spiritual figures. There were growing concerns over the Muslim community in Kerala being collectively classified as Other Backward Classes (OBC) and covered under specific minority scholarship schemes.

The onset of COVID-19 prompted people to attend Holy Mass online, which essentially meant that what was limited to a church gathering was now open to scrutiny by all. The Syro-Malabar Church-backed Shakina TV became a platform of choice for the general public, but the regular content on such channels was often uproar. The Old Testament was being quoted more regularly in churches and was given more emphasis than the Gospel, a reflection of orthodoxy.

communal dispute

An article on the reopening of the historic Hagia Sophia as a mosque in Turkey by Syed Sadiq Ali Shihab Thangal of Congress-ally IUML in the party’s mouthpiece, ChandrikaThe IUML’s decision to align with the Jamaat-e-Islami, on the eve of the Kerala local body elections as well as the IUML, created an uproar and saw a major Christian vote shift from the UDF to the Left Front. In fact, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) played the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Malabar to secure Muslim votes, very effectively used the situation to its advantage by allaying the church’s insecurities in central Travancore. The communal dispute was in full swing in the assembly elections that followed, but the Left Front, instead of the BJP, once again benefited from the Christian-Muslim divide.

Recently, the Church and a section of the general public have been quick to latch on to any developments abroad, including the Taliban’s march into Afghanistan, but have remained unflatteringly silent on the institutionalized killing of Stan Swamy. The Church’s continued association with the Sangh Parivar was prompted by a recent meeting of Ram Madhav with Bishop Emeritus Mathew Arakal.

A few months ago, the Pala diocese, headed by Joseph Kallarangat, issued a circular announcing financial aid and other benefits for Christian couples with five or more children to encourage large families. The move reflects the Church’s concerns over the declining proportion of the total population of the state as well as the community in absolute numbers. A huge controversy over the naming of a film – ishho (Jesus) – played by a Muslim at the end of last month indicated the level of mistrust between the two communities.

not much traction

Bishop Kallarangat’s widespread ‘drug-jihad’ remarks proved to be the last straw during his service at a church in Kuravilangad in Kottayam district on September 9. That a theologian of Bishop Kallarangat’s position would resort to such language was difficult to comprehend, but it is instructive of the kind of radical turn that the Syro-Malabar Church has recently taken. However, it is significant that Bishop Kallarangatta did not find support for the Malankara and Latin Catholic rites. It is also telling that fellow St. Thomas Church – Mar Thoma, Jacobite and Orthodox factions – and the Protestant Church of South India Church have come out openly against the comment. While the Congress and the CPI(M) rejected the remarks, a state BJP functionary wrote to Home Minister Amit Shah, demanding “protection” for the Pala bishop, seeking to make the most of it.

There have been demands that Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan intervene to diffuse the situation rather than play it safe, but it is unclear how the growing discontent within the Christian community can be addressed in the long run. The suspicion and mistrust between the Syro-Malabar Church and Muslims will take more than a patch-up to heal and will likely require a man like Pope Francis to initiate reconciliation.

Anand Kochukudi is a journalist from Kerala and former editor of The Kochi Post.


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