Is the Kerala bishop playing rook for the Sangh Parivar?

Muslim organisations have slammed the bishop’s claims, saying it was intended to isolate Muslims
Last Updated : 27 September 2021, 17:33 IST
Last Updated : 27 September 2021, 17:33 IST

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The controversial comments of a Kerala bishop claiming that Muslims are targeting Christians to convert them using ‘love jihad’ and ‘narcotics jihad’ is an un-Christian abuse of religion that can cause communal disharmony and polarisation.

Syro-Malabar Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt of the Pala diocese in Kerala, while addressing the laity recently, alleged that the Catholic Church is “losing our young women” and anyone who denies this is being “blind to reality”.

The bishop, who presides over the largest concentration of Syro-Malabar Catholics in Kerala, went on to say that because in a democratic country like India it is not easy to use weapons to destroy people of other faiths, jihadis are using means that are not easily identifiable. “Two such widely discussed means today are ‘love jihad’ and ‘narcotics jihad’ (luring non-Muslims to the use and sale of drugs).”

Predictably, the bishop’s controversial allegations, not backed by evidence, have drawn sharp reactions from a cross-section of society, including Muslims and Christians.

Muslim organisations have slammed the bishop’s claims, saying it was intended to isolate Muslims, create a phobia against them, and stir up communal hatred. They will ask the government to charge the bishop for his remarks if he does not withdraw them.

However, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who initially said people holding responsible positions shouldn’t cause religious divisions, later said the government will not initiate legal action against the bishop. Many have criticised the doublespeak of Vijayan as well as the CPI(M)’s soft stance on the bishop’s hate speech.

Christians, a sizable vote bank, account for around 20% of Kerala’s population, whereas they form just 2.3% of India’s population.

Christian thinkers and intellectuals have hit out against the bishop for his ill-founded allegations. Stating that Christianity is a religion of love and not of hate, Valson Thampu, a Christian Theologian and former principal of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, told this writer: “It is an un-Christian abuse of religion to infect the congregation concerned and the Catholic community beyond, with communal virus.

“The bishop has also belittled Catholics as an imbecile herd that cannot distinguish between right and wrong; only if that were the case can others threaten them with strategies like ‘love jihad’ or ‘narcotics jihad’.”

Prominent Catholic women from across India have written to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) expressing deep concern over Kallarangatt’s remarks. Many nuns, too, in Kerala have spoken out against the open Islamophobia.

Some are of the view that the bishop’s “false alarm” has nothing to do with protecting Catholic youth from narcotics or love jihad but has more to do with the desperate need that the Church faces to divert the attention of its members from its own internal disarray induced by corruption and crime in high places. One can cite several cases but suffice to mention a few that have captured national and international attention recently -- The Cardinal Mar George Alancherry financial misconduct case, the rape-accused Bishop Franco Mulakkal case, the murder of Sr. Abhaya, the Sr. Lucy case, etc -- all in Kerala. Many Christians in Kerala are a discontented lot with these scandalous happenings and the attempts of the Church to cover up or protect the accused.

But Fr. Babu Joseph, the former spokesman of the CBCI, noted that Kallarangatt’s comments cannot be construed as having communal overtones since he is addressing a social issue raised by some other responsible people, too.

“In a multi-religious society like Kerala, it is but natural that some incidents of interreligious marriages take place, and it has been happening on a voluntary basis,” Fr. Babu Joseph told Crux, a Catholic news portal.

While no other bishop in any other Christian denomination has such allegations or complaints, the Kerala Catholic Church Council and several other dioceses have supported Kallarangatt’s claims, according to media reports.

Also, it must be pointed out that the governments at the Centre and the state have denied any ‘love jihad’ in Kerala. Yet, the Church and the Sangh Parivar have often brought up this thorny issue.

“The Church hierarchy is under duress to dance to the tune of the Sangh Parivar, which strategises its political conquest of Kerala via improvising communal strife between Muslims and Christians,” says Valson Thampu.

Despite the BJP’s determined efforts to garner Christian votes any which way, even raising the ‘love jihad’ issue, it lost miserably in the Kerala Assembly elections this year, failing even to save the lone seat it had won in 2016.

It is imperative for an independent body to conduct a proper investigation into the bishop’s claims and make public the findings. While those in responsible positions must be cautious about what they say so as not to create conflict between religions, priests too should refrain from using the pulpit for polemics and stoking societal divisions.

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based independent journalist.)

Published 27 September 2021, 16:32 IST

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