A dark cloud in the sky of Kerala Community Harmony

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The healthy voices that have called for reconsideration of recent cases of preaching hate must be allowed to prevail.

The remarks recently made by Mar Joseph Kallarangatt, bishop of the Catholic diocese of Pala in Kerala on “narcotic jihad” have sparked major controversy. In a speech at a church in Kuravilangad, Kottayam district, state, he said Christians should be vigilant against “narcotics jihad,” allegedly an organized effort to destroy the lives of non-Muslims. by making them addicted to drugs.

Pala is one of the Syro-Malabar Church Dioceses in Kerala. Shortly after the bishop’s speech, nuns in Kuravilangad accused another Christian priest of making a hate speech against Muslims, asking the nuns not to buy vegetables from Muslims or travel in autorickshaws. driven by them. The nuns reacted when they left mass. In their comments to the media, four nuns expressed their disapproval of the community comments made by the priest and the bishop. “Christ did not teach us to sow communitarianism,” said one of the nuns.

Rising polarizing rhetoric

The “jihad of narcotics” allegation adds to the longstanding claim by church authorities that there is a “jihad of love” in Kerala, allegedly an organized effort to induce non-Muslim women to marry Muslim men and convert to Islam. Investigations by agencies, including the National Investigation Agency, found no evidence to support this claim.

These incidents are part of a marked increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric from some sections among Christians in Kerala in recent months. Earlier this year, when Israel bombed Gaza following the forced eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in occupied East Jerusalem, some Christian social networks (in Malayalam) launched vicious propaganda against Palestinians and Muslims. . Videos containing blatant lies about the history of Palestine and Israel were released. They have completely ignored the fact that Palestinian Christians, victims of Israeli brutality as much as other Palestinians, are an integral part of the resistance against the Israeli occupation.

More recently, there has been a demand that the name “Eesho” (Jesus) given to an upcoming film be changed, with filmmakers facing intense hate speech from fringe groups. Meanwhile, brochures containing anti-Muslim rhetoric are being distributed by the Syro-Malabar church authorities in several parts of Kerala; the most notable of them being a booklet from the diocese of Thamarassery. The media report that following protests, the diocese expressed regret.

All of these militate against Kerala’s long tradition as a place where people of different religions have lived in peace and cooperation with one another. Labor movements, governments, and society in general focused on material concerns as a whole, which led to significant improvements in human development and living standards, while the state’s religious communities coexisted. in harmony. Christians – who have the highest levels of education and prosperity among Kerala’s religious communities – have been an integral part of this process. But these recent developments, if left unchecked, threaten to block the path to further progress.

The virulent messages propagated by some great religious figures of the Christian community, and amplified by social networks, are worrying. What has changed in the recent past that provided the backdrop for these explosions?

Strong causative factors

An important, but underestimated, factor concerns the economic conditions which provide fertile ground for communal hatred. Trade liberalization has hit plantation agriculture (especially rubber) hard. India’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 1995 and a free trade agreement (entered into force in 2010) with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have were followed by episodes of falling real (inflation-adjusted prices) rubber prices. . Christians constitute a large part of the peasants who cultivate plantation crops, and these price drops have meant that many of them have seen their economic conditions stagnate or deteriorate. Two consecutive years of intense flooding in Kerala (in 2018 and 2019) and the new pandemic coronavirus crisis that followed – damaging livelihoods across the world – did not help matters. In such circumstances, incitement to hatred, which causes difficulties in other communities, finds many takers. Those who have something to gain by polarizing people on communal lines find it easier to point their guns on other communities rather than on noxious economic policies.

Read also | Head priest differs from bishop on jihad remark

The pandemic has had particular effects on church authorities. Extended periods of lockdown and restrictions on the number of people at religious gatherings have resulted in a sharp drop in church attendance. In addition to negatively affecting Church revenues, these developments appear to have created a sense of insecurity among sections of the clergy who feel that the faithful are escaping their influence. In this context, fiery rhetoric that polarizes communities while seeking to nurture their own followers would be a ploy to bring the herd back to its own orbit.

At the same time, more and more people have developed the habit of attending religious services using television and the Internet. This has exposed secularists more than ever to the algorithms of social media, where provocative content tends to carry more weight. A video’s number of views is likely to increase if its content is more inflammatory and causes more comments. This hate algorithm, in turn, has made many video creators, including some of the clergy, come to believe that such videos are the need of the hour.

The shadow of politics

The weakening of the Indian National Congress – which the Catholic church authorities in Kerala have traditionally favored – appears to have heightened the insecurities of the church leadership, and parts of the church authorities could be seen as aligning their positions more with those of them. Hindutva forces.

Certainly, the actions and positions of certain municipal organizations have served to increase tensions. These include the horrific attack in 2010 on a university professor, TJ Joseph, by the Fundamentalist Islamist Popular Front of India, and the endorsement by some Muslim community organizations of Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄŸan of the conversion of the historic Hagia Sophia in Turkey into a mosque. But responding to communitarianism with communitarianism has a self-propelling dynamic – the strident a community’s communal rhetoric, the more it strengthens community strengths in other communities.

Calls for peace

For the sake of Christians themselves and of society in general, the Catholic clergy must return to a position of reason and restraint. Many Catholic and non-Catholic Christians – aside from others – have urged to give up preaching hatred.

Read also | Religious fervor migrating to minority politics: IPC (M)

A former spokesperson for the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council is among those who criticized the Bishop of Pala’s statement. A bishop of the Orthodox church warned that church leaders were not trapped in Sangh Parivar’s plan to divide minority communities, while a bishop of the Jacobite church said that the he altar should not be used to propagate the politics of hate. At a recent joint press conference, a bishop of the Church of South India and the president of the Kerala Muslim Youth Federation called for peace.

It is encouraging to see healthy voices fighting back. It is a battle they must win to save the soul of Kerala as a society where religious communities live in harmony and prosper together.

Subin Dennis is an economist at Tricontinental Research. Opinions expressed are personal


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