Instead of focusing on the core concern of a Kerala bishop, the swords were bared to attack him for causing a religious rift
Kerala state in southern India has largely remained a place of Hindu-Muslim-Christian harmony and peaceful coexistence despite the claims of 'love jihad.' (Photo: YouTube)
People who wanted to go after the blood of Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt of Palai have made a heady cocktail of issues such as fanning communal disharmony, pandering to the right-wing politics of pro-Hindu gorups, interfaith marriages, conversions, peaceful coexistence of people of different faiths and many more.
The concoction has been the work of the media, activists and political pundits, including those with axes to grind against Malayalees and more particularly the Syro-Malabar Church. The fact remains that Kerala state in southern India has largely remained a place of Hindu-Muslim-Christian harmony and peaceful coexistence.
But some media, religious and civil society leaders took the debate out of its core ambit and gave it a dangerous coloring. The carefully nuanced warning from a concerned Catholic leader against false love and its nexus with drug trafficking was taken out of context and mixed with interreligious marriages and genuine conversions.
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Instead of staying focused on the core concern raised by the bishop and doing serious soul-searching, the swords were bared to attack him and blame him for causing a communal and religious rift.
Little did the people who attacked him realize that he did not coin the words he used, namely "love jihad" and "narcotic jihad." You may hate him, call him names if you choose, but do not give him credit for coining those words. Let those who coined them take the credit or blame.
By now all those who wanted to speak on the issue of the bishop’s homily have aired their views. It is time to call for an end to the mudslinging and name-calling. Let those who hold the responsibility for dealing with the issue he has raised investigate and bring out the truth and take action. That includes religious and political leaders, law enforcement agencies, civil society leaders and the media.
In any honest debate on religion, we should refrain from taking the worst in religion to project it as the fault of religion itself
Neither the language of political expediency nor the false alarms of a perceived communal conflict prevent those who are duty-bound from acting with decisiveness and determination.
The writing on the wall is clear and convincing. The debate should remain the core issue and not meander into all sorts of unrelated and even imaginary ones.
In any honest debate on religion, we should refrain from taking the worst in religion to project it as the fault of religion itself. Often it is not the fault of the religious tenets but the failure of the adherents to practice what they teach and exhort.
It is also the task of religious leaders to see that their adherents, or anyone for that matter, do not misuse religion for vested interests. For scoundrels and criminals, religion is not a means for righteous living or salvation but a convenient tool or alibi for their nefarious activities.
Every religion and ideology needs critiquing. Every religion and political party must isolate the fanatic fringe. Religious leaders must restrain those who speak a language of hatred and polarization, tame the hate-mongers and caution those who tend to go astray in their misplaced fervor or false zeal.
It is the task of all religious communities as well as political parties. No one should inject the poison of hatred and falsehood. Those who attempt to fish in troubled waters should be identified and isolated. Those who are guilty of violating the law of the land should be booked without fear or favor.
Those who make use of the loopholes in the law to indulge in brainwashing activities and radicalization on college campuses or getting false marriage consent through intimidation should be acted against.
Here again, we are not talking about responsible, free and informed decisions to marry a person of one’s choice. Let such cases rest on their merit and let us not drag them into the current debate.
Those who are crying foul by saying the Church in Kerala is pandering to the Sangh Parivar and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ideology must know that Kerala has not elected even one BJP man or woman to the Indian parliament so far, and not a single member to the Kerala legislative assembly in recent elections. And I do not think it is due to the presence of the two dominant political factions in Kerala.
The BJP’s Waterloo in the recent elections happened despite the many well-orchestrated campaign visits of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other higher-ups in the party, pumping in lots of money and making all-out efforts to woo the electorate.
The party fielded some well-known personalities like film stars and the much respected "Metro man of India" E. Sreedharan to campaign in the small state. The BJP fervently hoped to open its account in Kerala but its disappointment was palpable.
Those from other states and places who keep accusing Christians in Kerala of cozying up to the BJP must sit up and think whether there is any truth in their allegation.
Church leaders meeting the prime minister or any BJP leader is not an indication of their falling prey to right-wing ideology. It is an affront to the political maturity of the people of Kerala to insinuate that they are sitting ducks for communal politics. Kerala does not need lessons on how to keep it secular and keep Hindutva at bay.
The major challenge for Kerala now is to fight the growing menace of radicalization of youths in the name of religious ideology, the smuggling of gold, drug menace, recruiting for internationally known terror outfits, sex crimes, brainwashing and a host of other unlawful activities under the pretext of religious ideology.
The victims are gullible youths and college students. For those who care to be enlightened on the issue, the evidence is too difficult to ignore. The nature and extent of this dangerous situation are well documented by international organizations, the media, courts and law enforcement authorities in India and abroad.
Bishop Kallarangatt is known in the worldwide Church for his scholarship. He is not a man who will blurt out things in an unguarded moment
What we see on social media is only the tip of the iceberg. I dare say that those who say they are the figment of someone’s imagination are in absolute denial mode.
It was against this frightening backdrop that Bishop Kallarangatt chose to caution his faithful during his homily at a Mass on Sept. 8 in Martha Mariam, Kuravilangad, one of the oldest Marian shrines in the world.
Bishop Kallarangatt is known in the worldwide Church for his scholarship. He is not a man who will blurt out things in an unguarded moment. Those who know him, including his many seminary students who are priests today, know his deep knowledge of things and his moderation in speech.
But he was pilloried for speaking the truth, even if that truth, like most truths, hurts.
For those who have listened to the whole speech and understood it, he spoke with moderation and abundant caution. He started by explaining the root of the word "jihad."
He was not speaking of Islam; he did not tarnish the Muslim religion nor fault its tenets. He spoke of the fanatic fringe in that religion that indulges in nefarious activities and brings ill-repute even to good Muslims.
Any well-meaning Muslim should welcome his call not to let religion be misused. His statement is not an attack but a defense of Islam and the majority of Muslims who live by its noble teachings. They should be happy to see that their true religion is not tarnished by those with terrorist or criminal links.
It would not be far-fetched to imagine that the bishop would act promptly and decisively as the leader of the Catholic community in his diocese if he were told of some Catholics indulging in any criminal or terrorist activities. One can be sure he would use all his powers to dissuade the wrongdoers and guard the tenets of the faith which as bishop he is duty-bound to uphold and teach.
We have heard it umpteen times that terrorism and criminal activity have no religion and that the true religionists must distance themselves and their faith from those who misuse it to cover up a crime.
In Kerala, there was huge support for the bishop from people of all religious persuasions, political parties and civil society
Within days of his homily, the bishop of Pala became the subject of a smear campaign. Television channels chose to make it the spicy menu of their evening debates. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and some other political leaders criticized the bishop. But some soon took a U-turn when evidence from many quarters surfaced to show what the bishop said was real.
They came from the authoritative comments of Communist Party of India (Marxist) veteran and former Kerala chief minister V.S. Achuthananthan, the recently retired Kerala police chief Lokanath Behera and many others. Social media came out with numerous recordings of highly dangerous talks that were emboldening and supporting the process of radicalization.
In Kerala, there was huge support for the bishop from people of all religious persuasions, political parties and civil society.
Many of the families that had suffered as a result of their sons and daughters walking away from their homes, their dear ones and their religious beliefs to embrace Islam, or join terror groups like ISIS, knew the bishop was fearlessly voicing their concern. They hailed him for his courage to speak the truth.
As for those who had axes to grind against the Syro-Malabar Church in Kerala or Malayalees in general, this was a God-sent opportunity. Their main charge was that the bishop and the people of Kerala in general, and Christians in particular, were being used by the BJP.
This charge came mostly from outside the state and has few takers in Kerala. Peruse the names of people at the forefront of the attack on the bishop through their writings, signature campaigns and utterances. Most have little knowledge of the realities on the ground in Kerala.
While calling for religious amity, some even crossed the Laxman Rekha (a line never to be broken) of moderation, sobriety and propriety. Those who wish to champion the cause of communal harmony and tolerance must speak the language of moderation and must neither exaggerate nor exacerbate.
Let me end with an old Malayalam adage: “The bull has given birth so hasten to bring the rope.” Long before fake news became popular, the people of Kerala had this proverb to caution them against falsehood, which might masquerade as truth and sensationalism of the kind some of the mainstream media are indulging in. It is time to put the sword back into its sheath.
Father George Plathottam is a priest of the Salesians of Don Bosco and secretary of the Office of Social Communication of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
The Church in Asia needs objective and independent journalism to speak the truth about the Church and the state. With a network of professionally qualified journalists and editors across Asia, UCA News is all about this mission.
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