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Indian court refuses to lift ban on Catholics’ endogamy

The endogamous Knanaya Catholics in Kerala do not accept marriage outside the community to maintain purity of blood

A photo of Knanaya priests chanting Bar Maryam, an ancient East Syriac chant distinct to Knanaya Christians during a Knanaya wedding in the 1980's

A photo of Knanaya priests chanting Bar Maryam, an ancient East Syriac chant distinct to Knanaya Christians during a Knanaya wedding in the 1980's. (Photo: Wikipedia.org)

Published: March 15, 2023 12:04 PM GMT

Updated: March 16, 2023 03:35 AM GMT

A top court in southern Indian Kerala state has refused to stay a lower court's order, which declared illegal the practice of endogamy among a section of Catholics.

The high court in Kerala, however, agreed to hear an appeal challenging the lower court verdict issued on April 30, 2021.

The appeal was filed by Archbishop Mathew Moolakkatt of Kottayam, which was established for the endogamous Knanaya Catholic community within the Eastern rite Syro-Malabar Church.

Moolakkatt in his plea said the lower court order “would overturn and uproot the practice and customs followed by the Knanaya community for over 17 centuries.”

He was referring to the practice of Catholics in his archdiocese, who would not accept members marrying outside their community to maintain the purity of blood.

The Catholics in the archdiocese, a diocese until 2005, claim to have their origin from a group of Jewish-Christian emigrants from Cana in Southern Mesopotamia that came to the Kerala coast in AD 345.

They claim to be maintaining the purity of their lineage by not accepting those marrying outside their community.

The court's decision, "if enforced, will destroy the ethnic identity of the community, and all those [married outside] who were permitted on their application to join the parishes of their spouses would have to be taken back by causing great discontentment in the community," Moolakkatt said.

If the decree of the lower court was to be enforced, "it will lead to irreparable injuries,” he argued.

Opposing his pleas, the Knanaya Catholic Reforms Committee said that “the cruel blood purity” argument has dismissed thousands of community members from the archdiocese and denied them  Sacraments.

“Thousands of women and children are the victims of it [blood purity practice] and live like second-class citizens without dignity and liberty as guaranteed in the Indian constitution," the committee stated.

Many middle-aged persons remain unmarried in the community due to a lack of brides and the fear of expulsion from the archdiocese if they marry outside it.

In its order, the lower court has restrained the archdiocese from “terminating the membership of any member for marrying a Catholic from any other diocese.”

The court also made it mandatory to “provide equal rights and facilities for the Sacrament of Marriage to those members who wish to marry Catholics from any other diocese.”

The committee said the lower court order had given the dismissed members the hope that they could at least be able to have their bodies buried alongside their ancestors.

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