Kerala Christians join millions to protest 'faulty' federal law

Law is not just against Muslims but against secular principles and needs to be opposed, bishops say
Kerala Christians join millions to protest 'faulty' federal law

Christians were among people who formed a 620-kilometer human chain across Kerala organized by the Left Democratic Front to protest against the Indian government's Citizenship Amendment Act in Kochi on Jan. 26.(Photo: STR/AFP)

More than 7 million people, including Christian bishops, priests and nuns, formed a 620-kilometer human chain protesting a federal citizenship law on Jan. 26 in Kerala state.

People lined up on the side of the main highway that runs through the entire length of the state, a land strip on the southwest coast, to protest an amendment to India’s 65-year-old Citizenship Act.

The amendment, made by the federal government led by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party on Dec. 11, facilitated granting citizenship to refugees from neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, barring Muslims.

Placards at the protest, organized on the 71st Republic Day of India, demanded withdrawal of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and respect for the secular and multireligious character of India.

Christian and Muslim leaders were part of the protest organized by an alliance of communist parties that runs the state government. Generally, Christians and Muslims do not join protest programs organized by atheist left-wing parties.

Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos of the Jacobite Church, who joined the protest, later told media that the amendment should not be seen “merely as anti-Muslim. It is against all secular principles. It is time all people joined to fight it.”

The Kerala Catholic Church did not openly join the protest. However, the Latin-rite bishops in the state made a firm stand against the amendment in a circular. All their parishes read the circular on Jan. 26 during Sunday Mass.

"The CAA is not just an issue of Muslims; it an issue for all because it will destroy the secular credentials of our country. If we study the statements of the rulers of the country and those who follow them, it’s obvious that their move is toward a theocratic nation,” the bishops’ statement said.

“The amendment is against the spirit of our constitution. It is against its secular credentials, and we need to stand united to fight against it.” 

Dividing the people of a nation is the “biggest crime and which continues on a large scale.” The state’s discrimination against Muslims articulated in a law “is an act in violation of the secular principles of the constitution,” they said.

They wanted parishes to hoist the national flag on Jan. 26 and read out the preamble of the constitution, which guarantees equality before the law, without discrimination based on caste, creed, or religion.

The pastoral letter was signed by Bishop Joseph Kariyil, president of the regional forum of the Latin-rite bishops’ in Kerala, along with other bishops.

It called for family units, catechism classes and other sociocultural programs to work to create awareness about the “nature and character” of the constitution. Creating awareness about the constitution is more important than street protests, the bishops said.

Father Francis Xavier, deputy secretary of the Kerala Latin bishops' body, told UCA News that the bishops “just don’t see this as an issue related to Muslims. We see it as a question of our constitution.”

He said the circular “was the outcome of three days of intense discussion” among the Latin bishops and laity from Jan. 10-12.

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