KERALA has a unique social composition in which Muslims and Christians together comprise 45 per cent of the population. Kerala is also distinctive in that the three religious communities are interwoven into the social fabric and have coexisted harmoniously. The Malayali identity has assimilated the socio-cultural traits of all these major religious groups.
This mosaic is complemented by a strong secular tradition in politics to which the Left has made a major contribution.
In recent years, the forays of Hindutva through the BJP-RSS, have sought to disrupt this harmonious coexistence and interaction. It is in this background that one must view the speech made by the bishop of Pala, Joseph Kallarangatt of the Syro-Malabar Church, which is a part of the Catholic Church. In the speech made at a church in Kottayam district, he warned of ‘love jihad’ and ‘narcotic jihad’ being conducted by Muslim extremist elements. While ‘love jihad’ had been raised by the Catholic Church earlier, the threat of ‘narcotic jihad’ was new.
According to the bishop, jihadists are using narcotic drugs to ruin non-Muslims. This sweeping allegation has, naturally, caused alarm and misgivings in Kerala society.
There are drug mafias and networks operating in Kerala as in other parts of the country, but it is totally wrong to ascribe these to any extremist religious group. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, had to clarify that there is no evidence of any such link. He said: “No religion promotes such drugs. Its colour is anti-social”. Later, he went on to say that “Social evils should not be given a religious colour”.
While across the political spectrum “the jihadist conspiracy” was discounted, the BJP came forward to support the bishop’s stand and called upon the centre to bring a law against the activities of the jihadists. For the BJP, this seemed a good opportunity to drive a wedge between the Muslim and Christian communities and to whip up Islamophobia.
As far as ‘love jihad’ is concerned, in Kerala, some years ago there was a disturbing incident of 21 people leaving their homes and families and going to Afghanistan to join the ISIS-Khorasan, a terrorist outfit. Among them were two Christian women who had converted to Islam and joined their husbands to make the trip to Afghanistan; one of them had actually married a Christian man and both of them converted. The jihadist network was behind recruiting these people and indoctrinating them in the extremist ideology.
The concern of the Catholic Church about these two young women getting converted and being influenced by extremism was understandable. It was also correct on their part to warn their congregation against falling prey to such extremist influences. However, these were isolated instances. Investigations both by the state police and the NIA showed no organised effort such as ‘love jihad’ to lure non-Muslim women.
The other disconcerting aspect of the whole debate on ‘love jihad’ is the way leaders of various religious and caste bodies talk of “our women” and “our girls” asserting their patriarchal and proprietary rights over women. There is an implicit denial that women can have their own views and choices in matters of love and marriage.
The BJP-RSS combine has been concentrating their fire on the Muslims and tactically trying to rally the Christian clergy on to their side. Prime Minister Modi himself had met the leaders of various Christian churches in Kerala before the last assembly election.
The Catholic Church, which is the biggest denomination among Christians in Kerala, should be aware of the true character of the BJP-RSS. The Hindutva forces are carrying on a relentless campaign against religious minorities – whether they be Muslims or Christians. According to a report of ‘Persecution Relief’, from 2016 to 2019, there were 1774 cases of hate crimes against Christians across the country. There was an increase of 59.6 per cent in hate crimes against Christians since 2016.
The BJP-RSS are constantly trying to create a communal divide. The RSS outfits are observing a ‘Malabar Hindu Genocide Day’ on September 25 to purvey their distorted version of the Malabar rebellion of 1921. The Malabar revolt was directed against the British rule and the landlord system, which oppressed the Muslim peasantry. That was the main character of the rebellion, notwithstanding some attacks on Hindus in the last phase when the revolt began petering out after being brutally suppressed by the British armed forces.
The RSS, given its new-found sympathy for the Christians in Kerala, has sought to project the Malabar rebellion as not only anti-Hindu but also anti-Christian.
It is heartening that voices from within the Catholic Church and laity and churches of other denominations are pointing to the dangers of Islamophobia and the divisive game being played by the Hindutva forces. Among the first to warn “against the possibilities of church leaders getting trapped in the Sangh Parivar’s design to trigger a division between minority communities” was Yuhanon Mor Meletius, the metropolitan of the Thrissur Diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church.
The CPI(M) in Kerala has a clear understanding of the danger posed by the Hindutva version of majoritarian communalism. It seeks to rally all the secular and democratic forces to counter the BJP-RSS politically and ideologically. While doing so, the Party is also aware of the threat posed by extremist outfits and ideologies among the Muslims. Some of them are products of Islamist extremism abroad.
Among the Christians, to a lesser extent, fringe extremist views have surfaced. In a climate of increasing religiosity and growing insecurities stemming from the socio-economic problems in society, there are constant efforts to erode the secular fabric and exacerbate inter-religious tensions.
The current episode of the bishop’s speech has seen varied responses and counter-responses in the social media. While it is for the state government to step-in to curb the most virulent and communally provocative content in the social media, the main task of countering the communal and divisive forces in all spheres and preserving communal amity, falls upon the Left and democratic forces with the cooperation of all progressive sections in society.
(September 22, 2021)