From the Chief Minister to Congress leaders, to reformist groups inside the church to Muslim outfits, many lashed out at the Bishop and demanded action against him.

The Bishop in his white robes is standing inside a church, speaking in front of a microphone, reading from a textBishop Kallarangatt / Courtesy - MediaOne
news Controversy Saturday, September 11, 2021 - 12:26

Mar Joseph Kallarangatt, the Bishop of the Pala Diocese under the Syro Malabar Church in Kerala, is facing criticism since Thursday, after he delivered a speech inside a church, and made anti-Muslim remarks. From Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Congress leaders in the state to reformist groups inside the church and Muslim outfits, many have lashed out against the Bishop, condemning his speech and demanding action against him. The Bishop, during a celebration at a church in Kuravilangad in Kottayam district, said that the Christian community had been facing a lot of issues in the recent past, two of the main ones being ‘love jihad’ and ‘narcotic jihad’. The 'love jihad' bogey is used by right-wing organisations and even a few churches in Kerala to propagate the theory that Muslim men ‘lure and trap’ and marry Hindu or Christian women with malafide intentions. The BJP-led Union government has, however, said in Parliament that there is no such term in official records. 

In the video of the speech, Bishop Kallarangatt is seen claiming that Christian women were largely falling prey to "love and narcotic jihad" in Kerala and wherever arms cannot be used, extremists were using such methods to destroy the youth belonging to other religions. While the Bishop does not offer any proof for his claims, he can be heard in a video that is circulating trying to link a recent statement of former state police chief Lokanath Behera that “Kerala has turned out to be a recruiting centre of terrorists.”

"Two such means are love jihad and narcotic jihad. As jihadis know that it is not easy to destroy people belonging to other religions using weapons in a democratic country like ours, they attempt other such means to achieve their target...Nowadays, Christian women are largely becoming victims of such traps...We need to recognise that jihadis, with extreme mindset, have laid the trap in schools, colleges, hostels, commercial establishments and other such public places and institutions with an aim to lure girls at a tender age,” the Bishop said, without substantiating his blatant claims.

Read: The ‘love jihad’ bogey is part of BJP’s long-term strategy in Kerala

‘Remarks part of conspired move’

Hitting out at the Bishop, Samastha Kerala Sunni Students Federation (SKSSF), the higher educational institution students organisation of Samastha Kerala Jamiyyathul Ulama, asked the Catholic priest to come up with evidence to prove his allegations targeting the Muslim community. “The Pala Bishop must disclose evidence of charges of love jihad and narcotics jihad,” SKSSF general secretary Sathar Panthallur told reporters. He also urged the state government to take a serious note of the Bishop’s remarks.

Condemning the statement of the Bishop, Kerala Muslim Jamaath Council, Kottayam district committee, said that legal action should be initiated against the Catholic priest for trying to create division among two communities.

Another outfit, Muslim Coordination Committee, in a press meet, said that the group has filed a police complaint against the Bishop. “Such claims are being made to take attention away from the discontent and disagreement among the Catholic community regarding the proposal of unified rituals. For their unification, they are creating a divide with the Muslims, to give a sense to the people that they should stand together as Muslims are on the other side,” a representative of Muslim Coordination Committee, said at the press meet.

Read: Should priests face congregation or altar? Kerala Catholic church is fighting over it

Meanwhile, reformist groups within the church allege a larger conspiracy behind such remarks. “The church is going through a strenuous time right now, with many in top positions facing charges of disproportionate assets and rows over land deals etc. They are now trying to appease the right wing and the BJP because they need aid. For that, in the recent past, statements about right-wing bogies like ‘love jihad’ are being brought up,” alleged George Moolechal from the Kerala Catholic Church Reformation Movement (KCRM).

Recently, the Bishop had made news while donating money to Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for the construction of Ram Mandir in Ayodhya. KCRM representatives also added that they are considering filing a legal complaint against the Bishop. “At the end of the day, we believers are only going to face the problems of the blatant statements made by these people. They sit in ‘thrones’ and say things for their benefit. We are considering filing a complaint,” George added.

Read : Kerala Church and the BJP: A shift towards the right or seeking patronage?

Don't divide on religion: CM Pinarayi

Reacting to the controversy, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Friday, September 10, said that people holding responsible positions should not cause religious divisions. Referring to 'narcotic jihad', Pinarayi Vijayan said that he hadn't heard this word before. "The issue with narcotics is not pertaining to one religion. It impacts the whole society. We are all concerned about that. There is no need to give religious colour to narcotics," the CM said.

Pinarayi also added that it was not clear as to what circumstances led the Bishop to make the remarks or what he meant by them. Bishop Kallarangatt was also highly criticised by senior Congress leaders in the state. Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan took to Facebook condemning the remarks. “There is no religion, caste or gender for crimes. It is wrong to accuse one particular religion for this,” said VD Satheesan, adding that assigning religion and caste to crimes is discrimination. 

Senior Congress leader and MLA PT Thomas meanwhile, called the issue an ‘unfortunate incident’. “All religious leaders should remember we are living in a secular country where everyone stands strong in their religious beliefs. If we forget that, just like fuel on fire, Kerala will see repercussions of that,” PT Thomas said

The diocese, headed by the bishop, recently announced welfare schemes for families with five or more children. As part of the initiative of the Family Apostolate under the Pala diocese, a monthly financial assistance of Rs 1,500 will be given to the couples who got married after the year 2000 and have five or more children. The contention of the diocese is that the share of the Christian population in Kerala has dwindled over the years. The welfare measures also include free treatment and subsidised higher education for such children.

Read: Kerala Catholic church announces welfare scheme for families with five or more kids

Read : BJP’s attempts to pit Christians against Muslims didn't help: Here’s why

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