The police were on a deadline imposed by the Kerala High Court to finally implement a judgment by the Supreme Court in 2017.

Jacobites vs Orthodox Kerala cops enter St Marys church amidst dramatic scenes
news Church Thursday, September 26, 2019 - 13:40

Dramatic scenes played out at the historic St. Mary's Church in Piravom in Ernakulam as the Kerala police tried to open the gate of the church to allow the Orthodox faction to enter.

The police were on a deadline imposed by the Kerala High Court to finally implement a judgment by the Supreme Court in 2017 which handed over control of the Malankara churches to the Orthodox faction, leaving the Jacobite faction fuming. On Thursday morning, hundreds of Jacobites stood inside the church compound, guarding the gate. The standoff that went on for more than an hour saw the Jacobites refusing to open the gate despite the police and District Collector asking them to.

Finally, a large contingent of the state police and riot police had to use cutters to break the iron rods of the gate. The Kerala High Court that had come under fire from the Supreme Court for allowing Jacobites to conduct prayers inside the church, had in turn placed pressure on the government and asked them to submit a report by 1.45 pm on Thursday. The police contingent broke into the church just 20 minutes before this deadline to submit the report in the High Court ended.

Things, however, remain tense as Jacobites have refused to vacate the church and let the Orthodox faction enter. The District Collector, Suhas S held talks with the leaders of the Jacobite faction. Though one of the Bishops announced through a microphone that the court was against them, Jacobites continued to resist. The police forcibly removed several protestors and arrested them. One Jacobite was heard yelling, "Take away all our wealth, but give our church back to us."

For half a century now, Kerala has been witnessing a fight between two factions of Malankara Christians - the Kerala Malankara Orthodox Church and Jacobite Syrian Christian church. 

In July 2017, the Supreme Court gave the Orthodox faction the legal mandate to administer 1,100 churches and parishes under the Malankara Church, as per the 1934 Malankara Church guidelines. The decades-old conflict, however, intensified after the verdict and turned uglier with even the burial of dead bodies being delayed for weeks and months.

In the instances where the Jacobite faction members were not allowed to bury the bodies of their loved ones, the state human rights commission, district administration and the Kerala police intervened and allowed the burial to happen finally.

Exasperated with the government’s inability to implement the judgement, in July 2019, the Supreme Court issued a warning that the Chief Secretary would be summoned and put behind bars if the Kerala government tries to invalidate the SC order.

This is a developing story.

From 1599 to today: Tracing Kerala’s Jacobite vs Orthodox church battle

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