The statement by the Syro Malabar Catholic Church synod – the high profile meeting of its Bishops – that ‘Love Jihad’ was real and was used to target Christian women has drawn flak from reformist groups within the church. The reformists groups allege that the statement made by the top leaders of the church instilling discord between religions was part of a hidden agenda.
The groups allege that the top leaders of the church are trying to divert people’s attention from real problems by raking up the love jihad bogey.
The church had in a statement released on Tuesday alleged that love jihad is a reality and it was being used to target Christian women to a dangerous extent.
“Love jihad is growing in Kerala and becoming a threat to the social and religious harmony in the state. Christian girls are being killed because of love jihad. It is a fact that Christian girls are being targeted and love jihad is really happening. Girls are molested after faking love and then coerced into conversion by threatening to expose the visuals of the abuse. We should act and start creating awareness among parents and children about the dangers of love jihad,” the statement by the synod reads.
But reformist groups have come out saying that the church is shooting in the dark by generalising a few incidents.
“There might be a few cases, but we do not agree to the generalisations made by the synod that there is a hidden agenda to convert Christian girls by a particular religion. Inter-religious marriages have been happening in the past also, it is not right to say everyone is part of such controversial cases. Just like the right wing, the Church is trying to create a Christian communal feeling,” says Riju Kanjookaran, general secretary of the Archdiocesan Movement for Transparency (AMT), speaking to TNM.
Joint Christian Council, another reformist group, also stated that it does not agree with the Syro Malabar Church’s statement on love jihad. “There are few incidents but these are rare. We can’t generalise and call it love jihad. In every religion there are a few bad persons but we cannot generalise a religion based on them,” says Felix J Pulloodan, working president of the council.
The AMT alleges that those raising the controversial claims are involved in various cases related to the church. “We’re also part of the church, but common believers like us never make these claims. It is the top officials who constantly try to divert the people’s attention in order to cover up other pressing matters,” Riju says.
The Syro Malabar Catholic Church is one of the three churches that make up the Kerala Catholic Church and is the most prominent of the three. It is not only in the 'love jihad' issue that the church agrees with the right wing. Even when it came to Citizenship Amendment Act, the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council supported the BJP government. It must be noted here that the new law allows Christian immigrants who entered the country before December 31, 2014 to be given citizenship, along with Hindus, Parsis, Sikh, Jains and Buddhists.
A recent newspaper column by Father Varghese Vallikkatt, spokesperson and secretary of the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, also underlines the church’s pro-BJP stand in supporting CAA.
The column, published in RSS mouthpiece Janmabhoomi on January 7, states that it is not problematic for political parties to utilise the ongoing CAA protests for their political gains if it is in the national interest.
Father Varghese also states that the “ongoing debates around CAA and the National Register of Citizens can only be analysed if one understands the radical movement called political Islam, which is gaining momentum across the world”.
Expressing KCBC’s clear allegiance to the BJP, Fr Varghese also adds that “no other party except the BJP has understood or taken a stand on how to tackle political Islam. None of the political parties in the country which focus on the minority vote bank will have courage to do this”.
Riju and others say such a stand exposed the selfish stand of the church's leaders. “The majority of the believers including us, are against CAA. It is not only an anti-Muslim legislation, but is also against other minorities. Tomorrow, we fear there will come a law targeting other minority groups. This country belongs to all, and not for any particular religious groups. It is for the personal gains of the church leaders they are stating pro-BJP stand,” tells Riju.
Syro Malabar chief Cardinal Alencherry recently received severe criticism for accepting BJP’s pro-CAA pamphlet. The Ernakulam unit of the BJP had inaugurated their pro-CAA campaign by handing over a pamphlet to Alencherry.
Meanwhile, following the synod’s statement, the Kerala BJP has demanded that the concerns of the church be taken seriously. Senior BJP leader of the state Kummanam Rajasekharan also asked for a probe into the allegations made by the church.
Families of Kerala women who joined ISIS welcome move
Meanwhile, the families of those women who converted to Islam to allegedly join ISIS welcomed the church’s statement.
“The church should have created this awareness earlier. I would not have lost my daughter then. I’m not saying everyone in a religion is bad, there are good people and then there are bad people. Because of the bad people, good ones also have to face trouble. It’s the bad ones we should keep away from,” says the mother of one of the Kerala women who along with her husband converted to Islam and fled the country.