An article published in Vijnaana Kairali, a monthly publication of the state-run Kerala Bhasha Institute, has become the centre of controversy after commenting on the practice of confession in Catholic churches. The article has sparked criticism from the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council as well as a response from the National Commission for Minorities.
The article, titled 'Lajjikkappedan' (‘To be ashamed’) was originally published in the August edition of the magazine, but was published again in the October issue. The article demands priests to come forward and confess, and calls on women to stop the practice of confession.
The sections of the article that the KCBC took objection to included the lines, “Jesus Christ has said that heaven is in the mind of he who confesses and regrets his action. It is the priesthood that should publicly confess for using the Utopian concept of heaven, which is only an imagination of the human mind, to satisfy their sexual desires. If you don't consider woman's body as a sexual object, no woman - whether she is a lover or a nun - should henceforth confess before anyone. Believers hide the fact that a man who confesses is not harassed anywhere. It is not enough to sing that you are not ready to die, but the women community should stand together and shout that they are not ready to confess.”
But according to the Bhasha Institute, the article in its entirety discusses the opposition of Kerala's middle class to so-called regressive traditions, and calls for a revitalisation of progressiveness in society. It also touches upon the practices of other religions, including the controversial ban on women at Sabarimala temple. But the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council has specifically taken offense to lines pertaining to Catholicism and confessions.
A press release issued by the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC), which also emphasised that a letter had been sent to the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, said that it was “highly objectionable that a state-run institution like the Bhasha Institute was joining the propaganda which spreads religious hatred and enmity in the society.”
In an apparent reference to a June 2018 case where it was discovered that group of five priests had been coercing a married woman into sexual acts and using the material of her confessions as blackmail, the Bishop Council’s press release noted that “abusing religious beliefs and traditions because of certain isolated incidents is not something that is done by well-cultured people. If such things happen, isn't the law of the land supposed to do something about it?”
In that case, the five priests involved were suspended, and the incident prompted the National Commission for Women to call for a ban on the practice of confession altogether, a move which was vehemently opposed by the NCM at the time.
The KCBC’s press release charged that action against this article in Vijnaana Kairali was required. “From the CM’s side, a grave intervention, the withdrawal of these offensive statements, and measures to ensure such a thing doesn’t happen in future are the demands of the KCBC.”
A similar letter was also sent by the KCBC to the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) in Delhi, demanding action in this matter.
The NCM has taken notice of the KCBC’s complaint, and written to the Chief Secretary of Kerala, and reportedly to the Kerala DGP office, asking for a report in this regard. The Chief Secretary’s office told TNM that the letter has been sent to the Minority Welfare Secretary, and action will be taken accordingly. The DGP was unavailable for comment.
When asked about the controversial article, Karthikeyan Nair, head of the Kerala Bhasha Institute, which published the magazine, told TNM, “It was not controversial, it was an article about Kerala’s middle class. The article talks about the progressiveness in post-Independence Kerala society that have been lost, and that continues to be lost. The middle class used to be the one that would oppose certain traditions. They are no longer able to do that. It is in that context that this article has been written, and it discussed confession, the nature of priesthood in Hindu temples, the ban on women in Sabarimala and other such issues. The theme is about the role of middle class in moving society forward.”
He also said that the Bhasha Institute had not received any official complaint about the article so far, and that he would would supply his comments to any body that was looking into the matter or that asked him for the institute’s response on this issue.