//Kerala: The Holy Cross and the State

Kerala: The Holy Cross and the State

Hindu extremistAs the pattern of the following  incidents exhibits, the Christians in Kerala have reasons to worry. Attacks in Southern part followed by church burning in Northern part, and vice versa, in both years. Never ever before had the Christian community in Kerala felt the sense of deep insecurity as at present. And, there is an irony: These incidents took place when two Christians, A. K. Antony and Oommen Chandy, controlled the State apparatus.January 13, 2003: Bishop Joseph W. Cooper of USA was attacked, injured and hospitalized in Thiruvananthapuram.
January 22-23, 2003: The Full Gospel Church at Cheengavallam, near Ambalawayal in Wayanad district, was burnt down.

August 28, 2004 : Father Job Chittilapally (71) was murdered within the precincts of St. Varaprasadam Matha (Mother of Grace) Church at Thruthiparambu near Chalakudy in Thrissur.

September 25, 2004: Sisters and Brothers of Mother Teresa’s Charity Mission were attacked, injured and hospitalized at Kozhicode.

September 29, 2004: The Altar in St Thomas Mar Thoma Church at Pattoor in Thiruvananthapuram City was burnt.

To put the records straight: The first two incidents took place under Antony’s dispensation. The more shocking third incident of priest’s murder was committed two days before Antony made his dramatic announcement to demit office. The last two incidents took place within a month Oommen Chandy occupied power. And, unmistakably, they head Congress-led UDF Government in which two pro-Christian Kerala Congress groups are partners.

“Total impunity enjoyed by the criminals from the State only embolden them to repeat their criminal actions more vehemently. Absence of timely State actions also encourages revengeful actions by aggrieved victims. The State’s failure in booking the culprits and proceeding cases against them in numerous instances like in attack on Bishop Cooper had encouraged the RSS to unleash violence unabatedly in Kerala,” sums up the overall scenario as per the assessment of Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (CHRO) after the recent attack of nuns at Kozhicode.

Demanding Kerala Government to issue a White Paper “detailing the present status of all cases of anti-Xian onslaughts by RSS and other Sangh Parivar outfits in Kerala ever since they occupied power at the Centre in 1998 and the UDF occupying power in Kerala in 2001”, the CHRO statement said: “Only such a step will help to identify reasons behind the past deliberate lapses and also to take a concerted initiative to award deterrent punishment to Sangh Parivar goons involved in all such criminal deeds against the Christian missionaries. We are sure that only such a White Paper will expose Sangh Parivar as the foremost fascist force and sole source of disturbing Kerala’s traditional communal amity and peace.”

Curiously, both Oommen Chandy and police officers investigating the attack on nuns were reluctant to name RSS. This awarded hey days for Sangh Parivar outfits to spread canards and distortions to divert the basic issue. Their propaganda included wild allegations against the Kenyan national, Brother Bernard, who was also injured in their attack, and alleging CPI(M) behind the attack. Taking Oommen Chandy to task on this count, CPI(M) State secretary, Pinarayi Vijayan, said that he “should show the courage to identify the culprits” behind the attack on Missionary nuns at the Kozhicode Dalit colony “No Congress leader in the State had uttered the name of RSS or BJP in connection with the attack on the nuns. It was the Congress high command in New Delhi that finally said the attack was the handiwork of RSS workers”, the Marxist leader pointed out.

According to Oommen Chandy, being Chief Minister, he won’t name anybody until the investigation was over and the culprits were arrested. However, even when the first arrest was made on September 30, none was forthcoming about the affiliation of the culprit. “We are under instruction from higher-ups not to disclose his political affiliation”, quipped a police officer. The belatedly arrested maiden culprit in police net was, Govindankutty Nair (21), alias Shiju, of Naduvil Kottayi Veedu in Pantheerankavu, a known RSS-BJP activist in the area.

The next day of this first arrest (Oct 1) saw BJP leader and former Union Minister O. Rajagopal visiting “Sneha Bhavan” of the nuns of Mother Teresa Missionaries of Charity at Kozhicode. The sole purpose of his visit was apparently to ask the nuns a trap question: “People belonging to which political party attacked you”? Apt came the reply from Mother Superior Kusumam, who was left with two sharp head injuries in the attack: “We are not concerned about their political affiliation. But, as we only serve the society and do no harm to none, we surely want to know the reason why they attacked us.”

Later, addressing a press meet at Kozhicode Rajagopal harped on the conversion theory saying that “two families in the Dalit colony have already been converted and attempts to convert a third family was foiled by the local people”. When pressed for details, Rajagopal retracted by excusing himself to furnish it later. When pointed out that BJP state general secretary, K. Raman Pillay, had gone or record stating that no conversion had taken place in the Dalit colony at Olavanna where the nuns were attacked, Rajagopal said that he was speaking after interacting with the local people. According to him, it was some other Christian sects, and not Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity, who were engaged in conversion in the colony. Demanding a total ban on conversion activities going on in the state, Rajagopal said that it is creating social tensions.

After the press meet, the BJP media cell at Kozhicode informed the press that those who converted were Cherottukunnil Krishnankutty and family, Cherottukunnil Bindu, her husband family, and Nagathumpadam Melekodassery Parambil Kanakaran, his wife Leela and family. This explanation, however, turned out to be a goof-up since these families are staying almost three kms away from the Olavanna Dalit colony where the nuns were attacked.

Notably, all these attacks on Christian missionaries have parallels and repetitions aplenty. As in the case of their murderous attack against Bishop Cooper in 2003, the Sangh Parivar raised the bogey of visa violations against Brother Bernard. In both these cases, they also alleged that the foreigners had indulged in conversion, and delivering religious speech hurting the Hindu sentiments. This allegation against Cooper was later found to be baseless by the Attingal Court in Thiruvananthapuram. And, the present instance of Kenyan national Bernard exemplified the typical fascist propaganda of lies.

Bernard Muoki Kimeu, holding passport number A 448027, had a valid visa that permits him to stay in India for one year. Born on Dec. 4, 1970, in Machakoz in Kenya, and with a profession recorded as “R/S worker”, his visa issued by Indian Embassy in Kenya permits him to undergo training with Missionaries of Charity in India for one year from March 2, 2004.

After first reaching Kolkota on March 9, Bro Bernard got himself registered at the Foreigners Registration Office there on March 26. He reached Kozhicode only a few days before the Sept 25 attack took place. He went to the Dalit colony in the second batch along with Mother Superior Kusumam after hearing about the attack against the first batch.

Bernard never stepped out of the van at the colony, and was assaulted inside the van itself. There was, therefore, absolutely no question of his meeting anybody in the Dalit Colony or preaching to them on the need to convert to Christianity, as the Sangh Parivar later alleged demanding his arrest. According to VHP and Hindu Aikya Vedi leader, Kummanam Rajasekharan, by allowing Bernard to leave the State “the credibility of the ongoing investigation had been damaged.” The Sangh Parivar even organized protest “dharna” in front of the Kozhicode Police Commissioner’s office demanding Bernard’s arrest.

The VHP leader also took exception to the statement of V. V. Augustine, member of National Commission for Minorities (NCM), that the nuns were not engaged in religious conversion. Such a statement should not have been made since the investigations are in its preliminary stages, Rajasekharan remarked. Obviously, what irked the Sangh Parivar leaders the most was Augustine’s close association with Sangh Parivar in Kerala because of which he was picked up by the former NDA government to the NCM.

Terming all that has been spread about conversion as “false propaganda”, Augustine said that this was the first time the charge of conversion has been aired against Mother Teresa’s Missionaries. The attack on the nuns belonging to this Missionary was “devilish and unprecedented in any part of India”, he said. He also gave a clean chit to the Kenyan national Bernard contrary to Sangh Parivar allegations: “The Kenyan came to India on a valid visa and he is free to travel in the country. As he was injured and subjected to harassment, too, it is only natural that he left the State under the circumstances”.

Recent years witnessed the Sangh Parivar following a systematic pattern of raising the conversion issue each time after they attack on Christian missionaries and evangelists in Kerala. Despite his pro-Sangh Parivar affiliations, even NCM member, Augustine, found it hard to digest it. After visiting the Dalit colony and the victimized nuns, he quoted statistics to show that whatever is spread on conversion was a false propaganda: “In 1951, Christians accounted for 2.34 per cent of the population. As per the 2001 census it is the same – 2.34 per cent. Only in 1971, there was a slight increase,” he said.

Apparently because of Sangh Parivar ire on his observations, Augustine retracted after reaching Delhi as the NCM expressed its displeasure on the local police probe into the attack and demanded investigation by an outside agency. Taking exception to the NCM criticism, Oommen Chandy said at Delhi on Oct 1: “I met the NCM member Augustine at Kozhicode and here. He never informed me about his displeasure on the investigation. He was under the apparent impression that a junior police office is holding the investigation which, in fact, is directly under the control of Inspector General Aravind Jain, IPS. After reaching Kerala I will promptly reply to the NCM letter.”

According to CHRO, raising the conversion issue constitutes Sangh Parivar’s “usual tactics to divert mass attention from the core issue of their fascist onslaughts”. Taking a dig at the ruling UDF attitude ” which are tantamount to succumbing to the black-mailing tactics of RSS on the question of conversion and preaching of religion”, the human rights body said: “The right to preach about one’s religion as well as adopting faith of any religion forms a basic fundamental right under the Constitution. The Kerala rulers should note that the ban on conversion, which was hastily imposed in neighboring Tamil Nadu, was recently withdrawn abruptly. Instead of succumbing to Sangh Parivar’s arm-twisting tactics, the Kerala government should ensure Constitutional Rule of Law to prevail in the State and take stern legal measures against the Sangh Parivar’s criminal actions of intolerance towards minority religions.”

Past records also show that the UDF government succumbing to Sangh Parivar propaganda on conversion. A fortnight after the attack on Bishop Cooper and against Churches at Bathery (Wayanad) and Pallipad (Alappuzha), then Chief Minister A. K. Antony informed the State Assembly (Jan 31, 2003) about ban on preaching by foreign missionaries. Terming it as “illegal”, he said: “Strict actions will be taken against foreign missionaries coming to Kerala on tourist visa and engaging in religious preaching. We are duty bound to prevent religious preaching by those missionaries in violation of the existing law”. Notably, Antony avoided answering to the query of Raju Abraham (CPIM) whether the Government would also probe on the visa status of the scores of foreigners who stay for longer periods in Hindu religious Mutt like that of the controversial Mata Amrithanandamayi at Vallikavu in Kollam district. Incidentally, apart from O. Rajagopal of BJP, A. K. Antony and Oommen Chandy remain as foremost devotees of the living Goddess.

Ironically, on the same time when Antony was declaring in the Assembly about the ban on foreign missionaries’ religious preaching in the State, the then Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, I. D. Swamy, was making an identical statement at a press conference at Kozhicode Press Club. Dealing with Bishop Cooper incident, Swamy said that the Centre would take “strict measures” to prevent the misuse of visas by visitors from abroad, and added: “missionary work by those on tourist visa is also a clear violation of the rules”. Notably, both Antony’s and Swamy’s identical statements followed the RSS Malayalam daily, “Janmabhoomi”, carrying a Thiruvananthapuram dateline lead news on the same day with a screaming title, “Ban on Foreign Missionaries’ Religious Preaching”, “The government had imposed a ban on foreign missionaries religious activities in the state. The Home Ministry issued orders in this regard to the police.” No other newspaper carried this advance story, which in ditto figured in both Antony’s and Swamy’s respective statements. Following this, there were umpteen instances of police actions in different parts of the State preventing foreign Christian missionaries from addressing religious gathering.

Thus, Antony coolly bypassed the RSS attack on Cooper with the issue of foreign missionaries’ visa violation, although Cooper never violated the law. After the present attack on nuns at Kozhicode, the CHRO statement recalled: “The murderous attack by RSS cadres against Bishop Cooper serves as a clear pointer. Although the Kilimanoor police registered a case (Crime No. 19/2003 of 14-01-2003) for various serious offences including murder attempt, Explosive Substance Act and Arms Act, majority of the total 15 accused, including the first accused, have not been arrested. Neither charge sheet was filed nor was the case proceeded in the court of law so far. Like those who attacked the Sisters of Missionaries of Charity at Kozhicode are well-known Sangh Parivar activists in the nearby Pantheerankavu area, the culprits in Bishop Cooper’s attack are also known RSS cadres in Kilimanoor and nearby area.”

Following the pattern set by Antony after Bishop Cooper incident, Oommen Chandy focused mass attention on the pitiable condition and lack of welfare measures given to the Dalit colony where the nuns were attacked. “It is a shame that the nuns who went to the colony on a humanitarian mission were attacked. At the same time, one should not forget that it was the poverty at the colony that brought the nuns to the colony. It is time we had a look at why such poverty existed despite the People’s Plan campaign during the LDF Government and the Kerala Development Programme under the present Government,” he said. He also announced various welfare programmes to be implemented in the colony to uplift the living conditions of the 103 households there which include building of roads.

He also had a dig at the local Olavanna Panchayat, controlled by CPI-M, for its failure in implementing the programmes under the People’s Plan. The Panchayat authorities held a press conference at Kozhicode to counter Chandy “who keeps silence on the RSS attackers” and raked up an altogether different issue to divert mass attention. According to them, such pitiable conditions prevail in numerous colonies in various other parts of the state, including in Chandy’s own constituency in Kottayam district. Instead of the government releasing adequate funds to the local bodies to undertake such works, should wait the RSS to launch such attacks on nuns and priests, ask the Olavanna Panchayat President.

Apart from Ms. Prabha, the first beneficiary in the Dalit colony to get help from the nuns, all those who were shelted at “Sneha Bhavan” irrespective of their religious status only had good words to speak about the Missionaries and all of them repudiate the allegation on conversion. ”God can see what these sisters do for us. It is not necessary that people appreciate their service,” says Thankamani, one of the 43 lost soul inmates of ‘Sneha Bhavan’ who include lepers, chronic TB patients and mentally unsound persons, and who were forgotten and forsaken by the larger society. According to Zainaba, a Muslim inmate who was literally brought here from the street, “none ever stopped us from practicing our respective religion as we live here like a family”.

According to Sister Rose Merline, hailing from different corners of society, most of the inmates were abandoned in hospitals by their relatives as they are too old and indisposed to be looked after. “Some of them were brought by the police, some others voluntarily walked in”. Explains mother superiod Sr. Kusumam : ”We tend their wounds and sickness. We only help make their last days a little peaceful. We do not force any religion upon them. When they die, the last rites are performed as per their faith.”

The congregation also runs a tailoring unit, where more than 20 girls are given training, besides running a mobile clinic, catering to remote areas frequenting houses of the sick and the elderly, especially those who lead lonely lives. Around 200 poor families are given rice and other provisions from “Sneha Bhavan” every month. Prabha, of Mambuzhakkad Dalit colony where the nuns were attacked on Sept. 25 is one of them.

Says Sr. Cyrlina, ”We have dedicated our lives for the poor. This attack will not put us off. Our gates are always open for all. We would help the families at the Mambhuzhakkad colony in the future.”

Compare this scenario with the RSS outfit, “Ganesha Sadana Yajna Kendra” at Pantheerankavu, to where most of the attackers on nuns belong. According to an exposure in CPI-M organ “Deshabhimani”, an obscurantist ritual “Mangala Sathahandi Mahayoga Yagna” was held here from Sept 18-23 prior to the Sept 25 attack on nuns at the Dalit colony two kms away. A total of Rs. 50 lakhs were spent for this ritual in which costly silk sarees were burnt in the holy fire. With picture of the ritual, the “Deshabhimani” report said that the nuns who collect old clothes to distribute among the poor were attacked by those who burnt silk sarees, and that the ritual was organized by an accused who killed a CITU leader earlier.

Notably, the police raided this “Ganesha Sadana Yajna Kendra” in search of the culprits who attacked the nuns. Protesting against the raids, the VHP leader Kummanam Rajasekharan alleged that the raids conducted at the Kendra “strengthened our charge that the police probe was heading in the wrong direction.” The police are out to hold Hindu organisations responsible for the incident, he alleged, and also termed “the raids, illegal detention and custody as human rights violations”. Leaders of “Ganesha Sadana Yagna Kendra” also protested against the police actions. Taking strong exception on “Deshabhimani” report, they said that it “ridiculed Hindu faith, infringed Hindu rituals, and hurt Hindu sentiments” by terming the “Yagna” as “barbarian.” Burning of costly sarees, along with costly gold, in holy fire is an ancient pious Hindu ritual, they maintained.

Meanwhile, according to reports, Shaji, the lone person already arrested, were one of the 13 people whom the police earlier took into custody and later released soon after the attack on custody. Majority of them were active volunteers at the “Yagna” at Pantheerankavu. They include Vinod (33) of Balussery, Ganesan (33) of Pantheerankavu, Biju (29) of Iringallur Palazhi, Jithu (38) of Odumbra, Ajit Kumar (33) of Iringallur, Baburaj (45) of Iringallur, Vamadevan (31) of Iringallur, Prakash Babu (21) of Pallipuram, Vijesh (18) of Cherooppa, and Apputty (46) of Olavanna.

At the same time, based upon a circular issued by RSS, the Director General of Police, Hormis Tharakan, reportedly issued strict instructions to all police wings to guard against possible attacks on nuns and priests visiting different colonies. According to sources, the RSS circular directed its cadres to keep a vigil on Christian missionaries engaged in conversion and related activities. The circular termed all the charity activities undertaken in Dalit and Tribal colonies as a prelude to conversion. Nuns and priests visiting such colonies should be viewed with caution and it is the duty of all Hindus to prevent it, the circular said. Police believe that the RSS circular must have been read or circulated among those who attended the “Yagna” as the attack on nuns in the Dalit colony 2 kms away took place two days after the conclusion of the ritual.

Although the RSS never issue regular circulars, such instructions on important issues are occasionally prepared by the RSS Boudhik Pramukh at RSS headquarters in Nagpur and sent to selected heads of various Sangh Parivar outfits across the country. They, in turn, take up the issues concerning each respective states or provinces and pass it to the lower cadres. The Kerala DGP’s instruction was based upon such a circular which the police reportedly recovered during their raids conducted at various Sangh Parivar premises in and around Kozhicode after the Sept 25 attack on nuns. The DGP had instructed the police wing to maintain extra vigilance till mid-January since the annual Sabarimala pilgrim season of Hindus, the Ramzan festival of Hindus, and Easter of Christians fall during this three-and-half months period. Besides, the anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition, which the Sangh Parivar celebrates in Kerala as “Victory Day”, is on December 6.

At the same time, the police have not got any viable lead on the burning of the Church at Pattoor in Thiruvananthapuram city even four days after the incident.

 Asian Tribune , Date : 2004-10-03