Kerala Christians slam government inaction after recent attacks

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In a strongly worded message delivered during Good Friday observances, senior Christian leaders in Kerala slammed the recent attacks on Christian communities in Manipur and other parts of North India. They also questioned the lack of effective intervention by authorities to stop the violence and voiced fears about the erosion of India's secular fabric.

Archbishop Thomas J. Netto of the influential Latin Archdiocese of Thiruvananthapuram said Christians were being subjected to "cruelty and violence by dark forces" in Manipur and North India, but there has been no firm action taken by those in power.

"There is a need to take steps against such evil powers," Archbishop Netto stated after a Way of the Cross procession in Thiruvananthapuram attended by multiple Christian denominations. He called on all churches to unite and clearly express their stance against divisive forces seeking to sow fear among minorities.

The archbishop also urged Christians to understand the "mystery" behind the controversial Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and fight against "narrow-minded approaches" like this legislation. His strong remarks assume significance as they come just weeks ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections in the state.

Echoing similar concerns, Bishop Thomas Tharayil of the Syro-Malabar Church said any attempt to "terrorise" people in the name of religion or race must be firmly resisted. He reminded that the Indian Constitution guarantees all minorities the right to live without fear.

"If even one individual, be it the weakest in a nation, lives in fear, then we should be able to consider it the failure of the entire nation," Bishop Tharayil said during the Good Friday prayers.

Fr Jacob G Palackappilly, deputy secretary general of the Kerala Catholic Bishops Council, invoked the haunting memories of the Nazi persecution of Jews to drive home the dangers of staying silent. "When they persecuted Jews in Nazi Germany, others did nothing. We do not want that to happen in India," he said soberly.

Fr Palackappilly also issued a stark warning that the Christian community's very existence in India would be under threat if secularism was undermined. "The Christians in Germany helped the Nazis at that time. Then they persecuted the Christians. If the secular fabric of India is lost, we will also cease to exist," he added.

The stinging criticism from two of Kerala's most prominent Churches - the Latin Church with its 15-lakh strong laity having a decisive say in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts, and the Syro-Malabar Church with 35 lakh members wielding major influence in areas like Thrissur, Ernakulam, Kottayam, Changanassery and Thalassery - comes as a major setback for the BJP's outreach efforts towards the Christian community in the state.

The party's national leadership had been attempting to woo the sizable Christian voter base, especially in potential gains like the Thiruvananthapuram and Thrissur Lok Sabha seats. However, the firm stance taken by the Latin and Syro-Malabar churches against the Modi government's perceived bias and lack of action to protect minority rights has deflated the BJP's hopes.

Responding to the Church leaders' remarks, Union Minister V. Muraleedharan insisted minorities did not face any threat from the Modi regime. However, BJP state president K. Surendran blamed the CPI(M) and Congress for "propaganda" during election season.

In an apparent bid to counter the scathing criticism from influential Church leaders over minority rights, a pro-BJP media outlet has selectively quoted the Bishop of Calicut diocese in an attempt to portray the Christian community's stand in a more favourable light.

The report by JanamOnline came after BJP Kerala Poll in-Charge Prakash Javadekar, along with the NDA candidate for Kozhikode MT Ramesh and other party leaders, met Bishop Varghese Chakkalakal to convey Easter greetings on March 31.

According to JanamOnline, Bishop Chakkalakal "firmly stated" that the government would desist from implementing the CAA if it caused harm to anyone. He was also quoted as explaining that the CAA does not deport citizens but merely provides an identity, adding that the Modi government should not be faulted for enacting the law.

"The Modi government is undertaking several commendable initiatives. I have never sensed that minorities are unsafe under Modi regime. While some untoward incidents are happening in the country, they may not necessarily be with the knowledge of senior leaders and could be isolated incidents," the Bishop is quoted as saying.

However, sources within the Catholic Church have raised doubts over the veracity of JanamOnline's coverage, dismissing it as a BJP mouthpiece's spin attempt.

"The whole coverage is suspicious as it is published by JanamOnline which is a BJP mouthpiece. The fact remains that many bishops in Kerala have strongly spoken against the ruling regime during their Good Friday sermons. Since the Calicut bishop was addressing the media immediately after the visit of Prakash Javadekar, he probably played safe with his words," said a Catholic Priest who wished to remain anonymous due to security concerns.

The purported remarks attributed to Bishop Chakkalakal seem to contradict the strongly worded stance taken by other senior Church figures like Archbishop Thomas J Netto and Bishop Thomas Tharayil against the Modi government's policies and lack of action over attacks on Christians.

As Kerala's influential Christian community emerges as a key factor in the upcoming elections, the BJP appears keen to downplay the criticism from Church leaders through selective media narratives in a state that has so far remained largely impervious to the Sangh Parivar's brand of politics. In the meantime, secular voices demanding protection of minority rights remain defiant and the upcoming elections will test if the BJP's gambit to win over the Christian voter base in Kerala has any takers amidst the growing fears of a weakening secular democracy.

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