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The Real Kerala Story: Generous Outpouring of Love, Empathy and Harmony

Jacob Peenikaparambil Jacob Peenikaparambil
22 Apr 2024

While anti-social elements and communal political leaders are leaving no stone unturned to polarise the people of Kerala based on religion, ordinary people have proven that they can resist divisive forces and focus on humanity, which is common to all religions. The generosity of the people of Kerala, transcending the barriers of religion to raise an astounding Rs. 34 crores within 40 days through crowd-funding to save Abdul Raheem from the jaws of the gallows in Saudi Arabia, is praiseworthy. This has happened against the backdrop of some Christian groups showing the highly controversial Islamophobic movie The Kerala Story to young people. The amazing humanitarian act of the people of Kerala is a slap on the face of a few hate-filled religious and political leaders who are bent on destroying communal harmony to bake their political bread.

41-year-old Abdul Raheem, a native of Feroke, Kozhikode, was in prison, awaiting execution, since being sentenced to death 18 years ago by a court in Riyadh after he accidentally caused the death of a specially-abled boy whom he was taking care of. He was sentenced to death in 2006 after the family of the Saudi boy refused to grant amnesty. Recently, because of the efforts of the expatriates from Kerala, the family agreed to pardon Raheem if he paid the 'blood money' (financial compensation paid to the victim or heirs of the victim in the case of murder, bodily harm or property damage by mistake) of 15 million Rial, equal to Indian rupees thirty-four crores.

An action committee of members from different religions and political parties, including the BJP, was formed to raise the need fund of Rs. 34 crores. The complete amount was raised on Friday, April 12, with just three days left to meet the court-set deadline of the 'blood money'. CM Pinarayi Vijayan described it as the 'Real Kerala Story' of compassion and truth. "In the face of relentless hate campaigns targeting Kerala, the indomitable spirit of Malayalees shines through, upholding together Kerala's resilience and compassion. Abdul Raheem's story, a Keralite facing execution in Saudi Arabia, symbolises this resistance. With 34 crore rupees raised for his release, Kerala's commitment to its people and values is crystal clear, shattering divisive lies," Vijayan wrote on his official X handle.

In her 2009 book, "Sacred Kerala-A Spiritual Journey", Dominique Sila-Khan described that in contrast to much of north India, inter-community relations in Kerala have always been fairly harmonious, although the situation is beginning to change today. At the popular level, economic and social ties and interdependence between Kerala's different religious communities have given birth to a strong Malayalee identity that transcends religious boundaries. This Malayalee identity unfolds itself when there is a human crisis. Keralites believe that humanity is the greatest religion. That is why the 34 core rupees were raised within forty days by people of all faiths to save Abdul Raheem.

While describing the communal harmony in Kerala, Dominique Sila-Khan mentions some concrete examples in her book. She talks about generous land grants from Malayalee Hindu rulers to Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities to build their shrines. The cults around these shrines survive hundreds of years after they emerged, bringing together people of different faith communities in common worship and celebration. For example, at the annual Chandanakudam festival in a remote Kerala village, devotees of all faiths gather at a Catholic church, proceed to a Bhagvati temple and then finally congregate at a mosque. Pilgrims undertaking the strenuous journey to the shrine of Ayyappa at Sabarimala must first visit a mosque and, after completing the pilgrimage, often visit the shrine of a Christian saint.

Khan admits that, in recent years, Kerala has witnessed the emergence of several right-wing communal and religious 'fundamentalist' movements among Hindus, Muslims and Christians. According to her observation, these movements see the state's rich legacy of shared religious traditions and spaces that bring together people belonging to different religious communities as 'superstitious', 'aberrant' and 'deviant'. These movements have had a significant impact on Kerala society and have succeeded in making communal divisions much more substantial and clearly demarcated. These constitute a fundamental departure from Malayalee tradition, which Khan characterises as inclusive and open.

The screening of the movie "The Kerala Story" by certain Christian groups to school students is to be viewed against this backdrop of the increasing influence of fundamentalist groups among Christians. "The Kerala Story" is assessed by many film critics as a propaganda film produced to disturb communal harmony in Kerala and create enmity between Christians and Muslims in Kerala. The BJP will not have a foothold in Kerala as long as Muslims and Christians stand together, as both communities together constitute 45% of the population as per the 2011 census. There have been deliberate attempts during the last decade to create enmity between the two communities and attract at least a section of Christians to the BJP. Unfortunately, some Christian leaders have been trapped by the communal ploys of the right-wing Hindutva organisations.

It seems that some Christian leaders of Kerala, including bishops and priests, have failed to assess the Hindutva right-wing organisations, their divisive, hate-filled and violent ideology and the disaster they are causing to India in terms of destroying democracy, pluralism, minority rights etc. It appears that they are unaware of the communal riots in which the Hindutva right-wing organisations played a major role: the 2002 Gujarat riots, the Kandhamal violence of 2018, the North East Delhi communal violence of 2008 and the Manipur violence in 2023. In all these riots, the majority of the victims were either Muslims or Christians. The book "Under Cover-My Journey into the Darkness of Hindutva" by Ashish Ketan exposes the brutal and inhuman crimes, including gang rape and murder of Muslim women, committed by the Hindutva fanatics.

How Christians and Muslims will be treated in a Hindu Rashtra is explicit in a statement by MS Golwalkar, the second sarsanghchalak of RSS, in his book, "We or Our Nationhood Defined". "The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no idea but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation and must lose their separate existence to merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen's rights". (M S Golwalkar, We or Our Nationhood Defined, quoted in Shashi Tharoor, "Why I am a Hindu" p. 151)

It appears that a few Christian leaders of Kerala who have become supporters of the BJP and the Hindutva organisations refuse to study their ideology and the violence unleashed by them on Muslims and Christians in India. It seems that they are reluctant to admit large-scale violence against Christians in Manipur despite the abundance of evidence.

No follower of Jesus can accept the ideology of hate and violence of the Hindutva organisations, including the BJP. The track record of these organisations, especially after the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, shows that they are literally implementing their ideology and converting India into a Hindu Rashtra as envisaged by VD Savarkar and MS Golwalkar. The ideology of the Hindutva organisations is diametrically opposed to the vision of Jesus, the Kingdom of God, a situation in which God is accepted as a loving father and all human beings as brothers and sisters with equal rights, opportunities and dignity. The ideologies of all religious extremists, including that of IS (Islamic State), are opposed to the vision and teachings of Jesus; hence, they are not acceptable to the followers of Jesus. How can the followers of Jesus, who is the epitome of forgiveness and reconciliation, indulge in spreading hatred? Christians who support an ideology that is totally opposed to the teachings of Jesus are betraying Jesus and their own community. In fact, they are selling their souls.

The vision of Hindutva organisations for India is diametrically opposed to the vision and values of the Indian Constitution. That is why a BJP MP from Karnataka, Anantkumar Hegde, said the BJP-led NDA should get 400 seats in the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections to change the constitution. This MP had said the same thing in 2017 when he was a union minister in the BJP government. He was duly given a ticket in the 2019 elections by the BJP. Do the Christian leaders from Kerala want the Indian Constitution to be replaced with a Hindutva one?

What could be the reasons for a section of Christians in Kerala becoming followers of Hindutva forces? As mentioned, they might have been trapped by the tricks played by the Hindutva organisations. The second reason seems to be the growth of fundamentalism in the three religions of Kerala: Hinduism, Islam and Christianity, as analysed by Dominique Sila-Khan in her book. The characteristics of fundamentalism in all religions are legalism, ritualism, dogmatism, pursuit of power, arrogance, and prejudice and hatred against other religions. Forgiveness, sensitivity, compassion, justice, and human dignity have no place in the scheme of the fundamentalists. That is why they indulge in spreading hatred, character assassination and brutal killing of human beings. In short, they are devoid of humanity. Fundamentalists can be graded as soft, vocal, hard, and extreme. The fundamentalists among the Kerala Christians could be at the soft and vocal stages. That is why they indulge mainly in hate speech and spreading hatred against the followers of other religions. Religious fundamentalists also align with right-wing political parties. Hence, it is quite natural for the fundamentalists among the Christians of Kerala to align with the BJP.

While delivering the Rameshan Memorial lecture on January 27, 2024, Parakala Prabhakar, a well-known economist and writer, warned the people of Kerala, "If not vigilant, Manipur can happen in Kerala too". At this critical juncture, the followers of Jesus have a crucial role to play.

Firstly, they should not only desist from hate speech and sending hate messages on social media platforms but also oppose any attempt to spread hatred against the followers of other religions. They should not parrot derogatory terminologies coined by the Hindu right-wing like "love jihad" and "narcotic jihad". Secondly, they should respect all religions without any prejudice. They should give up the pride and arrogance that they have all the truth and that other religions are inferior to them. Thirdly, they should become mediators, building bridges between communities by promoting love and harmony among the followers of different faiths. They have to bear in mind the words of Jesus, "Blessed are the peacemakers because they will be called sons of God".

The magnanimous act of the CSI church in Manjeri of Malappuram district opening its compound for Muslims for Eid prayer on April 10 2024, is an excellent example for other Churches in promoting interfaith harmony.

Finally, Christians must become practitioners and promoters of the core values of the Indian Constitution: Secular Democracy, Justice, Equality, Liberty, and Fraternity, which guarantee individual dignity and the unity of the nation.

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