The southern Indian state of Kerala is known for its religious harmony and co-existence between the three major religions, the Hinduism, Islam and Christianity.
Even when many parts of the rest of the country regularly experience communal tensions perpetuated by Hindu fascist forces against minority Muslims, Kerala tells a different story of unity.
Kerala is also one of the few states in India where the Hindu nationalists Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the political wing of the Hindu extremist outfit Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), fails to gain foothold.
In Kerala’s more than 60 years of political history, the BJP has won only one seat in the State Assembly elections. Their only gain in the 140 seat House in 2016 polls was attributed to the failure of secular parties to form a common strategy against communal politics.
In the 2021 elections, the BJP couldn’t retain that single seat even after playing hardcore communal cards like ‘love jihad’, a derogatory term coined by exponents of Hindutva targeting Muslims, for more than a decade.
‘Love jihad’ is a fallacious concept alleging Muslim men of luring, seducing and trapping Hindu girls by pretending to be in love with them and converting them to Islam in order to get married.
The Christian community and some newspapers in Kerala have echoed these allegations and have constantly been using the term for their vested interests.
However, the government of India — led by the BJP — has denied in the parliament in February 2019 that anything called ‘love jihad’ exists. India’s apex court also dismissed the allegation in a verdict in March 2018 as false and fabricated.
Still, several BJP leaders including the country’s Interior Minister Amit Shah and many Christian clerics and Hindu leaders have been using this false narrative to target Muslims.
Now, a new controversy has erupted in Kerala with a Catholic bishop alleging Muslims of waging ‘narcotic jihad,’ another derogatory term, against non-Muslims to forcibly convert them from their religion.
While addressing a congregation at a church in Kuruvilangad in Kottayam district, the Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangatt of the Syro Malabar Church, has alleged that extremists were trying to “end non-Muslims” by using tactics like ‘love jihad’ and ‘narcotic jihad’, a new terminology targeting the Muslim community as a whole.
He also said that ‘jihadists had resorted to insidious, non-violent means to convert Christians and youth from other religions forcibly’.
“They've realized that in a nation like India, taking up weapons and destroying others isn't easy; they're using other means. Their aim is to promote their religion and end non-Muslims. They use 'love jihad' and 'narcotic jihad',” said the Bishop.
The bishop further claimed that extremists were trying to sow the seeds of religious disharmony, and intolerance to destroy other religions. They are targeting women belonging to other faiths for economic gains and using ‘love jihad’ as a ‘war strategy’ to achieve their ends, he charged.
The Kerala unit of the BJP came first to fish in the troubled waters as its leaders visited the Bishop and conveyed their unconditional support. Party leader George Kurian, himself a Christian, wrote a letter to the Home Minister Amit Shah urging the federal government to ‘protect the cleric’ who had made the controversial 'love and narcotic jihad' remark.
George Kurian’s letter said: “I draw your kind attention to the allegations made by Roman Catholic Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangatt regarding various kinds of jihad being waged by Islamist elements to entrap non-Muslim youths.
He added: According to the Bishop, jihadi terrorists in the state are ‘resorting to not just love jihad but narcotic jihad as well to trap Hindu and Christian girls’. This has given rise to fear among non-Muslim communities in the state.”
After the Bishop made headlines by claiming that ‘narcotic jihad’ was at work in the state, four Christian nuns from Kottayam have staged a walk-out from the Sunday mass after another priest called for a ‘boycott’ of Muslims.
Not all the Christian clergy support the controversial statement of the Bishop. Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, the Metropolitan of the Niranam Diocese of the Jacobite Syriac Orthodox Church, in Kerala, has a message for his Catholic counterpart.
In an interview with the online media The Quint, he said: "In Kerala...no religious community is under any serious threat, let alone Christianity." The state, over the years, has maintained its secular foundations intact.
Coorilos, however, thinks that Bishop’s statement should be withdrawn. "Pulpits should not be used for polemics," he said.
Jihad is an Arabic word which literally means striving or struggling with a spiritual goal to cleanse the soul. Attributing jihad with love marriage and narcotics has no base and rather a misleading and false notion.
Also, Islam bars forcible conversion. An oft-quoted Qur'anic verse (2:256) declares "There is no compulsion in religion, the right direction is clearly distinguished from the wrong."It is a fact that narcotics don't have the colour of religion and its colour is anti-social. Besides, Islam forbids all types of intoxicants because of their inebriant repercussions, as well as their physical-mental adverse effects on individuals and communities.
Using narcotics to convert people to Islam is therefore unsubstantiated and without any base. The Bishop, an influential religious scholar, has offered no material evidence to support his theory.
The fact is that a significant chunk of conversions took place from Christianity to Hinduism and not Islam, as alleged by the Church leaders.
According to the official Kerala Gazette, more people have converted from Christianity to Hinduism, not to Islam, in the state between January 2021 and September 2021. The data shows 116 Christians converted to the Hindu religion while only 45 embraced Islam in this period.
The BJP and the vast network of affiliate organizations, collectively known as the Sangh Parivar, have over the years created fear among India’s minorities, especially the Muslims. Mob attacks and lynching of Muslims are almost a daily event under Narendra Modi government.
Even Christians are not spared. When Kerala’s Christians were hobnobbing with the Sangh Parivar over ‘narcotic jihad’ allegations, their brothers in Udupi in the neighbouring Karnataka state were attacked and their prayer hall was destroyed by the Hindu outfit Bajrangdal.
The Bishop’s remark is being viewed as a well-trenched ‘covert and overt’ bid to destroy communal amity. The move by Kerala’s Christian clergy to ally with Hindutva forces will only help the fascists to foment communal divisions that ultimately will backfire.
P.K.Niaz is a Senior Editor of The Peninsula Newspaper, Doha, QATAR. He can be reached at [email protected]