Friday, March 21, 2014

Caste (and sect) of dead people?

A good question indeed. Samuel Kuruvilla tries to explain the dilemma faced by the fishermen community of Kerala. He is also clear minded about the playbook followed by the Italians and wants justice for the dead. It is after all not that complicated at all.

(This article was posted back in 2012. In Feb 2014, two years after the incident, it is reported that the families of the dead fishermen have decided to forgive the murderers. It is possible that social pressure was instrumental in this decision making where blood money will help pay for freedom. Perhaps some one should determine the extent of appreciation in value of (thirty pieces of) silver over a period of 2000 years.

The Italians are actively pursuing the Church angle, given historic Italian and Vatican linkages with the Latin and Roman Catholic Churches in Kerala.  

Kerala is practically the only State in India that has a plethora of autonomous Catholic rites predominantly composed of members of one particular community or caste. While the Syrian Christians are represented by two autonomous churches under the suzerainty of Rome, the Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankar, the ‘new’ converted Christians in the Catholic fold are represented by the Latin Catholic Church that functions under the direct authority of the See of Rome. It is to this Church that both the dead fishermen belong to and this Church was mentored, developed and governed till around over half-a-decade ago by the Italian Bishops only.

However, the Catholic Church in Kerala has been forced to keep out of the controversy given the serious nature of the issue as well as the competing jurisdictions of three different Catholic rites in Kerala, each with a different heritage while all owing ultimate allegiance to the See of Rome.  

Caste politics has also played a role in this issue, with the dominant Catholic rite in Kerala being predominantly composed of the upper-caste Syrian Christians, while the ‘Latin’ Catholic Church in Kerala was predominantly composed of people from the ‘oppressed’ classes of Kerala that had converted to Christianity to escape the rigid Kerala caste system over the last couple of centuries. 

In fact when the recently crowned ‘Cardinal’ of the Syrian Catholic Church, Mar George Alenchery, who happened to be in Rome attending his Cardinal investiture ceremony, when the incident took place in Kerala, offered his good offices as a mediator between the Italians-Vatican and the fisherman community in Kerala, there was an immediate backlash with the Latin Catholic Church asking the Syrian Bishop to keep his hands off the issue which concerned their own flock and not his. 

Given the sensitivities of the people and particularly that of the ‘Mukuva’ community to which both the fishermen belonged too, there is a limit beyond which the Church cannot and will not go, at the risk of being branded anti-national and agents of a foreign power.

The Chief Minister, himself an upper-caste Syrian Christian, has gone on record as stating that the two erring Italian servicemen need expect no leniency from the courts.

The whole issue, other than the immense tragedy that the loss of two young working men’s lives has meant to their respective families as well as to the state, both the Centre as well as Kerala, that saw a foreign power commit coldblooded, albeit possibly not premeditated, murder at our own doorstep, has highlighted the extent to which the Western powers and in particular the Western ‘Christian’ powers are prepared to use old colonial ‘religious’ linkages for their present convenience and benefit, as and when the opportunity arises for them to do so. 

If this wanton act of aggression against our nationals on our own coastline and well within our exclusive economic zone is not punished as befitting our present power and status, other nations will also be tempted to repeat the same along our coasts in the name of combating piracy or even worse.  

The law must be allowed take its course as regards the two Italian servicemen who killed our citizens along the coast of Kerala on the night of February 15, 2012.

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