Kerala: How this protest of nuns became a symbol of struggle of women, men
The protest of some nuns against the communal remarks of a bishop of a powerful Christian organization in Kerala is getting more support than criticism. Now this demonstration has become a symbol of the struggle between women and men associated with that church.
Never before in history, religious women in this church have been seen protesting and boycotting the mass sermon on Sunday. This boycott happened after a debate on the advice of the bishop. The bishop had advised that Christians should not trade with people of other religions.
Last week, Bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangat of the Palai unit of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, a Catholic organization, used the term “narcotics jihad” as a synonym for “love jihad” in one of his religious sermons. However, these bishops went a step further in their advice to the congregation of nuns at St. Francis Convent.
Sister Anupama told BBC Hindi, “We asked him to stop blaming the entire Muslim community for the crimes of some people. Such people exist in every religion. During the sermon, he said you should not eat biryani from Muslim hotels. Or should not go to the shops of Muslims or travel by autorickshaw of Muslims.
Sister Anupama said, “We told them that we are students and we didn’t have any problem with Muslims traveling in autorickshaws or or even with the policemen deployed to protect us. But, Bishop on his Narcotics Jihad and other statements. Remain adamant. His statement is also against the opinion of the Pope.
Sister Anupama, Sister Elfie, Sister Ankitta and Sister Josephine led a historic protest in September 2018. He protested against the reinstatement of a bishop-rank priest who was accused of raping a nun.
- breaking point
Both these protests are in place, but it shows how changes are taking place within the church. These women belonging to religion are opposing the dominance of the priests in many ways. A nun said that whether it was a case of sexual harassment, or deceit and treatment of nuns as ‘second-class citizens’, these women were not shying away from protesting.
Senior Supreme Court advocate Rebecca Memon-John told BBC Hindi, “All structural religious institutions and practices are essentially patriarchal and oppressive. Women are at the very end of the system. There have been complaints of sexual harassment happening, sometimes even more than sexual harassment. Bishop Mulakkal is proof of this.”
As Rebecca John, a lawyer and feminist, said, “It’s the fact that the convent doesn’t allow them to voice their grievances, and when they do they are thrown out of the church. I think every such institutions I have a breaking point. And what you are seeing is a reflection of that breaking point.”
However, Rebecca John says that she is ‘proud’ that these sisters of the church raised the issue on this issue. She says these sisters said, “The Church needs to tell the bishops and Muslims that they are not representative of Christians and what they said was fundamentalism and they need to be fired.”
Kochurani Abraham, a Christian scholar and former sister, told BBC Hindi, “Despite 45,000 nuns in Kerala alone, most nuns do not oppose anyone. The point is that women’s voices should be heard in the church.”
- dealing with nuns in church
Kochurani Abraham says that a study has shown that the voice of religious women is not heard in the church. It was done by the women’s faction of the Conference of Religious of India (CRI). The study was done because two publications, the Vatican and Matters India, complained that women were ‘treated like servants’ in the church.
Sister Noella D’Souza of the Missionaries of Christ Jesus told BBC Hindi from Mumbai, “We found that even though the educational institution was a church-funded institution, the religious women associated with it were paid very little. They were respected for their work. They never got any respect in the seminary. The clergy always give orders to them. They are treated like second class citizens.”
He said that the study revealed that “nuns are abused and humiliated. They are constantly humiliated by the clergy. In the field of education or development of a village, nuns are at the forefront. But, the priests doesn’t like nuns being applauded by senior church officials.”
- big problems
But, the biggest problem facing the nuns right now is that the clergy are taking away the land which was originally given to them for education or development work.
Sister Noella D’Souza says about this, “The land was given as a compromise. But now we are seeing that the sisters are at the mercy of the church.”
A land dispute between nuns and priests went up to the Supreme Court. At the same time, the parts related to this dispute are still being fought in the courts of Kerala.
Sister Annie Jase of Nyarakal’s Little Flower School in Ernakulam told BBC Hindi, “The land is the weakness of the Church. Two of our schools, Little Flower School (Kerala Board) and St. Joseph’s Public School (CBSE) run on three acres of land of 69 cents. Right now, efforts are on to capture it. After all the controversies, our senior officials want to give a part of the land to the bishop.”
John Kavier, editor of ‘Matters India’, said, “If the nuns give land to the Arch Diocese, it will be a bad example. It is bound to have an impact at the national level. Similar cases are happening in other parts of the country as well. The bishops will take over all those lands. Nuns are groomed to be obedient and submissive, and the patriarchal church can easily take advantage of them.”
There is a general perception in Kerala’s church and political circles regarding land-related matters that some religious leaders of the church are ready to mingle with the BJP.
Pala Bishop Joseph Kallarangat’s remarks about ‘narcotics jihad’ became a major controversy in Kerala, as Muslims constitute 26 per cent of its population and Christians 18 per cent. Bishop’s statements made the BJP happy, as it is the beginning of the splitting of the Congress vote bank. The CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) sees the controversy as an opportunity to grab the Congress vote bank.
Given these views within the Church, it would be wrong to assume that every nun would think of herself as a sister of St. Francis’ Convent.
To this Rebecca Memon John said, “But this is a start. And we need to respect that daring start. She has more than Sister Lucy Kalappura (who was sacked for opposing Bishop Mulakkal)” That’s a lot. So, they took the risk and decided to speak out against the clergy that they don’t represent us or our faith. What they did is really a big deal.”
However, despite our best efforts, we could not get any response from the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC) on this protest by the nuns of Kottayam.
This statement of the bishop has become a big controversy in Kerala as there are 26 percent Muslims and 18 percent Christians in Kerala.
BJP is very happy with Bishop’s statement as BJP feels it is the beginning of split among Congress voters. The ruling LDF, led by the CPM, also feels this is an opportunity to alienate Congress voters.
At the same time, Kerala Chief Minister Vijayan has made it clear that no case will be registered against the bishop’s statement.
According to the Chief Minister, the bishop has said that he had no intention of creating differences between Muslims and Christians and that his aim was only to warn the followers of Christianity about the method to be adopted by some people.
Defending the bishop, Vijayan said, “The term narcotics jihad was actually used for drugs and criminal activities related to it. However, it is wrong to associate the drug trade with any one religion.”
The Chief Minister also said that religious leaders should take special care that those who want to divide the society for their political gains should not get a chance to distort the words of religious leaders.
The Chief Minister’s statement in favor of the bishop is very important as the state police has sought legal advice to act on the complaint against the bishop.