MUMBAI, India – Police in the Indian state of Kerala are investigating a charge against Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt of Pala for promoting feelings of hatred and creating rift in the society after he accused some in the Muslim community of engaging in “love and narcotic jihad.”
In September, the bishop accused Muslims of targeting Christians for romance in order to convert them. He also claimed Muslim drug dealers were seeking to destroy the lives of non-Muslims through the use and sale of narcotics.
The Magistrate Court in Pala directed the police to investigate and report on the basis of a complaint by a leader of All India Imams Council that Kallarangatt had committed the criminal offence of promoting feelings of hatred between different groups on the grounds of religion.
Christians make up nearly 20 percent of Kerala’s population – they are only 2.3 percent of India’s population as whole – and the state is considered a center of Christianity in India. However, Muslims make just over a quarter of the population, and Hindu politicians have recently made “love jihad” a political issue.
Several states in India have passed laws effectively banning interfaith marriage after a campaign by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party against “love jihad,” where Hindu hardline groups accuse Muslim men of converting Hindu women by marriage.
Although such laws are also used to prevent Christians from entering interfaith marriages, many Catholic leaders have been sympathetic to the complaints about Muslim men targeting non-Muslim women.
Cardinal George Alencherry, the head of the Kerala-based Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, convoked a commission into interfaith marriage last year.
Father Paul Thelakat, the former Spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church and chief editor of Light of Truth magazine, said the Syro-Malabar Church leadership has “created an unhealthy atmosphere” in the relationship with the Muslim community.
The Syro-Malabar Church is an Eastern Church in communion with the pope. It issued a statement condemning “love jihad”, while the Latin Rite Church and the eastern Syro-Malankara Church haven’t commented on the issue.
“There is nothing wrong to point out the evils in the society but when you do that with respect to a religion you have your duty as citizen and above all as a Catholic bishop to follow a language of mutual respect of dialogue,” he told Crux.
Thelakat also questioned the political overtones of the “love jihad” controversy, since it has been mainly supported by the BJP party, which has very little influence in the state. In fact, the BJP is one of the few political parties to come to the defense of the bishop.
“The language the bishop used and the statement itself was condemned by the ruling Marxist party [which leads the state government in Kerala] and well as the Congress party [which leads the opposition coalition.] It is the BJP who supports [Kallarangatt],” the priest said. “Why he aligned himself with a party?”
“Even after knowing the Muslims were offended he could have settled the issue talking to the Muslim leadership. That was done by the bishop of Thamarassery diocese and settled a similar issue there. Why are some bishops of the Syro-Malabar church aligning themselves with the Hindutuva [Hindu nationalists] in their hate campaign against the Muslims?” Thelakat asked.
The BJP is usually seen as hostile to minority religions – especially Islam and Christianity – and religious minorities have complained about increased harassment and discrimination since the party took over the national government in India in 2014.
However, the party has made entreaties to the Christian community in areas where they have a significant population, such as the former Portuguese colony of Goa, where the BJP is the ruling with Catholics having served as BJP elected officials.
Many observers think that Modi’s meeting with Pope Francis on Oct. 30, where he invited the pontiff to visit India, was made in view of the upcoming state elections in Goa and Manipur, where Christians make up over 40 percent of the population.
“The challenge for the BJP will be to demonstrate that it has the interests of the Christians at heart. We will have to see the other measures the BJP puts in place to woo the Christian community,” political scientist Nilanjan Sircar told the Times of India.
However, Thelakat doesn’t think the Church should allow itself to be used as a political tool used to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims in Kerala.
“It is a fact that there is communal spite between Muslims and Catholics in certain parts of Kerala. It is from these areas we hear the term love jihad often,” the priest told Crux.
“The bishops should have made a study of the issue and must seek what is hidden behind the use of the term ‘Love-jihad’ – something both the state government as well as the central government has denied as an organized affair,” he said.
The priest suggests the real complaint seems be to against love affairs and interreligious marriages.
“Then the decision of the girl who has come of age is final. The church should introspect before accusing others,” he said.
“Is the spite between Muslims and Christians founded on socio-economic factors? The Synod of bishops should have been more enlightened before issuing a statement on love jihad when the government is denying it. We should not be blind that love-jihad is an accusative term widely used against Muslims in the [BJP-dominated] northern states of India,” the priest said.