Various denominations of the Christian church organised a prayer meeting and a protest meeting in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday March 15th against the alleged persecution of the church by the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala.
They maintained that the government was making concealed attempts to destroy the unity of the church and distance believers from the clergy.
Thiruvananthapuram Archbishop Susaipakiam, who addressed the protest meeting, said the church was being persecuted indirectly. Cases had been filed against church-owned colleges, he said. The Archbishop said that believers should vote for those who respected the Constitutional provisions and pray for an end of the persecution.
Speakers at the meeting referred to various measures of the Education Department, including the controversial textbook prescribed for seventh standard.
The programme was jointly organised by the Catholic Church, the Church of South India, the Orthodox Church, and the Jerusalem Mar Thoma Church.
There was allegation that the Government had pushed the state’s education sector into a crisis. It took exception to the reported proposals to hand over the control of schools to local bodies, stop prayers, remove religious figures from schools, and make teachers attend training classes on Sundays.
Things had been hurtling towards a flash point since Andrews Thazhathu, Archbishop of Thrissur, threatened to launch a “second liberation struggle” to free the church schools from the hands of the “authoritarian political leadership”.
Church versus the Left
The battle between the Left Front and the Church dates back to the first Left Government in the State in 1957. Kerala had a large number of schools and Colleges run by the Church. As they were the only educational institution available in many remote areas the Government before and after independence used to give working aid to the schools and Colleges.Many other caste and religious organisations like the Nair Service Society also were running such Aided Institutions.
Even though a big part of funding including the salary of the teachers were from the tax payers money, Government never had any control over the administration.Huge amount was taken as bribe by the management for appointing not so qualified teachers.
The Left Government with the learned academician Joseph Mundasserry as the Education Minister tried to get some Government control over the appointment of teachers in Aided Schools.
The infamous vimochana samaram ["liberation struggle"] organised by the Church and Nair Service Society and supported by the Congress and Muslim League in 1959 was against this step by the EMS Ministry. Citing poor Law and Order situation Nehru dismissed the Left Government.This was the first time the article 356 of the Constitution was used to dismiss an elected State Government.
Since then no Left Front Government was brave enough to touch the issue.Since all communal organisations belonging to all religions were together in siphoning off tax payers money no real protest was raised.
The current Left Front Government with a record majority in the Assembly is again trying to put these institutions under some Government control. The Government was also trying to get some public control in to the money-making self financing College Industry.This is being opposed strongly by the Church and other communal organisations.
This allegation of 'persecution' by the current Church leaders is because of their fear of huge economic lose if the Government had some say in the administration of such Institutions.
Church and Lok Sabha elections
There were also brazen attempts by the Church to influence the selection of Congress Candidates from some constituencies in Kerala.A letter reportedly sent by the Varappuzha Archbishop to Congress president Sonia Gandhi recommending Hibi Eden for the Ernakulam Lok Sabha seat has stirred up a wave of protest in the political class as well as church circles.
Sebastian Paul, current MP has termed the Archbishop’s recommendation as “inappropriate and unbecoming of his office.”
“It’s an affront on Kerala’s tradition of democracy and secularism,” Mr. Paul said. “The Archbishop has clearly strayed from his spiritual role by asking a political party boss to field a specific person as the candidate.”
Some days ago the Thrissur Archbishop had come out openly supporting Tom Vadakan's candidature from Thrissur.
A sane voice
Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church, has said that it was not right for the Thrissur archbishop to call for the candidature of Tom Vadakkan in Thrissur in the coming Lok Sabha elections.
Asked for his response to the issue of the church backing Mr. Vadakkan in Thrissur, he said that though he had nothing against Mr. Vadakkan it was not right for the archbishop to support his candidature and ask people to vote for him. “It is a decision for the people to make” .
Such voices of sanity are rare from the Christian clergy of Kerala, some of whom had openly supported and prayed for the accused clergymen in Sister Abhaya murder case.