T.K. Thomas
T.K. Thomas

State, Party and The Church.!

T.K Thomas

First of all, one is inclined to say that an overwhelming media people in this country are blissfully ignorant about what Indian Christianity is. They take it for granted that all Christians in India belong to the Catholic Church. Of course Catholics form a majority of Indian Christians. There are millions of others belonging to the two factions of the Orthodox Church, Mar Thoma Church, Church of South India, Church of North India, Evangelical and Pentecostal Churches etc. Though all of them believe in the divinity of Christ as their God or spiritual father there are major differences between them. Even the Catholic Church has Rites like Roman, Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro – Malankara. However all these rites have one supreme head- the Pope in Vatican or Rome. The other denominations do not consider the Pope as their supreme spiritual leader though they may respect him as the spiritual head of the largest church in the world.

A major national news magazine carried a story with a banner headline referring to the “Box”, meaning the Confession Box. The story was about allegations of sexual misconduct by a few Orthodox priests and had references to Confession. The magazine used the object called a Confession Box where a priest sits in a box not visible to the faithful confessor. However the journalists doing the story did not know that there is no confession box in the Orthodox Churches! It is conducted in front of the altar visible to whoever is in the church, but may not be audible to them.

Public perception essentially created by the Hindi and other language films, more often, portray a Mumbai Catholic Church with icons and idols of Jesus, Mary and innumerable saints and non Christians take that as a model without realizing that such idols are not there in any of the other churches.

Liturgy and worshipping practices vary from one church denomination to the other. But most people beyond the Vindhyas perceive Christianity in India as essentially Western and of course Catholic. Similarly, besides priests, there are also nuns, but only in Catholic and Orthodox churches. The traditional churches in Kerala strongly deny the western origin of Christianity in India and proclaim that it was one of the disciples of Christ, Apostle Thomas who established the church in India in AD 52.

Coming to the present case, it is indeed sad that a nun complained of rape by the bishop over a dozen times for two consecutive years were raised after a while but her complaints allegedly went unheeded by the church authorities. The general perception is that there was an attempt to suppress the matter. Kerala police accused of dilly dallying the investigation point out this delay by the church authorities to be one of the reasons to see some merit in the complaint. Had timely action been taken by the church hierarchy the matter would not have taken such an ugly turn of street protests. Of course the allegations are very grave and cannot be brushed aside. The victim obviously needs justice and if proved guilty the high priest definitely deserves to be punished.

Both the aggrieved and the accused are ordained by the Church. A Christian cleric who does not want to be identified points out that both being members of the church hierarchy, failed to follow the Bible. It may sound sermonizing but what he quotes from St. Mathew 18:15-18 is a solution Jesus had offered for resolving interpersonal problems; “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. If the church decides you are right, but the other person won’t accept it, treat that person a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.” The cleric further added that one needs to be patient; you can’t get a solution overnight. Over the demand for arrest of the bishop, the Kerala High court reminded the aggrieved to be patient. Well, when one is in a combative mood with support from activists, patience cannot be expected. Quoting again from St. Paul the cleric said, ”When you have something against another Christian, why do you file a lawsuit and ask a secular court to decide the matter, instead of taking it to other Christians to decide who is right?”

Last week someone sent a message by Swami Brahmananda Teertha warning the Christian community in Kerala of divisive forces, especially the media. Swamiji compared the media to vultures waiting to devour carcasses. Referring to the agitation in the Jallandhar Bishop episode he said at least Christians need to keep away from the media onslaught or else the result will be disastrous. Without going into details of Swami ji’s ‘warning’, one is inclined to agree with him on the type of coverage of the event.

The Malayalam news channels had proved their social responsibility and commitment to people during the devastating floods in August. They deviated from their routine and identified with the suffering people and became part of rescue and relief operations. Many of the media people worked at the risk of their lives and their coverage will be remembered always.

However, even before the floods receded and a few thousands still in camps, old habits returned. The coverage in most of the channels was done with, people say, preconceived notions. They had taken for granted that the aggrieved was the victim who was repeatedly raped for two years; no one had any doubt about this. Was it coverage or a campaign? It definitely was a campaign to project their point of view and declare unambiguously that the bishop was a rapist. One wonders how they could decide even before preliminary investigations were completed. For days together, day in and day out, it was like an obsession as if nothing else was happening in the state or the country. The police were investigating and the Kerala High Court had appreciated the work of the police. Yet most of the channels went on getting views and opinions from like minded activists who went on demanding the arrest of the accused; for them it was an unequal battle between the powerful bishop and his powerful supporters. It seemed, any opposing point of view was simply avoided by most of the major Malayalam news channels. For over three days they flashed ‘Breaking News’- That the bishop will be arrested just then!

As one concludes this piece, there seems to be a twist in the ‘tale’! Political powers that be, decide the course of alleged ‘rape’ investigations in their own party. There is a parallel investigation in Kerala with the Bishop’s case of that of a CPI[M] legislator from the Shornur Assembly constituency in north Kerala. But there is a marked difference between the way the Bishop’s investigation and that of the MLA’s. As the police visited the nun who is the victim following a police complaint, a First Information Report was filed. This led to protracted investigations in many districts of Kerala and elsewhere. The aggrieved nuns wanted an immediate arrest and the police took their own sweet time. The nuns lost their patience and went on a public protest near the Kerala High Court with a typically Malayali Samara [agitation ] Pandal which attracted fellow Christians, activists of different colours, clergy of few other denominations or self styled community leaders, Human Rights experts and a host of others from across the political spectrum. Finally the inevitable happened and one fine evening the Bishop was arrested and the rest is now known to everyone.

One has detailed the above sequences to compare this ‘Rape’ case with another one. The person facing the charge is P K Sasi, MLA of the ruling party from Shornur and the complainant is a CPM worker. The victim being a faithful CPM worker did not file a police complaint. Instead she simply complained to the party hierarchy and after considerable vacillation the party finally decided to take up the matter. It is rumored that it was due to internal party schism that the General Secretary finally acknowledged the receipt of the complaint and the process of party ‘investigation’ set on motion. No need for cumbersome judicial and police investigations but comrades will decide whether the accused is guilty or not and once a decision is arrived at ‘the quantum of punishment’ or otherwise may be decided! The party discipline is so strong that the CPM youth leader goes to the party hierarchy with her complaint and does not go to the police.

One would raise a few questions. Why the left parties, always conscious of justice, probity and human rights who engage in street protests at the drop of a hat when others are involved, did not demand a legal judicial process and instead left it to the party leadership? Is this a double standard? Aren’t the CPM cadres more disciplined than ordained Christians? Did the parties in the nun’s case-members of the Church or the Church leadership ever follow Christian / spiritual discipline and tenets or seek ecclesiastical intervention to settle the problem expeditiously?