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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Is Catholic Church Stoking Alienation Among Fisherfolk Using Cyclone Ockhi Tragedy?

Families are grieving, political parties are busy with blame games, media is scavenging on the dead and troubled for TRPs, but the church is as vigilant as ever in the aftermath of Cyclone Ockhi that recently hit parts of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. It is a well known fact that the church never hesitates to play its secular game whenever possible to seed uncertainty about the ability of the government and its agencies in its parishioners’ minds.

We have seen multiple examples of vulnerable people being exploited by the church and its missionaries by making them mistrust the establishment and be dependent upon the church administration too much. However it was visible only to the eyes of the discerning. Now it’s been put out in the open by none other than one of its own parishioners.

A FB post titled “Betrayal of fishermen by Catholicism” explains how the church and its priests wield power over its parishioners. The post talks about how until 2000, villages in Souther TN were administered by local village committees/bodies. However, after 2000 the Catholic Church established entities called ‘Anbiyam’ (translator’s note: Organizations of Love; meaning: Basic Christian Community).

The post says that in non-coastal villages, these Anbiyams used to serve as a religious bridge between the laity and the Church; they cannot administer/govern the village or take political decisions. However, these Anbiyams are the ‘addresses’ of coastal villages (i.e. their very definition) – if anyone (inlcuding the Government) wants to approach the village, it had to be done through these Anbiyams.

Anbiyams collect thousands of rupees from the poor fisherfolk, and the Catholic Church implements its political decisions through them. Ver importantly, these Anbiyams have effectively prevented the birth of independent leadership in such villages. The Anbiyams can be a mediator between villagers and Government, but when tragedy strikes and the fishermen suffer, they maintain a strange silence, being the handmaiden of the Church.

The post accuses the Church priests of maintaining a stoic silence when asked for a list of the missing or dead fishermen due to the cyclone. It asks what the Anbiyams, the defacto governing structures in these villages, are doing?  To make matters worse, the Church is celebrating St. Xavier’s festival in those villages where fishermen are missing/dead. The post adds, “Are Anbiyams established only to collect money from the poor fishermen? The people cannot be deceived for long. You will learn a lesson soon.”

It appears that these Anbiyams arez Basic Christian Communities that were established post the community outreach mandate of the Second Vatican council – they were first implemented in Italy & S. America. A Parish has ~30 such groups. Each group has ~40 families. Thus, it is a strategy to enmesh everyone & control their activities in the ‘secular’ world. The 2nd Vatican Council was instrumental in defining the role of Church-men in the secular world.

Imagine how many people a parish priest has his hold on through this set up?

It is debatable whether Church’s hold over its parishioners is limited just to coastal villages of Southern TN as the above FB post alludes –  the TN Bishops council openly backed the DMK-Congress alliance during the last TN Assembly elections, and an Archbishop in Gujarat recently sent out letters asking people to elect secular parties and defeat nationalist forces in the ongoing Gujarat elections.

The church has been utilising this power over its people to express its displeasure over developmental projects like Kudankulam nuclear power project, Enayam and Vizhinjam port projects. Protests against Sagarmala scheme can be expected in the future. It must be noted that just recently fishermen of Colachal and the surrounding villages blocked transportation towards Enayam while supporting the Kuzhithurai protests for missing fishermen.

The Church’s not so visible hand in assembling a huge number of people was seen in Jallikattu protests. It has once again shown its strength by stirring up the emotions of fisherfolk to propagate its “Christians are persecuted” slogan in the international forum and “Tamils are neglected” slogan in the national forum.

The fishermen who took refuge in other states like Gujarat and Maharashtra were provided as much facilities as the local administration could muster. RSS also reached out to them with food supplies and other necessities despite the language barrier. But some of the Tamil media like Puthia Thalaimurai indulged in vilifying the Government. That Puthia Thalaimurai’s CEO was one of the speakers in a seminar, ‘Media for Social Change’ organised by Don Bosco (Salesian order) may or may not have anything to do with the way his channel has reported this news.

While Tamil media and the Church influenced protesters have been saying that Kerala CM Mr. Pinarayi Vijayan led the best rescue operation, and have asked for Kanyakumari to be merged with Kerala, the same Church has been accusing the Kerala government of laxity in rescue operations and an ill thought out rehabilitation package.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted after visiting one of the worst affected fishing hamlets Poonthura that the relief promised by the Kerala state government didn’t reach the victims.

When Mr.Vijayan went to visit Vizhinjam to express his solidarity with the victims, he was heckled by the fishermen so much so that he had to leave in one of his ministers’ car. At Poonthura, two of his ministers also faced the wrath of protesters who were pacified and assured by the defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman. It must be noticed that both these meetings were held in churches.

The protesters alleged that the Kerala government failed to issue proper warnings about the cyclone. Even Oommen Chandy, the former Congress CM faced the ire of Chellanam villagers who refused to permit the Congress leaders to address the agitating crowd. Later, he met a group of representatives to know their demands.

To top it all, relatives of Tuticorin fishermen whose bodies washed ashore in Kerala accused the Malayalis and Kerala police of claiming the bodies as their own for the monetary compensation given by Kerala government.

While the Church priests of Kerala and state ministers have been all praise for the Navy, Coast Guard and Indian Airforce for their rescue efforts led by the Defence Minister, TN priests accuse the forces of not showing enough interest in the search ops.

It is sad and angering that Mr.Tharoor also tried to besmirch the name of our forces. He tweeted that the villagers are angry with the Navy for not picking up bodies citing lack of freezers on board. It was immediately rubbished by the Spokesperson of Navy who replied that they never refused anyone and that the state administration is in the process of acquiring mobile mortuaries.

A group of fishermen who went along with the Navy personnel for the search operation explained how well they were treated and smashed the accusations piled upon our forces by the church, misguided fishermen and other political parties. They say that the officers shared both their food and the table with them. Even though they were instructed to search only up to 50 nautical miles, they extended the search for another 100 n. miles and an extra 100 miles were radar scanned only to find a single Sri Lankan boat. They deny that they were mistreated.

In fact, it was a revelation to them as they used to run for their lives whenever they spotted Navy or Coast Guard ships fearing that they’d beat them up. Now they discovered how friendly and helpful the forces are. Concerted efforts have been made to turn the public against our forces and other agencies through fake claims like fishermen were shot by the Coast Guard for not speaking Hindi.

Coming back to the attempts made by the church to create a bad impression of the Government at every available opportunity, here are some takeaways from the recent protests.

(i) Protesters were gathered by sounding the church bells

(ii) All the catholic Church priests managing the churches in coastal areas extended their full support and the protest was organised by them

(iii) Members of political parties were prevented from mixing with people

(iv) Vicar general of Thiruvananthapuram Archdiocese threatened that church would ask the fishermen to launch a massive strike if the state government continues its apathy

(v) Fishermen who took refuge in Devgad port, Maharashtra had to wait for the arrival of a Malayali priest to end the communication deadlock between them and the local administration and notify the families of their well-being

(vi) The Roman Catholic church has demanded that the rehabilitation package be re-evaluated and prepared after holding discussions with ‘responsible people’

(vii) State ministers visit Thiruvananthapuram Bishop’s house to pacify church. Union minister visits Kottar Bishop to brief and assure of help.

It is one thing for political parties to be apathetic towards the public and accuse each other in one state, but be friends in another state. Why is the Church lauding the efforts of the Union ministers and berating the LDF government in Kerala, but doing just the opposite in Tamil Nadu?

Where do the Church priests’ loyalties lie? The democratic government they elect in Bharat or the absolute monarchy of the State of Vatican City?

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