Poisoned Cultural Discourse in Kerala: The Bishop and ‘Narco Jihad’

A few days ago, a Kerala Catholic Bishop proclaimed during his sermon that non-Muslims in the state are the targets of organised ‘narcotic jihad’ and ‘love jihad’.

The term ‘love jihad’ has been tossed around in the cultural and political discourse for some time now. The bigoted communal campaign has had far-reaching and real consequences for many couples across the country. The Synod of Catholic bishops in Kerala had also called it a threat to the Catholic community in Kerala.

But the term “narcotic jihad” seems to be Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt’s unique contribution to the poisoned cultural discourse in Kerala – as if there was not enough poison in the discourse already. To end his sermon, His Eminence paternalistically gave the Catholic congregation a most non-Christian list of suggestions about being careful when it comes to befriending people of other communities.

“The narcotic jihad is the activity of spoiling the life of non-Muslims, particularly youths, by making them addicted to drugs. Various types of drugs are being used in ice-cream parlours, hotels and juice corners run by hardcore jihadis. They are using various types of drugs as a weapon to spoil non-Muslims.”

These statements by the bishop are factually incorrect, morally wrong and very dangerous.

Over recent years, there have been many allegations swirling about of a supposed organised attempt by Muslim men to seduce and marry women of other religions just to convert them to Islam. The political motivations behind such accusations have been clear from day one. Despite a plethora of such allegations, investigation agencies have not been able to uncover any such plot. More so, even the Supreme Court and various high courts have found these allegations to have no merit.

The moral depravity of the Bishop’s statement is obvious when one considers it in the context of Christian teachings. To advise Christians to be careful about befriending other communities is contrary to the basic Christian teaching of loving one and all, including one’s enemy. Each instance where a Christian woman falls in love with a Muslim man and marries him in our divisive society will have a unique and difficult personal story, and to portray it as part of a plot is to deny those choices and agency.

Also read: BJP Supports Kerala Bishop Who Made ‘Narco Jihad’ Remark, Asks Centre for Law

The Bishop also blames jihadists for plotting to destroy non-Muslims by making them addicted to drugs by arranging raves, and running ice-cream parlours and hotels for such purposes. He simplistically attributes the complex nature of drug addiction to imagined plots of jihadists. In a political atmosphere ready to find villains everywhere – including the spread of COVID-19, as we saw with the horrifying Tablighi Jamaat episode in early 2020 – such simplistic explanations only hinder efforts to study the real causes of the tendency among the youth to try addictive drugs.

In a country where political parties and divisive forces are always trying to divide people along communal lines to achieve narrow political aims, it is unfortunate that the religious pulpit is being used for similar purposes.

Even though monotheistic religions like Christianity are defined by the certitudes about their beliefs, in a pluralistic society the authorities of those religions should always try to limit those teachings within the limited confines of theological debates and try to find the commonalities with other religions on moral teachings based on universal values. In the India of today, where majoritarian impulses are being used for political aims to redefine the nature of citizenship based on religious beliefs, it is imperative that the minority communities unite to thwart such attempts of exclusion.

In addition to his ignorance about the nature of love, marriage and drug addiction, His Eminence also revealed an utter lack of understanding of Christian teaching of brotherly love. One can only quote Luke 23:34 and  lament with Christ,

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Dr. Alexander Mathew is a retired paediatrician living in Kochi.

Featured image: Palai Dicoese Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt. Photo: palaidiocese.com.