Even if influential Christian and Muslim social and spiritual leaders kept away, the meeting called by Cardinal Mar Baselios Cleemis, head of the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday looked like the first serious attempt to restore communal peace in Kerala.
Though this meeting took place in the context of the 'narcotic jihad' comment of the Pala Bishop, Cardinal Cleemis said that the meeting discussed only practical ways to ensure communal harmony. “It was the Pala bishop's comment that brought us to the table but our discussions went beyond a mere comment,” the Cardinal told reporters after the meeting.
He said Kerala seemed to have lost its ability to coexist. “Some confusions and bitterness have cropped up," the Cardinal said, referring to the serious resentment among the Muslims in Kerala after the 'narcotic jihad' comment. "We were trying to explore ways to coexist without provoking divisions along religious lines," the Cardinal said.
One of the suggestions that found favour among the participants was the need to create multi-religious platforms at the local level, in panchayats and villages. "The divisions are more at the local level, and find amplification on social media. Any issue could be easily settled if social and religious leaders at the local level can sit together and have an open discussion," said Munavvarali Shihab Thangal, who came as the representative of the Thangal family, the spiritual fount of the Muslim League.
Cardinal Cleemis said that Chanaganassery Bishop, Joseph Perumthottam, had earlier agreed to attend the meet but had cited some inconvenience. Perumthottam had openly backed Pala bishop Mar Joseph Kallarangatt's 'narcotic jihad' comments saying, in an article in 'Deepika', that the Church could not remain mute to the social evils of 'love jihad' and 'narcotic jihad'. Not just the Changanassery bishop, none from the Syro-Malabar denomination, under which the Pala diocese also falls, attended the meeting called by Cardinal Cleemis.
Major Muslim outfits, too, had stayed away. Samastha Kerala Jamiat-ul-Ulema (the main scholarly body of Sunnis in Kerala), Samastha AP group (a Left-inclined body) and Jamaat-e-Islami did not participate. All these organisations had openly criticised the Pala bishop's statements.
Cardinal Cleemis said he had not informed the government of the meeting. "They, however, would have come to know of it by now," he said. Though he said he was not in a position to dictate to the government, Cardinal Cleemis said an all-party meeting on the issue was a good suggestion. "If there is a wound, we should tend to it," he said. He said he would respond positively if he was called for a meeting by the government.
Other social and religious leaders who attended the meeting include: Gabriel Mar Gregarios, Kozhikode Palayam Imam Husain Madavoor, Bishop Joseph Mar Barnabas Suffragan Metropolitan, Bishop Mathews Mar Anthimos, Thiruvananthapuram Palayam Imam V P Suhaib Moulavi, Swami Sookshmananda, Archbishop M Soosapakiam, Swami Gururatnam Jnanatapaswi and Swami Aswathy Thirunal.