Was it just Sunday inauguration that provoked Church's latest defiance?

Representational image
Representational image.

The Church rebellion against the LDF government's decision to kick start its ambitious one-month anti-narcotic drive from October 2, Sunday, seemed irrational, even laughable. The government's plan was to begin the drive from schools; include students, teachers and parents right from the start.

And what better day than the birth anniversary of the Mahatma, modern India's greatest moral philosopher, to begin the fight against drugs. If Gandhi Jayanti fell on a Sunday, the government clearly could not be held responsible.

Defiant, Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC), the most influential body of the Catholic Church in Kerala, and the Marthoma Church said its educational institutions would remain closed on October 2.

The Church was against the idea of making Sunday a working day. The Church leaders conveyed their displeasure to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan during the meeting called to discuss the anti-drugs campaign on September 30.

The Chief Minister sounded sympathetic to the Church's concerns but said the government would stick to the schedule. On the other hand, the Church gave the impression that it was unwilling to make a minor concession to support a social cause.

As it turned out, the inaugural of the anti-narcotic drive has been postponed to October 6, a Thursday. The passing away of former CPM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan seems to have prompted the rescheduling.

Pinarayi's 'Mann ki Baat'

BCCI President Sourav Ganguly launched the 'No To Drugs' campaign logo in Thiruvananthapuram on September 28.

Besides the Sunday factor, there was another reason why the Church opposed the programme. The inaugural programme, which was to begin at 9.30 am, involved just an address by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. This is revealed in the circular issued by the General Education Directorate on September 28.

“It is to merely listen to the Chief Minister's speech that students, teachers and parents were asked to come to the school,” said Fr. Jacob G Palackappilly, KCBC deputy secretary. “At a time when communication is so advanced, what is the need to bring students and teachers to the school on a holiday. They could very well listen to the Chief Minister's address in their homes, just the way people listen to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Mann Ki Baat,” he said.

A senior priest of the Orthodox Church said that as per the original schedule, the Chief Minister himself would not have been in Kerala during the inauguration. Had it not been for Kodiyeri's death, the Chief Minister would have been in Finland.

“We are at least in Kerala. Why is it important that our children and teachers should come to schools just to watch the Chief Minister speak from some foreign country,” the priest said.

“Moreover, if the government was keen on doing the inauguration on Gandhi Jayanti day, was it not enough for the Chief Minister to make the televised address. Why force children and adults to come to school on a holiday. In any case, the various activities related to the anti-drug drive would be taking place only in the subsequent working days,” he said.

Post noon request rejected

Further, the Orthodox priest said the representatives of the Church had requested the Chief Minister to at least push the inaugural event to the afternoon.

The KCBC's Fr Palackappilly confirmed this. “After the Sunday mass, we have the catechism class. In most of the churches around Kochi and Angamaly, we are also having second semester (catechism) exams. These are done in the schools close to our churches. To open our schools in the morning for the inaugural programme would have upset these examinations. Since the government was adamant on October 2, and since we are also aware of the relevance of Gandhi Jayanti, most of the Church representatives had asked (during the meeting with the Chief Minister on September 30) whether the event could be held after noon. But this was also turned down,” Fr Palackappilly said.

Conspiracy against Sunday

The priests Onmanorama talked to rued that an impression had gained ground that the Church was too preoccupied with its rituals to bother about a social evil. “This is far from true. In fact, no organisation has fought the drug menace more forcefully than the KCBC. We would have responded to the latest issue differently had we not spotted a pattern,” Fr Palackappilly said.

According to him, the actions of the LDF government have demonstrated a willful attempt to undermine the importance of Sundays. He said as part of its file-clearing drive, the government had forced government employees to work on July 3, Sunday, this year. “July 3 is St Thomas Day, a holy day for all Christians, be it Catholics, Marthomites, Jacobites or Orthodox,” Fr Palackappilly said.

He said the Nehru Boat Race, which was customarily conducted on second Saturdays, was this year held on a Sunday (September 4). This is not all. Fr Palackappilly said that now PSC had started conducting examinations on Sundays. “We suspect there is a concerted effort to undermine Christian beliefs,” the KCBC representative said.

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