Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Kerala a Fertile Land for Religion

Kerala a Fertile Land for Religion

In my childhood days, one propaganda against communist party was that if it comes to power Christian churches would be either demolished or converted to schools or cultural institutions. Some fabricated cases of converting churches to schools and cultural institutions in USSR after the revolution were cited to substantiate this propaganda.

In addition to anti-communist newspapers, the Christian clergy was behind spreading this malicious disinformation. Apparently, most Christians believed this. The church goers, mostly from middle and lower classes, turned out to be puppets in the hands of the clergy and upper-class members of the church. And, naturally, a large section of uninformed Christians considered communist party as anti-Christian and joined the fight against it by becoming staunch congress supporters.

I have clear memory of this type of organized defence from church against communism in 1965, when I was a 12-year-old boy. The purported news that communists will demolish churches or convert them for other purposes did not instil any fear in my mind. It was not because that I did not believe in the propaganda. On the other hand, I was very much impressed by the novel idea of converting churches to schools and cultural institutions even then. In those days, there were many drama troops in Kerala. KPAC, Kalanilayam, People’s Theater (Kayamkulam), Geetha (Changanachery) etc were some of them. They were facing difficulties in finding suitable stages for performance as public auditoriums and theatres were very few in those days. Those drama troops used to stage their dramas on temporary stages. The only public places available for erecting such temporary stages were either market places or play grounds adjacent to schools.

I started day dreaming about converting our local church to a theatre. I envisioned churches becoming permanent stages for dramas and cultural programmes to the utmost convenience of all. All infrastructures (curtains, green rooms etc.) were ready in churches. As a 12-year-old boy, I believed that revolution would take place in our state also and consequently churches would be appropriately converted to theaters for staging dramas, music concerts and such cultural programmes.

However, as years passed by, I have realized that no such revolution was going to take place in Kerala and communist parties in Kerala, or in India for that matter, were not going to pursue the same path as communists were said to have followed in Soviet Union. Though governments headed by communist parties introduced many reforms and welfare measures for the downtrodden and common man, these parties became just an alternative for the congress party. It was only when I attained age of 16-17, I became fully convinced that no political party or organization was ever going to turn against religion, primarily due to the fact that religion was so deep rooted in the minds of average Indians and has become a vote bank for every party.

I have also learned that it was not that easy for a man to remain unaffiliated to a religion. In Kerala, one at least has to pretend that he is a believer of a religion to get social acceptance. Not believing in any religion is considered as insanity in our place. A Christian hates a man who does not believe in any religion more than a hindu or Muslim. This is equally true for a believer of any religion. One who does not believe in any religion is a common enemy for all those who believe in religions.

Now, in 2004, when I appreciate the growth of religion, I can notice that the number of churches increased drastically. Its number must be almost double to what it was in 1965. Over the time, new churches were constructed spending huge amounts. The money came as contribution from church members out of whom a considerable number continue to be either homeless or living in sub-standard homes. I can see many new rituals added of late. The processions through public road led by Bishops on Good Friday was unheard of in the past. Many churches started staking claims about miracles and miracle cures and materialization of impossible things for devotees. Many super specialty churches came up during these years specialized in materializing impossible things. There was nothing like today’s charismatic conventions in catholic church till 1980 or so. Commercialization of religion is profoundly visible everywhere. Take cases of land or forest encroachments in Wayanad or Mathikettan; the holy cross is used as a protecting tool in most cases. It was used as a tool to frighten away Adivasis from their home land.

We can see considerable counter activities on the part of majority religion also. Obviously, they are provoked. There are efforts to control erosion of its base by stopping devotees embracing Christianity, tempted by miracle cure or materialization of impossible things. Great efforts are visible to prove that even by worshipping hindu deities, impossible things can be achieved or wishes materialized or enemies annihilated. Number of pilgrims to Sabarimala is increasing every year. Many new temples are being constructed. Like mushrooms, temples could come up anywhere any time. It could very well be inside the thick forest or in the centre of the catchment of area of a dam. Long forgotten rituals like Gaudian Thookkam are being reinstated to woo the devotees.

A section of Christians propagates the idea that the primary purpose of life on earth is to praise God. They say God likes to be praised incessantly. According to them, your wishes will be granted if you praise the God in the loudest of your voice without rest or slackness. For them, even saluting national flag and singing national anthem are sins.

In secular India, instead of God becoming a personal matter, it has become a matter of show and commercialization. The procession on Good Friday through the streets of the capital city of Kerala was a show of strength. Bishops themselves were leading thousands of devotees through the street to commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. If leaders of the majority religion take steps for their existence, who can blame them?

There are too many young men ready to sacrifice their lives for the religion they believe in. They are ready to kill others and get killed themselves for the sake of religion. If this commitment of our young men was for protecting the nation, India’s reputation for her capability of protecting her borders could have increased greatly.

There are outcries from many corners that our society is in the grip of communalism. There are many NGOs and political parties known for their unwavering stand against communalism. But, no one is ready to start a self-detoxification by removing communalism from one’s own mind.

When it comes to reforming people, it should be understood that people can’t be reformed in group. For reformation the basic unit is individual. Reformation should take place in every individual separately. Every individual should tell himself that his nation is the top priority. His second commitment should be to his family. Religion should come only next to these two centres of loyalties. (I am not talking about God; I say religion, God is altogether a different matter, an absolutely personal matter, like father, mother, wife, son or daughter.) If one individual is reformed, like candles lit in series, the light will be transferred to other individuals.

Sri.Kunjunni Mash, the great poet of children, told a bunch of children gathered in front of him, “I will tell you a small thing to reform this big world…”. Children listened enthusiastically, Kunjunni Mash continued, “Reform yourself”; in Malayalam “swayam nannakuka”. Actually, how easy it is to reform oneself instead of trying desperately to reform others. If one is changed it will be the beginning of change in others. It will be the beginning of change in a society. It will be the beginning of change in the whole world.

Those who look at the world with Marxist-Leninist outlook shall never say that one religion is better than another religion and that only through a particular religion can salvation come. This outlook is the only way to remove communalism from our society. Looking for ways to remove communalism from society while not prepared to remove it from minds of individuals is going to be a wasteful and fruitless exercise. Yes, it has to start from me. First of all, I should see religion in a Marxist-Leninist perspective.

Communism, as I learned in 1960s taught people to see and appreciate realities instead of floating around aimlessly in false consciousness. It is true that there is a profound philosophical difference between Marxism and all forms of religion. According to Marxism, “the world of religion is a mystified world, a distorted impression of reality. For centuries, organized religion has been used by the exploiters to deceive and enslave the masses. Religion is what Marxists would call a false consciousness, because it cleverly diverts our understanding away from the world and its realities. Even from our childhood, religion teaches us to believe in supernatural powers. Forgetting the nature in the background of which we are living, we tend to believe in things beyond nature, about which no one was ever successful to know anything. Where religion teaches us to lift our eyes to the heavens, Marxism tells us to fight for a better life on earth. Marxists believe that men and women should fight to transform their lives and to create a genuinely human society which would permit the human race to lift itself up to its true stature. They believe that men and women have only one life and should dedicate themselves to making this life beautiful and self-fulfilling.”
A clear role change happened. Despite the philosophical difference between Marxism and religion, communists recognized religion as an essential tool for winning elections and encouraged all superstitions and ongoing exploitation of the believers by church. Communist parties in Kerala assumed the role of protectors of minority religions- Christianity and Islam. The political parties and governments turned a blind eye towards encroachment of forest land and, in some cases, even the revenue land, by members of minority religions. Benefactors of such concessions joined the communist parties to ensure future protection. This triggered a consolidation of majority votes and increase in vote for Hindutva parties. The end result, society is divided on communal basis. Naturally, in this scenario, there is no room for the actual communists in communist parties. Even the last actual communist must be out of the party by now and all pseudo communists, which is quite large in number, are in.

Mathews Jacob
Published on erstwhile on 27-May-2004

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