Controversy over Pala Bishop’s hate speech: A stand-alone issue or larger Hindutva scheme in Kerala?

Pala Bishop Joseph Kallarangatt's remarks on ‘narcotic jihad’ have sparked controversy in Kerala | Picture: ANI

Instead of addressing recent issues facing women in the state, the unsubstantial claims of the Bishop have raised concerns whether he is genuinely concerned about women in Kerala and their issues or is simply using them as a tool for his agenda.  

Support TwoCircles


Nikita D |


KERALA – The Pala diocese commemorated the Eight Day of Lent on September 9. At the event held in Kuravilangad Church in Kottayam, Kerala the Bishop of the diocese, Joseph Kallarangatt, gave a rather unusual speech that had nothing to do with the teachings of Christ or the festival of Lent. He delivered a speech on how Christian girls and women are falling prey to not just “love jihad”, but also “narcotics jihad”.  


He called it a “war strategy against women” where instead of using arms, narcotics were being used to derail the youth of the state. The excessive use of narcotics among the youth has been a topic of social concern in the south Indian state, but no one had publicly linked it to the misdoings of a particular religion. 


Bishop Kallarangatt has an expansive career in education and theology, including a ThD (Doctorate in Theology) from the Gregorian University in Rome, Italy. He has authored 30 books and is the chairman of the Syro-Malabar Synodal Commission for Family, Laity, and Life. He is an important authority figure who yields a lot of influence and power in the state, which is why his controversial remark caused a ripple effect. 


BJP and the Catholic Church 

This, however, is not the first time that the representative of a Catholic Church in the state has made such Islamophobic comments without backing it with evidence. In January 2020, Cardinal George Alencherry had commented, “[It is] a matter of concern that love jihad is on the rise in Kerala.” 


“Love Jihad poses danger to secular harmony and societal peace in the state”, the Cardinal was found stating. It is the same Cardinal who, along with two other Archbishops, met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in January 2021, following the expose of the economic offences of the Catholic Church.    


While most parties and organizations in Kerala denounced the Bishop’s comments, the BJP in Kerala reacted to the issue by supporting the claims of the Bishop. BJP’s state president K Surendran stated that the Bishop is being silenced from speaking the truth, while the state unit sent a letter to the Home Minister asking to provide security to the Bishop against anticipated attacks.  


Is there a silent political allegiance between the BJP and the Catholic Church in Kerala? spoke to a renowned writer in Malayalam and one of the directors of the Indian Institute of Christian Studies, Kerala, Paul Zacharia, regarding the matter. Shedding light on the issue, he said, “Kerala has had a fairly harmonious history of three religions, Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, co-existing together. There is mudslinging in the political sphere which no one takes seriously. But when a serious religious head, stands at the altar and speaks the language of the Sangh Parivar by using the word “jihad”, it becomes concerning.” 


Zacharia spoke about the Sangh Parivar-Catholic Church allegiance. “This is part of a lengthy Parivar strategy which we have been observing here for the past 10 years. Their strategy is to pit Christians against the Muslims in hopes of winning at least one seat in the state assembly. The Catholic Church in Kerala is the most powerful segment in the state. They have amassed so much cash and black money that is unaccounted for. Modi-Shah have caught them by the tail on this and various investigations are ongoing. So the Church is being blackmailed brilliantly and they have to cave in because of the large amounts of unethical wealth they possess.” 


Reaction across the state 

The controversy sparked reactions from all sides of the state. State actors such as the ruling CPI(M) government as well as the Opposition Congress government vociferously spoke over the distasteful comment.  


Pinarayi Vijayan, CM of Kerala said, “The narcotic mafia should be seen as mafia, which is against the social fabric of the state, and religious tone should not be attributed to the mafia”. However, he declined to register a case against the Bishop. He suggested holding discussions among the different sections involved. 


Leader of Opposition VD Satheesan made a public statement that appealed to the Kerala society to not jeopardize the peace and harmony between different communities in the state.  


Several Muslim organizations and other political groups staged protests outside the house of the Bishop. 


Kerala Sunni Federation demanded that the “Bishop must corroborate remark with evidence,” while the Jamaat Council called for “legal action over hate speech” and “bid to divide the two communities.”  


Hypocritical concern for women 

In his speech, Bishop Kallarangatt expressed concern over the growing cases of abuse and crime against women. However, Paul Zacharia told that “it is the same Bishop who two months ago sent a letter to all the parishes under him asking the women to produce 5 children. He did this because he was worried that the Christian population is depleting.”   


In a circular issued by the Bishop on July 27, 2021, financial support and incentives were assured to couples who married after 2000 and produced 5 or more children.  


It was only last month that the suicide of a woman in Kerala, allegedly due to the domestic violence she faced, caused a stir where many voices from Kerala spoke about the grave issue of domestic violence and marital rape in the state. Instead of addressing recent issues facing women in the state, the unsubstantial claims of the Bishop have raised concerns whether he is genuinely concerned about women and their issues or is simply using them as a tool for his agenda.