How CNN and Kerala Christians spun a Story of Untouchability



The Kerala floods will remain etched in memory for the deluge of drama that overshadowed the human tragedy. Over 350 people have died but fake news from Marxists, liberals, Christians and Muslims has drowned out the stories of suffering and loss that deserved to be heard. This cabal has turned a national calamity into a media circus, accusing the rest of the country of not doing anything while again claiming falsely that foreign governments were offering more money. Predictably, Western vultures took full advantage of a divided house.

Fake news factory CNN waded into the controversy, saying “Hindu Brahmin flood victims” would not let a Christian fisherman Marion George, who was part of a rescue team, touch them. “Five hours later, George was back in the same neighbourhood and saw the same family calling for his help. He docked his boat close to their home but was again told by the men that they would only board if he did not touch them.” CNN claims it spoke to several other fishermen who also reported being insulted and treated suspiciously by victims they were trying to help.

This story has more holes than Swiss cheese. Firstly, for a story to stand up to scrutiny the source must be above suspicion. But CNN fails on all counts of probity, having been caught on countless occasions trying to peddle fake news. Among the most publicised implosions at the American media outlet took place in November 2016 after Donald Trump was declared the winner of the US presidential elections when CNN was caught out live on air interviewing a fake protester against Trump. The person they had interviewed was a freelance cameraman.

CNN is so bad that Trump tweeted: “CNN is unwatchable. Their news on me is fiction. They are a disgrace to the broadcasting industry and an arm of the Clinton campaign.”

Investigating CNN

CNN has picked an easy, and seemingly obvious, target – Brahmins. For, in Western eyes, Brahmins are the group most likely to practise untouchability. And since Kerala has a very small percentage of Scheduled Castes, CNN would have never found a Scheduled Caste who could give them sound bytes about caste discrimination. But Christians are aplenty so the channel would have had no problems zeroing in on one.

While investigating CNN’s claims, here are the following possibilities:

  1. This is a pure hit job, with the news channel doing what it does best – make India look bad in sync with the agenda of its left-liberal editors.
  2. Disaster journalism has the potential to make stars of journalists; the CNN reporter may have made up everything.
  3. The fishermen may have been tutored by the Christian church to claim Brahmins are practising untouchability. The church in India is known to lie low during natural disasters in order to preserve its energies and funds to be unleashed later during the post relief phase for converting people to Christianity. The statement by the fishermen –under church orders– looks like it is aimed at convincing fence sitting Hindus to discard a religion that practises untouchability. This ploy was used in Tamil Nadu after the 2004 tsunami, and yielded the church hundreds of thousands of converts.
  4. The fishermen are lying. The Christian church in India has turned its converts to hate the religion of their forefathers. George’s testimony could be result of the weekly dose of hate speech that masquerades as sermons.

Kerala’s caste paradox

There are two reasons why untouchability is non-existent among Kerala Hindus. One, extensive social reforms by a number of saints such as Sri Narayana Guru and Chattambi Swami have ensured that the idea of caste pollution because of touch or sight has completely disappeared from the state. While caste consciousness and bias are alive and kicking, the practising of untouchability is simply unheard of in Kerala.

Secondly, Kerala’s peculiar caste and religious equations that have built up over the centuries are such that the indigenous Namboodiri Brahmins do not treat Kerala Christians as untouchables. This is because in the lunatic asylum that was Kerala, the Syrian Christians were accorded a status in the social hierarchy just below Nairs who, although falling under the Shudra varna, enjoyed a high status.

The career of Colonel John Munro, who was the British regent in the kingdom of Cochin from 1812 to 1818, offers an excellent insight into how Christians were historically treated in Kerala, especially after the arrival of the British.

When Munro first arrived in Kerala the Christians were an economically depressed community. He persuaded the queen to donate temple lands to the Christians so their economic status improved considerably.

When zilla courts were established at Padmanabhapuram, Thiruvananthapuram, Mavelikkara, Vaikom and Aluva, the judges were selected from among the most respectable Nairs, Brahmins and Christians. Having a Christian judge – who would have to work in close proximity with Brahmins on a state panel – is a clear indication that Kerala Christians were not treated as untouchables.

Significantly, while the Christians were a free people, two large and significant communities, the Ezhavas and Mukkuvas, had to pay a poll tax – an obnoxious cess that was similar to the ‘jaziya’ imposed on Hindus by Muslim rulers. Munro encouraged the abolition of the poll tax, but it is a pointer to the sort of madhouse Kerala was, that communities that had worked and fought for the country had to pay poll tax while the Syrian Christians –refugees who had betrayed the kings of Kerala by supporting Portuguese invaders– were granted special privileges.

Also, until 1812, slavery continued to flourish and anyone, including the Portuguese, Dutch and the English could buy and sell members of the following castes – Kuravas, Parayas, Pallas, Malayans and Vedans. The total abolition of slavery and the enfranchisement of slaves however took place only in 1855.

What is more shocking is that Christians were not only allowed to keep slaves, but also convert them if they wished. However, the Christians did not convert their slaves because they feared dilution of their own status if their untouchable slaves also became Christian. This again shows the Christians were not deemed untouchables. In fact, due to Munro’s influence the representatives of missionary societies obtained various rights and privileges and considerable sums of money for building churches, further enhancing their prestige.

There’s further evidence that Christians were not treated as untouchables. In 1815, Munro had a Royal Proclamation passed exempting Christians from all “menial jobs” connected with Hindu temples since the British viewed such involvements as an abomination and assumed that Hindus were forcing them to do it. However, perhaps because the Christians obtained monetary benefits from temple duties and clearly enjoyed such privilege (although they were not allowed within the temple premises), the proclamation wasn’t implemented. Christians continued to participate in temple rituals until 1852 when the new Metropolitan, Mathews Mar Athanasius, declared that the “social honour” had become a “social disability”.[1] This is a good example of fundamentalism creeping into the Kerala Christian community – the community re-assessing its relationship with the indigenous people and the beginning of the “us” versus “them” syndrome.

Cleansing mission

In the year 1599, Alexis Menezes, Archbishop of Portuguese Goa, arrived at Cochin on a mission to ‘purify’ the faith and customs of the Syrian Christians of Kerala. This mission culminated with the Synod of Diamper (derived from the place, Udayamperur, where it was held). The synod was an assembly of 640 representatives of churches across Kerala as well as 63 Nasarani (Syrian Christian) priests under the presidentship of Archbishop Alexei Menezes with the Nasarani Archdeacon Geevarghese in meek attendance.[2]

Among the decrees that were issued, one related to the education of Christian children by “heathen” schoolmasters. “This decree noted that it is contrary to the sacred canons that Christian children should go to heathen schools run by heathen masters; nevertheless seeing that the church was under so many heathen kings it allowed Syrian Christian parents to send their children to such schools where the heathen masters would not force their wards to pay reverence to their Gods or to participate in any heathen ceremony. The decree also recommended to all towns and villages where there were Christian families but no Christian teachers to have their children educated by the parish priests.”

A reading of this decree suggests that Syrian Christian children freely went to schools run by non-Christian teachers and obviously like their other non-Christian classmates there also partook in the Hindu ceremonies held in the schools of those days which could have been rituals like Guruvandana and paying obeisance to the Goddess of learning, Saraswati.

Since avarna castes such as Ezhavas and Mukkuvas were not allowed in these schools, presumably run by Namboodiri Brahmins, it is the clearest indication that Christians not only enjoyed a higher position in Kerala society but were also not classified as capable of polluting the Brahmins.

Christians discriminate

It is clear that Kerala Christians haven’t suffered any caste discrimination at the hands of Brahmins. However, it is interesting to note how the Christians have treated others whom they perceive as lower in Kerala’s caste hierarchy.

During the current floods, 56 members of 23 families belonging to the scheduled Pulaya caste lodged a complaint with Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and the district collector, saying members of the Christian community had humiliated them at a relief camp in Alappuzha. According to Tinu Vijayan, 27 Christian families moved to another camp as they refused to share space with – or prepare food alongside – the Pulayas.

The Christians were so churlish that when caught out they accused the Pulaya men of taking photos of their women. Considering the marginal difference in appearance between the two communities, it isn’t like Russian super models had suddenly arrived on the scene, prompting the Pulaya men to start clicking pictures. In contrast, it was a Brahmin, Sreyas S. Nampoothiri, district vice president of the Hindu Aikya Vedi, who visited the camp and dined with the Pulaya family members.

So here we have a case where a Namboodiri has no problems dining with Pulayas but Christian families blinded by imagined notions of superiority want to keep distance from another community. This sort of thing is unheard of in Kerala among Hindus and Muslims; only Christians have this false notion of being upper caste –technically an impossible task. For, how can you quit Hinduism and then claim you are descended from upper caste converts, which is a huge lie anyway because why would Kerala’s privileged upper castes convert?

Coincidence or contrivance?

The report of Brahmins refusing to be rescued by Christian fishermen comes uncannily soon after the Alappuzha incident where the local administration, rescue forces and the media were witness to the naked display of caste discrimination by Christians. This is rich coming from a group that constantly berates Hindus for their caste system. It is also ironic that Christianity, which claims to uplift Dalit Hindus, ghettoises them in its own version of apartheid.

This is also a double whammy for converts because not only do they lose the religion of their forefathers but also the benefits of evolutionary reforms that are integral to Hinduism. As Hindus they may have found a way to become gentrified via Sanskritisation, but as Dalit Christians that route is permanently closed to them. Since the only aim of Christianity is to enter heaven, there is no need for reform as all you have to do is accept the religion of Jesus and his father will ensure a warm bed and fun in the afterlife. While eternity looks enticing, in the real world, Dalit Christians will forever remain Dalits, with separate churches and burial grounds.

Now the question is, did the Kerala Christians ask their Western masters to create a distraction? Since Christians comprise a significant percentage of the Indian media and have ample support from leftist journalists from Bengal and Kerala, tapping the Americans for a favour would be no problem. With its extensive resources and easy access to stringers and photographers, it would have been a breeze for CNN to spin the story of Brahmins practising untouchability during a calamitous time – a story guaranteed to ricochet around the world.

And that’s exactly what happened. With the glare of the national and international media on the Brahmins, the Kerala Christians were able to duck many uncomfortable questions. The sooner India wises up to their Breaking India agenda, the better.

 

Cover Picture: (Source: @CMOKerala/Twitter)

 


 

By: Rakesh Krishnan Simha

Published: August 02, 2018

 


 

[1] Prema A. Kurien (‘Ethnic Church Meets Megachurch: Indian American Christianity in Motion’, pages 62-63)
[2] ‘The Bloomsbury Guide to Christian Spirituality’, Edited by Peter Tyler, Richard Woods, page 294