KOCHI: Kerala witnessed quite a few instances of rigid religiosity taking root in 2017. From Hindu sect leaders vehemently opposing the government’s revolutionary decision to appoint non-Brahmins as priests in temples and Islamic sects strictly enforcing codes pertaining to dress and general behaviour to the Christian clergy maintaining a stoic silence on sexual abuses by priests, the examples were many.
While Muslim women in Kerala came under the grip of clerics who strove to lay down ground rules curtailing the women’s freedom of choice in dress and expression, both the Hindu and Christian community leaders harped on gender-biases and insensitive traditions that kept women away from various religious activities.
Issues like entry of women in Sabarimala and singer K J Yesudas in Guruvayur temple continued to remain vexed topics for Hindus, while protests erupted within the Christian community against two Catholic rites in Kerala which decried a Papal call to include women in the feet washing ceremony on Maundy Thursday. Catholic leaders opposed the reform saying it was against the Eastern traditions they followed.
The Church’s silence on a string of sexual assault allegations involving clergymen didn’t go down well with believers as calls for stringent punitive measures to cleanse the system of ‘deviant’ priests got louder.
But there were sane voices too. “We give priority in accommodating changes in religious matters. We have already made clear our stance on giving equal rights to women. There should be no discrimination between men and women as all are believers. In the case of Sabarimala, it is high time we did an evaluation to understand whether age-old traditions and customs are relevant today. If something needs to be changed for the benefit of believers, it should be done,” said Hindu Aikya Vedi leader R V Babu. He said a temple or any place of worship is for all believers, irrespective of caste, creed or religion.
“Whether it is K J Yesudas or another believer, he or she should be permitted to follow the faith they believe. There have been some opposition to the government’s decision to allow non-Brahmins as priests, but we wholeheartedly welcomed the decision as we don’t see believers based on their caste or creed,” he said.
Islamic scholar and senior functionary of Kerala Nadvathul Mujahideen, Hussain Madavoor called for leaders of all religions to come together and strengthen inter-faith relationships. “In Islam, a few have been deviating from the basic principles the Holy Quran propagates. The holy text stands for respect and compassion to all human beings. If we don’t act now to resist the rigidity taking shape in religions, the situation will pose a danger to the peaceful coexistence of people following different faiths,” he said.
Fr Jimmy Poochakkat, spokesman for the Syro Malabar Church, said the decision not to wash the feet of women was taken only in accordance with liturgical traditions and practices related to Maundy Thursday. “But we have identified the importance of accommodating changes in sync with times. We know that certain changes need to be brought in and that is why we decided to introduce additional liturgical events in which feet of women will also be washed,” he said.