KOCHI: If one thought the Church would stay clear of the clutches of trade unionism in the state, which has seen its good and bad impacts, think again. In what is believed to be a first in the world, Sextons hailing from the Catholic Church across the state have come together to form an association, which will soon be registered as a trade union.
“The aim is to fight for rights,” said social activist Paulachan Puthupara. “Until now, the Sextons didn’t have a voice of their own. They were an exploited lot, afraid of speaking out loud fearing repercussion.”
The meeting held secretly in a boat on the Vembanad lake decided to call it the Kerala Church Staff Welfare Association and selected its office-bearers. Antony Puthenveettil was appointed the president, while Varghese Oliparambil and Martin Porous were named the secretary and treasurer, respectively.
With the establishment of the association, which currently has 50 members, Sextons hope their various demands, including proper pay scale, provident fund and other remunerations, will be heeded to. But most importantly, Paulachan said, “They’ll have a strong voice once they stand together.”
Activist Paulachan Puthupara said, “The aim behind its formation is to prevent the Sextons from suffering a plight similar to Johny of Malayattoor Kurishumudi. The number will go up soon once all Sextons come to know about it. Do you know that there are more than 1,000 churches in the state alone.”
The general feeling among the Sextons is they are made to remain mute witnesses to the frauds in the churches.
“They also have to bear the brunt of the atrocities meted out by the priests. Fear of a backlash is big among them that the meeting was held in utmost secrecy,” said Paulachan.
One of the major complaints raised by the Sexton community is that if a priest finds the Sexton in his parish is not toeing his line, he gets him fired from the job by turning the parishioners against him. “The priests come up with damning stories and try to frame these Sextons in false cases like they have stolen from the offering box,” said a Sexton who attended the meeting.
According to another Sexton, the priests commit the biggest fraud by pocketing the money paid for conducting special masses. “Even if a priest gets money to offer 10 masses, he deliberately curtails it to one mass and pays the Sexton the money for a single mass. While the rest of the amount is pocketed by the priest,” he said. The new trade union of Sextons is expected to take up these issues and many more.