Why is India such an Orthodox country

India: Tensions over dispossession

According to the agency, during operations at dawn, the police took over three cult buildings of the so-called Jacobite Church for the benefit of the Orthodox Malankara community. According to Uca News, the police used force to remove hundreds of demonstrators, including Jacobite priests and bishops.

"Women, children and bishops were exposed to cruel police brutality," said a statement by the Jacobite bishops after the event. They protested against the "inhuman and unjust" decision of the Kerala Supreme Court that led to "the hasty step to expropriate the churches". The bishops decided to organize protests in their churches, adhering to the Covid-19 protocols.

The dispute is centuries old

The dispute goes back centuries, but the 2017 Supreme Court ruling states that most of the disputed church property should be confiscated from the Jacobite Church and given to the Orthodox group of the Malankar Orthodox Church. It was only recently that the court ruling was put into action.

The state delayed the implementation of the order because of the sensitivities involved. However, the Orthodox side turned to the court again to have the order implemented. The court then asked the state to implement the verdict, which led to the latest police action. An official told the media that tax officials had taken keys to the churches and were going to take them to the Kerala Supreme Court.

More than a thousand buildings threatened with expropriation

More than 1,100 churches owned by the Jacobite Church are at risk of violent takeover after the court ruling, said Biby Kadavumbhagam, who publishes an official Jacobite publication.

"We are very sad that about fifty churches have already been handed over to the Orthodox side after the decision of the Supreme Court," he told Uca News on Thursday, adding that the Orthodox side had only a "negligible presence". But the court order has now given her "the upper hand".

Unclear numbers

Both churches exaggerate the number of their believers, according to Uca News. Experts estimate that the two together could number around two million of the roughly six million Christians in Kerala.

Kadavumbhagam claimed the court order created a strange situation where two or three families claim an entire church.

For example, the Thiruvarppu parish, whose church was adopted this week, has around 170 families, but only two are Orthodox. "But now the police have taken over the church and given it to them, and the majority are now forced to find an alternative arrangement for their worship," said Kadavumbhagam. "But our faith is strong and we are not going anywhere," said Kadavumbhagam. "We will face up and grow."

Centuries-old feud

In 1911 there was a split in the Malankar Church, a branch of the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, with the establishment of the Malankar Orthodox Church. The spiritual leader of the Orthodox community is based in Kerala, while the Jacobites express their loyalty to the Patriarch of Antioch.

After the split, a dispute began over the possessions - large tracts of prime land and centuries-old churches and related institutions. In the meantime, an agreement was reached in 1934, but the split broke out again in 1973.

There are also Syro-Malankan Christians who belong to the Eastern Catholic Church. These are Catholics of the Indian Thomas Christians of the Antiochene Rite. There are also other Christian denominations in Kerala.

(ucan - mg)