Heat and dust over Bishop’s ‘narcotic jihad’ comment yet to settle in Kerala
Hectic efforts are on to contain a communal divide in Kerala after the controversial remark of the Pala Bishop on “narcotic jihad” triggered a war of words between different communities.
Many groups took out rallies outside the bishop’s house in the last two days supporting and decrying his statement even as religious and political leaders asked their supporters to maintain restraint and keep communal amity.
While addressing a religious congregation in a church in Kuravilangad (Kottayam) Bishop Mar Joseph Kallaranghatt last Thursday said Catholic girls and youth were becoming victims of a “narcotic jihad” perpetrated by a section and decried authorities for turning a blind eye towards it.
Many including, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Congress leaders, decried the Bishop for making a sweeping comment but the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC), the highest body of Catholics in the state, and the Bharatiya Janata Party rallied behind him. The church-supported Deepika daily on Sunday wrote an editorial reminding the CM that he represents the whole state and he has to hear all sections before rejecting their woes.
“Continuous appeasement politics is fast turning the state into a nursery of terror activities. The Bishop’s statement is based on facts and experience and instead of addressing it, some are turning against him. Those who think that he can be silenced by a barrage of criticism they are in fool’s world,” it wrote in a hard-hitting editorial asking the CM to examine his statement before rejecting it outright.
The CM had expressed surprise over the Bishop’s comment, saying he was hearing the term, ‘narcotic jihad’ for the first time. “I never expected such a statement from a person like him. Persons holding such respectable positions should be careful while making such a statement. It will create rift and animosity. It is a fact that all religions, as well as the government, are concerned about the increased use of narcotics. It is not proper to put everything into the account of a particular section,” he said on Friday.
Opposition leader VD Satheesan also criticised it and said it was a trap set by Sangh Parivar outfits. “It seems the Bishop’s statement is based on some social media comments. We all know most of these social media accounts are being managed by the parivar cronies. It is a planned to move to create a communal polarization,” he said. The Muslim League, an ally of the Congress, also called for restraint.
But the KCBC defended the bishop saying he was cautioning against some dangerous tendencies prevailing in the society and they can’t be dismissed summarily as isolated incidents.
“It is a fact that Kerala is facing certain serious social crises and among them rise in narcotic abuse tops. His words should be taken up responsibly, instead of attacking him,” it said.
Minister of state of external affairs, V Muraleedharan, also criticised the attack on the Bishop. “It seems he spoke on the basis of conviction, not emotion. The term ‘narcotic jihad’ is not new, even world bodies said proceeds from narcotics was a major source of terror funding,” he said, adding, there was a concerted move to silence the Bishop. He said no one is against any community but all will have to isolate disruptive forces.
Addressing a church ceremony, the Bishop came out against a particular community saying that Catholic girls and youth were targeted by it.
“Wherever arms are not used, narcotic drugs are being used and Catholic girls turn victims. Some groups are functioning in the state to support them. To understand this, one needs to analyse how women from other religions landed in the Islamic State camps,” he said. He was referring to the trip of 21 people, including five converts to Islam, from north Kerala to Afghanistan in 2016 to reportedly join the Islamic State.
Drug abuse on the rise
Records show a sharp rise in drug-related cases and seizures in the state, indicating an increase in drug consumption in the state like several other parts of the country. In the past, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also highlighted how drugs was becoming a major issue across states.
Even at the peak of the pandemic, many rave parties were busted in Kochi and hill destinations after a tip-off. According to state excise records, there is a sharp increase in the seizure of party drugs in Kerala. In 2018, contraband worth ₹650 crore was seized and in 2019 it went up to ₹720 crore while in 2020, it increased to ₹800 crore.
A senior police officer, not willing to be named, admitted that drug addiction was a major issue of concern and higher seizure has is a result of increased vigilance by police. “It is a societal problem and cannot be solved through policing. We need societal reforms to deal with it,” said Prakash Singh, former Director-General of Police, Uttar Pradesh.
While hearing a plea in February 2020, the High Court had observed that the drug abuse in the state was very high.
“The scale of drug abuse in Kerala is unacceptably high. The major problem faced by probe agencies is their inability to plug supply channels that bring contraband to the state,” the court had said.
Three cities from the state - Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram - figure on the list of 127 most vulnerable cities for drug abuse by the Union ministry of social justice with a high prevalence of drug dependency. Last week MDMA (a synthetic drug called methylenedioxymethamphetamine) worth ₹13 crore was seized from a flat in Kochi.
“It is a fact that the use of narcotic substances is high. It is a social evil and everyone will have to fight it united. People from all classes and religions are involved in such offences. But you can’t put everything into the account of a particular community,” said Muslim Educational Society president Dr Fazal Gafoor. Such statements will vitiate the social fabric of the state, he said and asked everyone to keep utmost restraint.