‘Narcotics jihad’ row intensifies across Kerala
Political and religious parties are making efforts to contain the rising communal divide in Kerala, triggered by Pala Bishop’s ‘narcotic jihad’ jibe recently.
Many religious groups are taking out rallies outside the bishop’s residence in the last two days, either supporting or decrying his statement, even as several leaders in the state have requested their supporters to maintain restraint and communal harmony.
Addressing a religious congregation in a church in Kuravilangad (Kottayam) last Thursday, Bishop Mar Joseph Kallaranghatt 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 the Congress, criticised the Bishop for making a sweeping comment, but the Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council (KCBC), the highest body of Catholics in the state, and Bharatiya Janata Party rallied behind him. The church-supported daily Deepika on Sunday wrote an editorial, reminding the CM that he represents the whole state, and 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, asking the CM to examine his statement, before rejecting it outright.
The CM had expressed surprise over his comment, saying that he heard the term for the first time.
Opposition leader V D Satheesan also criticised the statement 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 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 cannot 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, hailing from the state, also criticised the attack on the Bishop. “It seems he spoke based on 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.
Records show a sharp rise in drug-related cases and seizures in the state, indicating increased drug consumption. In the past, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted how drugs became a major issue across states.
The police busted many rave parties in Kochi and hill destinations after a tip-off during the peak of the Covid pandemic. According to state excise records, Kerala saw a sharp increase in the seizure of party drugs in Kerala. In 2018, the police seized contraband worth ₹650 crore. In 2019, it went up to ₹720 crore, and in 2020 it increased to ₹800 crore.
A senior police officer, not willing to be named, admitted that the drug addiction is a matter of concern, and increased vigilance has resulted in a high number of seizures.
“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.
The Kerala high court observed that the drug abuse in the state was very high while hearing a plea in February 2020.
“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, 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 the police seized MDMA (synthetic drug methylenedioxymethamphetamine) worth ₹13 crore from a flat in Kochi.
“It is a fact, 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 not put everything into the account of a particular community,” said Muslim Educational Society president Dr Fazal Gafoor adding such statements will vitiate the social fabric of the state asked everyone to keep utmost restraint.