Church in Kerala is taking over the forest lands through a design that also involves the full co-operation of the State machinery
Binu Kandiyil, Kerala
Bonacaud Reserve forest in Kerala was the target of Christian missionaries. Bonacaud is located in Agastyar Biosphere reserve, one among the 20 world biosphere reserves recognised by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). Kerala Catholic Youth Movement (KCYM), the youth wing of CBCI chapter in Kerala orchestrated a protest in August 2017 saying that their concrete cross planted in the forest in Bonacaud was demolished. They claimed that the cross was more than sixty years old and that it was demolished by the forest officials. The KCYM activists insisted that a new cross is built at the same place. The forest department rejected their plea as the land was within the Bonacaud forest range.
Undeterred by this, the KCYM led by a few Christian priests decided to start a pilgrimage to the disputed site from January 5, 2018. The so-called pilgrims ignored the Government’s warning not to enter protected areas. They were informed that trespassing into the forest land will also be a violation of the Kerala High Court ruling on protected areas. The protesters were stopped by the police before they reached Bonacaud. A mob started provoking and pelted stones at the police which made the situation tense. Despite exercising extreme restraint for a long period, the police eventually resorted to a lathi charge. The state government stepped in and to maintain peace, allowed only 15 people to enter the forest to pray. The priests were not satisfied as they wanted permission for all the thousands of believers who had gathered. The protesters even issued a circular to all the churches, requesting all the members to join them in protest against the government’s move which they termed as being against freedom of Praying!The Bonacaud forest reserve is an Eco-sensitive zone not just important for Kerala but for the bio-diversity of the planet itself.
Two years earlier, similar encroachment attempt in the Munnar forest area was detected and had become a controversy then too. Honest Deputy Collector Sriram Venkataraman’s strict action had cleared the area of all such encroachments and saved the forest lands. But his efforts were in vain due to political pressure from the so-called secular parties in the state. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had even scolded him in public for acting on such encroachments. Sriram Venkataraman was then transferred to a different place. Such is the political influence Christian missionaries wield in the state.
The truth today remains that the police, administration and the Governments in Kerala favour the Church for the clout it has over its voters. Hence most of the illegal encroachments are regularised by the Governments in power. There are many areas like that of Bonacaud, which have been illegally occupied by the Evangelists and the church. But they are sure that none of the State Governments will take any action against them. Let us hope that Jesus forgives them for their sins as they know not what they do!