06/12/2009, 00.00
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Church in Kerala commemorates 50th anniversary of anti-Communist liberation struggle

by Nirmala Carvalho
In 1959 Catholics took to the streets of the Indian state to protest against the Communist government. Clashes caused the death of 15 people and more than 170,000 arrests. The confrontation was sparked by a state law that would have effectively taken over Catholic education facilities. Fifty years on the memory remains alive since the underlying causes have not been resolved.
Mumbai (AsiaNews) – On 13 June the Catholic Church in the State of Kerala along with the Nair Hindu community will mark the 50th anniversary of what has come to be known as the Vimochana Samaram, the liberation struggle against the then ruling Communist government, something which still remains current today.

For the occasion Card Varkey Vithayathil, chairman of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and major archbishop in the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, made public a letter urging the faithful to remember what happened 50 years ago and pray for the ‘martyrs of Angamaly’, the seven Catholics who were killed protesting the Communist government’s policy.

Fr Paul Thelakat, editor-in-chief of the Satyadeepam weekly and a spokesman for the Syro-Malabar Synod spoke to AsiaNews about the events of 1959.

“Police opened fire in four different places, killing 15 people. In 248 places they resorted to lathi sticks to push back the crowd. Altogether some 177,850 arrests were detained, including 42,745 women. But after 28 months the state government fell (pictured, Kerala’s first Communist Chief Minister Namboodiripad, first to right, after his resignation). Ever since the liberation struggle has been an important moment in the history of Kerala.

In 1957 the Communist Party came to power. Elamkulam Manakkal Sankaran Namboodiripad became the first and only democratically elected leader who did not belong to the ruling Indian National Congress. Once in power he began policies meant to discredit the Catholic Church and eliminate it as the only obstacle on the path to building a Marxist society.

Unrest followed when the new state government introduced an education bill that would remove the administration of educational institutions from the control of Church or the Nair Service Society, an organisation that manages education and health care for the Nair Hindu caste.

Catholics and Nairs took to the street in protest. Opposition parties did the same. In the following clashes people were arrested and killed. Only the intervention of then Union Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru brought the protest movement to an end.

“Invoking Art 365 of the constitution Nehru dismissed the state government. And in the following elections in 1960 the Communists lost badly, seeing their seats drop from 60 to 29,” said Father Thelakat.

Today the Vimochana Samaram continues to be controversial. The Communists, who are now in power at the state level but lost badly in last May’s federal elections, called it a “political game.”

For this reason Cardinal Vithayathil wrote the aforementioned letter and it is also why the Catholic Church in Kerala plans a remembrance Mass and symposium on the struggle and its victims.

P. Thelakat said that the Vimochana Samaram “must be remembered if for no other reason that it taught the Communist that they cannot be part of a multiparty system without respecting the democratic values of the constitution.”

This is still important today since the Church and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) are still at loggerheads.

Their attempt to nationalise the school system and the country’s rigid class system are still source of discussion today.

For Father Thelakat the struggle in 1959 at least “forced the Communists to understand that violence cannot succeed in India. It forced them to actually accept the democratic process if they wanted to get into power.”

For some commentators the results in India’s recent elections to the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament, which saw the Communist lose represent a silent version of the Vimochana Samaram.

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