Idukki bishop's anti-birth control remark sparks outrage; rationalists term it anti-democratic

A Catholic bishop in Kerala has called on Christian couples to competitively produce children till the end of their reproductive capacity.

Idukki Bishop Mar Mathew Anikuzhikattil has given the call in a pastoral letter issued on the occasion of Christmas. The letter to be read in all parishes in the diocese on any Sunday during December termed creation a divine process and predicted miseries for those who upset it.

The Bishop’s call is viewed in social and political circles in the state as a reflection of the growing concern in the Church about the dwindling numbers of Christians in the state. Several other bishops had made similar calls before Anikuzhikattil.

Some churches even offered incentives to couples to have more children. While most churches offered free education and medical care in Church-run institutions, one in Wayanad district introduced cash incentives to couples who produce more children.

The St Vincent De Paul Forane Church at Kalpetta offered Rs 10,000 as fixed deposit in the name of every fifth child born in the family in the parish. The church set aside a part of the weekly Sunday collection to fund the programme.

 Idukki bishops anti-birth control remark sparks outrage; rationalists term it anti-democratic

Representational image. Reuters

None of these efforts seem to have brought any change in the mindset of the faithful, who continue to limit the size of families by using either natural or artificial contraception that the Catholic Church dubs as sin. Studies showed that the Christian community had the highest rate of sterilisation in the state.

According to a study by KC Zachariah, former senior demographer with the World Bank and honorary fellow at the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, the proportion of Christian couples who had undergone sterilisation by 1991 was nearly 50 percent as against 34 percent among Muslims and upper caste Hindus.

As a result of this, the population of Christians continued to decline. The 2011 census data shows that the share of Christians in the total population of the state had come down from 21 percent in 1971 to 18.4 percent in 2011.

Hindus have also witnessed a sharp decline in their population during the period. The share of the Hindus came down from 58.2 percent in 1971 to 53.6 percent in 2011. The gainer is apparently the Muslim community. Its share went up from 21.3 percent to 26.6 percent in the last four decades.

Christians had a growth rate higher than that of non-Christians in Kerala in the early part of the twentieth century. But the trend reversed by 1961, when the non-Christians started gaining upper hand. They maintained higher growth rates through the rest of the century.

After 1971, Christians grew at a rate lower than the average for other communities. By the end of the century, the rate of growth of the Christians was only 60 percent of the Hindu growth rate and less than half the growth rate of the Muslims.

Christians had outnumbered Muslims for much of the last century. The latter overtook the Christians in 1971 and is continuing their dominance. A study on religious denominations based on the 2011 census by Zachariah says that the numerical dominance of Muslims over the Christians is likely to accelerate in the coming decades.

"By the middle of the century, Muslims could constitute more than a third and Christians less than one-sixth of Kerala’s population. Similarly, by 2051, the Hindus could be less than 50 percent of the State’s population for the first time in Kerala’s history. However, they are unlikely to be outnumbered in the state by any other community at any time," says Zachariah.

Numerically, Christians are the smallest among the three major religious groups in the state at present. They numbered just about 6.057 million according to the 2001 Census, and 6.141 million according to the 2011 Census.

None of these efforts seem to have brought any change in the mindset of the faithful, who continue to limit the size of families by using either natural or artificial contraception that the Catholic Church dubs as sin

Zachariah feels that the proportion of the Christian population in the total population would decrease to about 17 percent at the end of the first quarter of the 21st century. This means that the population of the community would come down to 5.9 million by 2031.

Zachariah believes that this would push down the Christian share from nearly one-fourth of the population before 1970 to less than one-sixth by the middle of the century. Among the Christian denominations, the non-Catholic Episcopal Syrian Christian communities and the Syro-Malankara Catholics are witnessing a decline in their population.

According to Zachariah, a major factor behind the decline is the below replacement fertility that the state reached in 1990s. Migration to other states in India and to other countries outside India and movement from one Christian denomination to another are other major factors cited by Zachariah.

The Idukki bishop has blamed the family planning for the present state of the Christian community. He believes that parents were adopting birth control measures for the sake of luxury.

"They consider children as a hurdle to their modern style of living. Our forefathers had welcomed new life even when there were no modern facilities to support life. They did not discard children by looking at their number or their quality. They treated every child as God’s gift," Anikuzhikattil said.

The bishop said that the people who adopt birth control measures will be sowing seeds of anxiety and frustration in families. Life will be miserable for such people, the bishop said, adding that the loneliness faced by the elders was a result of this.

Describing those who say "no one needs to be born and live after they become a part of the population" as selfish and arrogant, the bishop has urged Christian couples to engage in creation as long as their body allows.

Rationalists have viewed the bishop’s call anti-democratic. U Kalanadhan, president of Kerala Rationalists Association, said that the Church was indulging in this kind of anti-democratic activities because they fear that they will lose their clout in the state.

Kalanadhan told Firstpost that the Church and other religious groups have been flexing their muscles because of the policy of religious appeasement followed by mainstream parties. He has called for the separation of religion from politics to end this menace.

Idukki diocese Family Apostolate Director Fr Joseph Kollakombil denied any motives behind the pastoral letter issued by the bishop. He said that the prelate had only tried to explain the Church’s stand on life.

"Christmas reminds us of the divine process of creation. It is quite natural for the clergy to underline the importance of life on the occasion. Bishop Anikuzhikattil has done only this. There is no need for reading between the lines," said Fr Joseph.

However, his critics are not ready to take it without a pinch of salt, since the bishop has been raking up the issue in one form or the other for some time now. Last year, he kicked off a big controversy by accusing an Ezhava community organisation of weaning away Christian girls through 'love jihad'.

The bishop had also come out against inter-faith marriages and delaying of marriage by youths. He termed inter-caste marriages 'against Christianity' and urged the faithful to resist the government's attempts to promote them.

The bishop said that the youths were delaying marriages for the sake of education and career. He urged youths to give marriage priority over education.

Many of these remarks had created a big uproar in the state. Anikuzhikattil was forced to withdraw his statement on 'love jihad' and tender an apology after Hindu organisations joined hands against him. They accused him of spewing communal venom.

Updated Date: Dec 13, 2016 12:18:04 IST