Death threats

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - | POLITICS POLICY - Piyush.Rai@

Bareilly: Union min­is­ter and se­nior BJP leader Mukhtar Ab­bas Naqvi’s sis­ter, a prom­i­nent so­cial ac­tivist who runs an NGO work­ing for women af­fected by triple ta­laq, was on Satur­day af­ter­noon ac­costed by three men and given death threats.

Farhat Naqvi, 35, who runs the Mera Haq Foun­da­tion, was on her way home when the al­leged in­ci­dent hap­pened, me­tres from the Chowki Chau­raha po­lice out­post here at 12.30pm. “I boarded an e-rick­shaw near Chou­pla and was on my way to­wards Chowki Chau­raha when I first spot­ted a car fol­low­ing me. The car soon pulled over and an uniden­ti­fied man started hurl­ing abuses at me. The car then closed in fur­ther, and the man threat­ened to kill me. There were three men in the car. The po­lice out­post was close by, and I tried rais­ing the alarm, but the men fled,” said Farhat.

“I am not cer­tain why I was threat­ened... About a month ago, I was stalked in the court premises. I had dis­missed it back then as a mi­nor in­ci­dent... But this time around, there was a brazen at­tempt to in­tim­i­date me...,” she added.

“We are look­ing into the pos­si­bil­ity that peo­ple who ob­jected to Farhat’s work with triple ta­laq-af­fected women, or one of the fam­i­lies in­volved, could have done this,” said a po­lice of­fi­cial.

At the Don Bosco Sale­sian House in Kochi, the vigil is over. Bare­foot boys play bas­ket­ball on the makeshift court in the premises and a tall, strap­ping pri­est briefly chips in, his white habit hitched up as he neatly dodges the de­fend­ers and sur­prises his wards with a slam dunk.

Ev­ery day, for 18 long months, the in­mates of Don Bosco prayed for Fa­ther Tom Uzhun­nalil, a fel­low Sale­sian pri­est who was fi­nally re­leased from Is­lamic State cap­tiv­ity in Ye­men last Tues­day. The Sale­sians, like many other Christian con­gre­ga­tions in Ker­ala, send their most mo­ti­vated mem­bers to var­i­ous parts of the world, places marked by blood­shed or de­pri­va­tion, or both.

The risks these mod­ern-day mis­sion­ar­ies face far out­weigh the re­wards – which are spir­i­tual in any case — but there has been no sign of a de­crease in one of Ker­ala’s prin­ci­pal ‘ex­ports’. A pop­u­lar say­ing among lo­cal Christian com­mu­ni­ties goes, “A fam­ily’s great­est wealth is an ele­phant or a pri­est.”

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial sources in the Catholic Church, In­dia, along with the Philip­pines and Viet­nam, sends the most num­ber of mis­sion­ar­ies abroad. While there are no proper stats about pri­ests from the rest of In­dia, Ker­ala cur­rently has 15,000 pri­ests and 27,000 nuns work­ing out­side In­dia. The num­ber of Ker­ala nuns who work else­where in In­dia is 56,000. This puts the to­tal num­ber of Ker­ala nuns work­ing out­side the state at 83,000. The num­ber of nuns — be­long­ing to Catholic and Syro-Mal­abar de­nom­i­na­tion — in Ker­ala it­self is only 1,20,000, which shows the clear em­pha­sis on chal­leng­ing ‘mis­sion­ary’ ac­tiv­ity out­side the fold, whether it is for spread­ing the Word or merely well-be­ing — schools, hos­pices, and soup kitchens.

Fr Ge­orge Mut­tathu­param­bil, a Ker­ala pri­est who was in Ye­men with Fr Uzhun­nalil, and had a nar­row es­cape soon af­ter the lat­ter’s ab­duc­tion in March 2016, says that for­eign pri­ests went to Aden and Sana’a at the re­quest of the then Yeme­nese govern­ment to look af­ter lep­ers and the ail­ing aged. The pri­ests were for­bid­den from preach­ing. “Trans­for­ma­tion into a bet­ter hu­man is the ex­pected end re­sult BACK HOME: of a mis­sion, and not con­ver­sion. Our def­i­ni­tion of a mis­sion­ary is sim­ple – some­one sent on a mis­sion for good­ness,” Fr Mut­tathu­param­bil, who started his work in Ye­men at Hodei­dah where three nuns were shot dead in 1988, told TOI.

There are many Ker­ala pri­ests work­ing in North Amer­ica and Europe where con­gre­ga­tions are dwin­dling by the day and vic­ars are hard to find. But if church sources here are to be be­lieved, within the church it­self ‘post­ings’ to the trou­ble spots of the world are con­sid­ered more ‘glam­orous’. A Do­mini­can fa­ther based in Kot­tayam, who did stints in West Asia, Ger­many, Ire­land and var­i­ous dio­ce­ses in the US, and is now yearn­ing for a ‘post­ing’ in West Asia or Africa, says that “in the US and Europe, our func­tions were largely rit­u­al­is­tic and sacra­men­tal. There was lit­tle or no real chal­lenge”.

Pri­ests and nuns cho­sen to work in re­mote lo­ca­tions are of course pro­vided prior ‘ac­cli­ma­ti­sa­tion’, no­tably in the form of lan­guage train­ing, psy­cho­log­i­cal adap­ta­tion, cul­ture tips and also emer­gency sur­vival skills. Fr Thomas Man­ninezhath, one of the first mem­bers of Carmelites of Mary Im­mac­u­late in Namibia in south­ern Africa, says that knowl­edge of the ver­nac­u­lar lan­guage is im­por­tant. “It was a very new ex­pe­ri­ence for me as I had never prop­erly in­ter­acted with blacks. I used to teach them and though it was tough, I had a feel­ing of ful­fil­ment in im­part­ing knowl­edge to those kids there,” says Fr Man­ninezhath who worked for 17 years in Namibia.

Back at Don Bosco House in Kochi, Fr Paul­son Kan­nap­pilly, the rec­tor, re­it­er­ates that it’s all about do­ing good work and lead­ing by ex­am­ple. “Our pri­ests and nuns go to these dis­tant places and try to in­spire the lo­cal peo­ple. Soon they do things on their own,” he says. The sweaty novices, seated around him af­ter the bas­ket­ball ses­sion, nod in agree­ment.

An emo­tional Fr Tom Uzhun­nalil dur­ing a press con­fer­ence af­ter his re­cent res­cue from IS mil­i­tants, who ab­ducted him in 2016

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