As the hunger strike of Fr. Pallath J. Joseph now enters its 26th day, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) calls for vigils to be held before all Jesuit houses all over the world urging the Jesuits to intervene with their superior general in Rome, the Rev. Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, and the superiors of their order in the state of Kerala in India to save the life of Fr. Pallath and to begin negotiations with him.
After being a member of the Jesuits for 35 years, Fr. Pallath, a well-known anthropologist, was dismissed from the order on April 28, 2000. While fighting his expulsion, he was forcibly removed from his room by thugs in the presence of two Jesuits on Oct. 16, 2000, and literally thrown out into the street. He was found by a passerby and taken to the hospital. Since then, he has been trying to convince the Jesuit authorities to convene an inquiry into his case.
Consequently, Fr. Pallath, after all attempts to initiate negotiations failed, entered into a hunger strike on May 11. Just before the hunger strike began, he said that his only demand was for an impartial inquiry and an assurance that such an inquiry would be held. In spite of many interventions from priests, nuns and community leaders in Kerala, the Jesuit superiors in Kerala have still refused to negotiate.
Dr. Joseph Kottukapilly, a highly regarded theologian, intellectual and visiting professor at many Catholic seminaries in India, said at a crowded press conference in Calicut, Kerala: ¡°I have been unsuccessfully searching for the last two years for a modicum of justification in the manner in which my superiors have been treating Fr. Pallath. Theologically, canonically, as per Jesuit constitution and as per principles of natural justice, there is absolutely no justification for what we are doing to him. Silence at this juncture, when every effort to make the Jesuit authorities see reason seems to be failing, will be a crime against my Christian faith and against my Jesuit calling.¡±
My struggle,¡± he added, ¡°is not so much for Fr. Pallath as for the Jesuit order itself, to redeem it from the deep abyss of inhumanness and injustice it has fallen into.¡±
On June 4, about 52 people, including 10 priests and several nuns, held a one-day fast in the centre of Calicut in support of Fr. Pallath and to demand from the Jesuits that justice be done in this case. Throughout the city, many activities by community leaders, journalists and others have been taking place on a daily basis to support Fr. Pallath since the fast began.
When the Jesuit superiors in Kerala were approached by people attempting to mediate in the dispute, the simple reply from the Jesuit authorities was: ¡°He could die for all we care. But there is nothing that we intend doing.¡±
Jesuit authorities have also been accused by the committee supporting Fr. Pallath¡¯s hunger strike of trying to sabotage the hunger strike by several illegal acts.
¡°Every dirty trick that would undoubtedly shame even the professional strike-wreckers of Kerala that are on the payrolls of industrial magnates are being deployed by the Jesuit authorities,¡± the committee said in an update of the hunger strike. ¡°At least seven police complaints have been filed. Drunkards are let loose near the venue of the hunger strike; and on one occasion, one even tried to manhandle Fr. Pallath. The convenor of the support committee was mercilessly attacked and had to be hospitalised during the initial days of the hunger strike, and now notice has been served on Fr. Pallath¡¯s supporters from the court, ostensibly to preempt any action they would direct towards Christ Hall, the seat of the Jesuit authority of Kerala.¡±
The support committee also says that Fr. Pallath¡¯s health has worsened. He is rapidly losing weight, and his low blood pressure is also causing concern. He has reiterated his determination though to continue the struggle until there is justice.
Basil Fernando, the executive director of AHRC, noted that the attitude of the Jesuit superiors in Kerala, as well as the superior general in Rome, is hard to fathom.
¡°The absolute unwillingness to negotiate on the part of the Jesuit superiors,¡± said Fernando, ¡°makes this such an exceptional case. AHRC has written 20 open letters during a period of more than one year urging the superior general in Rome to address this issue. He has failed to reply to any of these letters. Thousands of others from all over the world have intervened and have even offered to act as mediators. All of them have been arrogantly and cynically ignored.¡±
¡°What is most remarkable,¡± he added, ¡°is the sheer determination of an individual who has been hurt by his own brothers of the order and who is maintaining such a long fast to gain justice for himself and for others who have suffered like him. What is really taking place in Calicut is a revolt, supported by so many, against the extremely inhumane practices pursued by some religious orders, like the Jesuits. The challenge posed by Fr. Pallath has now penetrated the minds of the people of Kerala. They will naturally place the death of Fr. Pallath, if it happens, on the entire order of the Jesuits, and they are quite justified in doing so.¡±
Fernando urged Jesuits all over the world to intervene with their superiors to initiate negotiations on the issue to save the life of a courageous man who has stood for justice.
More information about Fr. Pallath¡¯s case is available on the Internet at <http://jjpallath.ahrchk.net/>. For further details, please contact Bruce Van Voorhis or Basil Fernando at AHRC.