By Cyriac Sebastian
Kochi: A Catholic priest in Kerala on October 16 got himself tied to a cross for eight hours to protest strikes that have crippling effect on people with losses running into billions of rupees in the southern Indian state.
“Kerala has witnessed around 100 hartals in the past 10 months that accounted for a loss of 390 billion rupees,” Father Davis Chiramel wrote on his social media platforms a day before he launched the “global campaign” against reckless hartal called by political parties and others.
Hartal is a South Asian term for mass protest involving total shutdown of workplaces, offices, shops, educational institutional institutions as a form of civil disobedience.
However in Kerala, hartals have become “part and parcel of life,” reports The New Indian Express newspaper. The hartal is called at the state, district, taluk, village or even at the panchayat ward level, the newspaper noted.
The priest, who hit international headline eight years ago by donating one of his kidneys to a poor Hindu villager, clarified that his latest campaign hashtagged “I challenge hartal” was not against any political parties or communities.
However, the day he chose for the launch coincided with a strike called by the opposition United Democratic Front to protest hike petrol price.
“Do we need hartal?” asked the 56-year-old lanky bearded priest in his Facebook page announcing the campaign.
More than 700 people gathered to watch Father Chiramel get himself tied to a cross at Vylathur near Kunnamkulam in Thrissur district. He lay on the cross blindfolded from 10 am to 5 pm. A layman, Sumesh Chengamanadu, also joined the priest on another cross. The priest is the parish priest of St Cyriac Church of Vylathur under Trichur archdiocese.
The priest said he chose the unique form of protest to symbolize the hardship common people undergo during hartal days. Several patients have died in the state as they could not get medical help on time. Thousands of people get stranded on railway stations, bus terminals and other places as the hartal organizers prevent people from traveling by vehicles.
Father Chiramel, who is also the president of the Kidney Foundation of India, clarified that the campaign was to get millions people to assert that they are against hartal. “What is important is not the party, or the community, but the pain and anguish of human beings,” he added.
The campaign had adopted the Gandhian path that stresses personal suffering to achieve a common goal, said Father Chiramel, who became a Catholic priest 29 years ago, to explain why he tied himself to the cross for hours.