By Tom Chennatt
London, Dec. 19, 2018: They were called ‘sari visa men’ when they arrived in the United Kingdom following their wives who were employed as nurses or physiotherapists. They were hardworking and took up any job they found in the UK where labor, even manual, is respected unlike in their native country.
However, they faced a role reversal at home in the UK. They had to tolerate their wives’ insulting jibes such as ‘if one marries a nurse a family is saved.’
Or questions like this: “Did you ever expect to come to the UK?’ the wife of a sari-visa holder asked him when she came to receive him at the airport. He said his first thought was to take the flight back. He swallowed his pride and followed his wife.
The message was clear to him — never question the wife if he wants peace of mind.
Finding themselves in a different cultural set up these men formed associations to socialize. For spiritual sustenance they attended the English churches and made new friends among the British Catholics.
All these activities kept the “Zero Mallus” active socially in UK.
But not for too long!
Finding their people successful, the “Zero Church” or their Syro-Malabar Church landed in the UK with scores of priests and a bishop. The Zero church structure in the UK began with the nurse migration in the early 1990s.
Soon some leaders of the associations went to the church to lead its various activities and associations. Growth in one area meant decline in others. The associations slowly withered away.
However, the men found the church activities different from the social associations. They realized their only role in the church was to pray, pay and obey. On top of that the lack of transparency and accountability in church activities upset and saddened them.
Any protest was met with taunts from the pulpit. “What qualification do these guys have for coming to the UK other than marrying a nurse,” said a priest in his during a Sunday service at St. Alphonsa Cathedral, Preston.
I wondered how the audience would react to such a statement. Most faithful in the cathedral are nurses and their ‘sari-visa husbands.’
The gathering may not object to such talks because they echo the nurses’ views about their husbands at home. The nurses are the breadwinners and the husbands, with their meager earnings, have little say at home.
The Zero church being patriarchal to its core considers the husband the head of the family. According to its teachings, the unity and integrity of the family is based on this primacy of the husband — something that the church says it has to protect. A coherent family is necessary for children to inculcate values necessary for a good society, it asserts.
By attacking the core of the family structure by declaring the husband good for nothing, the priest has put the ax at the very idea of the Christian family. It is clear to the listener that the priest is attacking the lack of formal education and low earning capacity of the husbands.
This overemphasis on the financial aspect of the family relations attacks the spiritual content of the family life. One should not be surprised if some nurses come out in support of such priests.
The humiliation of the hapless Zero mallu husbands does not end in the church. It follows them to the mandatory second Saturday convention which is semi-charismatic whole day prayer sessions. The repetitive talks and exaggerated claims of miraculous cures by enthusiastic participants at the convention tax one’s focus. If anyone takes a break to go to the car park, the priests would send a delegation who moves around chanting ‘praise the Lord’ until he or she gets inside the prayer hall.
However things are changing. Someone in an audience recorded the whole thing and shared it on social media attracting many likes. It was a sign that dissatisfaction is brewing inside the Zero church in the UK.
Trying to give voice to such dissent is Tom Jose Thadiyampadu. In a number of videos he has come out against the Zero church leaders and their tactics to keep their flocks together. His main grievance is that the church blackmails its members to make sure they adhere to its dictates. The church leaders’ trump card is their power to issue letter of consent for receiving any Sacrament at the home parish of the faithful back in Kerala.
The Kerala church leaders accept only those letters issued by their counterpart in the UK. Those who are members of the Latin Catholic Church are denied this privilege. Tom Jose is planning to initiate a legal challenge to this practice.
The Zero church in the UK claims it exists to develop our children’s good character. But nothing of that will happened if a spiritual leader uses a public forum to downgrade their mother’s profession and declare their fathers as worthless. What impact will it have on the mind of children who tend to identify themselves with their parents, especially their fathers?
We can say without hesitation priests like him are a social menace to our community and we need to something about it.
In this context, Tom Jose’s work is of great importance.
One thing will become slowly clear that the Zero church is neither interested in our family nor in our children.
It may take some time for our people to realize this. Only progressive non-religious organisations can help.
[Disclaimer: The views expressed in this commentary are the writer’s. Matters India does not agree or disagree with them.]