A rebel with a cause

Joseph Pulikkunnel, who died early on Thursday morning, was a believer, but a believer who disagreed fiercely with the church establishment’s ways, even as he loved and trusted his Christ intensely.

Mr. Pulikkunnel, whose battles with the church establishment is part of modern democratic lore in Kerala, was opposed to what he considered the establishment’s craving for wealth and its garish display. His call was for the assertion of a religious ethos founded on justice and compassion. All he wanted was to retake the space left behind by the disciples of Jesus when Imperial Christianity took over. He is not for constructing anything new but to bring back the original democratic structure of the church, he used to say.

He carried on his defiant take on the church establishment and its interpretation of the Christian idea through the pamphlet ‘Osaana,’ which he edited and published up to March 2017. Then he chose to close it down as someone who takes up its mantle “may not have the same sense of purpose, focus or the same sense of direction.” He was ready to take on anyone on issues that he firmly believed in.

His language could scald and his ways could shock, as had happened when he cremated his wife Kochurani at the Osaana Mount, which had been his home and outreach centre for long. As he wished, he would also be cremated in this ancestral property which he has bequeathed to the Pulikkunnel Foundation. The foundation has been entrusted with the responsibility of the works he had taken up.

Mr. Pulikkunnel had angered the church establishment by conducting marriages in defiance of the church doctrine and shocked the hierarchy when he took up the Malayalam translation of the Bible in 1978 and with the active involvement of eminent litterateurs such as N.V. Krishna Warrier and Scaria Zacharia. He completed it five years later. The Osaana Bible has so far sold over an estimated one million copies.

Even while waging a war within the Catholic Church, Mr. Pulikkunnel used to be firmly committed to the Christian value system and used to say that he lived by a simple logic of opposing anything that he found to be wrong. And it was this simple logic that cost him his first job, that of a lecturer in a college run by the church. He had been a KPCC member at the age of 30 but soon parted ways and was among the founding fathers of the Kerala Congress.

He was the party’s candidate in the first ever election it fought in 1965, but had lost. By 1976, he was so estranged from the party that he filed an election case against K.M. Mani after the Assembly election that year.

He never confined his works to the reformation movement in the Catholic Church. Long before palliative care took roots as a movement in the State, Mr. Pulikkunnel started a palliative care centre in 1982, the first of its kind in Kerala, under the Good Samaritan India project. The same year he started a centre to take care of poor girls afflicted with diabetes.

Pulikkunnel’s Will, which he published as a public document, is testimony to his commitment to the cause he fought for. “My three daughters and son are financially secure and do not need the earnings from my property,” he said. ‘‘Unlike during the feudal periods, they don’t have to live by income from agriculture...I believe… accumulation of wealth through inheritance do not agree with my social view.”

He also dispensed with the practice among many of earmarking a share of their wealth to the church, stating that he did not believe that such wealth would be used for the objective it was meant for.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 7:06:49 PM |

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