Other States

A priest in the middle of anti-CAA protests

Fr. Anand Mathew

Fr. Anand Mathew  

He was let go, but served notice later

A day before social activists, intellectuals, students and research scholars took out a march in protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act at Beniabagh here, two policemen came knocking on the door of Fr. Anand Mathew who had just returned to Varanasi. They took out a piece of paper and respectfully asked him to sign it.

After he had complied, they asked him what it was all about. Fr. Mathew said it was a notice served on him under Section 149 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. “It says if I am involved in any unlawful protest against the CAA or NRC, action will be taken against me.”

Fr. Mathew from Kerala has been living in Varanasi for 45 years. A “Gandhian” social activist, he is a coordinator of the Sanjha Sanskriti Manch, an umbrella organisation of social groups and organisations working in different fields concerning human lives and livelihood in Varanasi. “I do not run any organisation... I’m a Gandhian or, you can say a Gandhian social activist,” he told The Hindu with a smile. It was natural for Father Mathew to participate in an anti-CAA and NRC protest march at the Beniabagh ground on December 19. “By evening, 76 protesters were arrested and packed into two buses... I was in one of them, but at the police station when they started counting all of us and calling out our names, my name was missing. I and a few others were allowed to leave,” he said.

Since then Father Mathew has been working for the release of the arrested, including two women Ekta Shekhar and Sania. “We hope that they get bail on January 1 when the case is heard in the city’s Sessions court”, he says sitting in Ms. Shekhar’s residence in Adarsh nagar locality of Varanasi. Father Mathew had organised a prayer meeting at the residence on December 28 for the release of Ms. Shekhar, her husband Ravi Shekhar and 54 others. A group of school children, social activists and family members had assembled for the prayer meeting. “We organised this meeting here because we can’t do it in a public park as section 144 of the IPC is imposed in the city and the cops will come looking for us...it will invite more trouble”, he says.

But does he see a change in the usual bonhomie in Varanasi these days, especially after 2014?

“Yes, a lot has changed...Police have become brazen...our constitutional values are being seriously threatened,” he says.

Father Mathew further says that “Varanasi started losing its usual bonhomie since 2014 but it has now reached a climax... For the last 30 years a mela (fair) is held around Christmas in the city, in which a large number of Muslim boys too participate. But, this year we saw just a few of them ”, he says. Muslims comprise roughly 17-18% and Christians just 1% of the population here, he says. “People are terrified, frightened to express their thoughts in public...people of Varanasi today are caught up in untruth, and I think its just been an amber of fire”, rues Father Mathew as he gets up to begin the prayer meeting.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 6:17:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/a-priest-in-the-middle-of-anti-caa-protests/article30427452.ece

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