Endogamy in Kottayam open Debate

Two Eminent Knanites thrash it out openly, frankly

James KottorDr James Kottoor

   Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue!  That alone is the way forward anywhere, especially in the Church. The aggrieved parties in Kottayam diocese and Church in India tried it for the last three years. They failed miserably. It is vertical dialogue we are talking about. What do you do if those on high thrones keep their mouth shut all the time? How do you clap hands if one of the hands won’t budge?                 

                    You can take our Holy cows to the stream, but can you make them  bend their stiff necks and open their closed mouths to drink? So we have given that up for the moment. Now the aggrieved parties in Kottayam themselves have come forward to set an example for the closed mouths in their church.                                                   

       Both are close friends  — Two   Alexes — of this scribe. Meplaton discovered me as his classmate, though I had forgotten him, and visited me in Chicago and  Ernakulam in  2013. Sri Estapan the National Coordinator of Knanites in USA has been in contact with me ever since 2013. They now show  how  to discuss and disagree openly in an agreeable way. No love is lost on either side. Will our Excellencies, Graces and Beatitudes take a cue from them?

                    If not we have to give up on them for good and tell them: “What you are speaks  to us so LOUD that we can’t hear  what you say!” (Of course they speak only when they sent down Diktats, which deserves to be ignored since  they ignore even Fatherly pleas from the Pope.)

                   Alex Mapleton first wrote defending  the practice of Endogamy in Kottayam. Alex Estapan Coordinator of Knanites in US answers him quoting  his paragraphs one after another.   My request to you readers is to listen to both carefully and send in your reaction to CCV or james kottoor.

Sri  Alex Estapan’s Reply to Alex Mapleton's Article:

 Endogamy & the Archdiocese of Kottayam

Dear Alex Mapleton,

The attached is a point by point response to your article "Endogamy & the Archdiocese of Kottayam: Some Commonly Propagated Falsehoods".  We felt that your article needed a response since it mentions about certain legal and canonical developments which were not public, and we sense that there is an orchestrated attempt to "educate" ordinary Knanaites.  We have a different view of Knanaya customs and traditions, and note many of your assertions in the article are false.  So, this response.   It will be forwarded to many individuals, blogs and attached in our Alex Kavumpurathwebsite: www.kanachicago.org

With warm regards,

Alex Kavumpurath,  National Coordinator, KANA

A Reply to Alex Mapleton regarding the following Article

By Alex Kavumpurath, National Coordinator, KANA

Endogamy & the Archdiocese of Kottayam Some Commonly Propagated Falsehoods

Alex Mapleton:

There are some people within Kerala and many more vocal ones outside who are unkind to the Knanaya tradition of endogamy. Also, it is not a secret that there are many, both laymen and clergy, who are very unfriendly towards the existence of the arch eparchy of Kottayam. These oppositions are becoming more and more conspicuous. During the past few decades, these people have held parades and processions in protest and convened public meetings and seminars to propagate their dissenting views. They have actively recruited speakers and writers to speak and write on their behalf. Besides, for years they have been sending written petitions to various authorities in Rome seeking reversal of the status quo. The much publicized Biju Uthup case in Kerala served to highlight their cause to some extent. Lately, it is learnt that many exogamous Knanites have filed lawsuits in lower courts challenging the legal validity of the Knanaya traditions that govern our aged old and Church approved practices.

Alex Kavumpurath (AK):

We are unkind to Knanaya tradition of exclusion because it is unkind.  We have a right to take whatever actions to make it kind.  I am not and KANA is not against Kottayam diocese or Knanaya community.  We are part of it.  Our actions are to make this community a better and stronger community by keeping all our children with us.  Trying to end discrimination and exclusion is not to destroy the community, but to save its soul and body.  If anybody has any doubt, check with Jesus to see why he opposed Jewish practice of endogamy at his time.  Filing legal cases and complaints with Rome are traditional ways to settle disputes.  We took these actions because the other side refused to talk to find an equitable solution.  

Against this backdrop, it behooves every caring Knanite to become knowledgeable about the facts and the framework in which our community and diocese function. Creating a smokescreen or fog of falsehoods and suspicions may lead many uninformed and otherwise innocent people into believing that Knanites are ‘unchristian’ in both our attitude and actions. Let facts speak for themselves. Be well informed so we can explain our stand when need arises.  Hence this article.

AK: Lately we see this kind of articles in many places and sense an orchestrated attempt to mislead people in the pretext to educate them in response to what is happening in Kerala and Rome.  The fact of the matter is that even though Kottayam bishops and endogamy supporters tried their best, Rome sided with KANA and the court in Kerala sided with Biju Uthup in previous cases.  We have no doubt that the same will happen in our latest cases. 

1. Expulsion of exogamous Knanites from parishes/diocese and denial of sacraments/ spiritual needs

This is totally untrue; not even a single such case exists. What usually happens is this: Any Knanite who decides to marry from outside applies for permission to leave the diocese (PLAK) because a nonknanite cannot be included as a parishioner. (Our diocese was erected exclusively for Southists per the papal bull.) Anybody and everybody are welcome in all our parishes to meet individual spiritual needs.

AK: This is exactly what Mar Moolakkatt responded to our lawyer’s notice before filing the class action civil suit recently in Kerala.  I wonder how Mr. Mapleton and Mar Moolakkatt can repeat this manifestly false statement.  I am an endogamous Kna, I know what is happening in Kna community.  If what you say is true, the question is, would you agree to keep Knas who marry non-Kna?  There is no such option.  Though it is true that Pope St. Pius X erected Apostolic Vicariate of Kottayam for the Knanaya Community on 29 August 1911 through the Apostolic Letter "In Universi Chrisiani” because of some specific circumstances prevailed then, it is not true that this bull prohibits inclusion of a non-knanite as a parishioner.  This Bull neither instructs to exclude Knas marrying non-Knas nor prohibits including non-Kna family members.  This Bull should not be used as a basis to deny sacraments to Kna faithful, and to exclude and/or to split non-endogamous families.  This was the finding of the court in Biju Uthup case.  Our children are not anybody and everybody, they are part of our heritage and all of them must have equal right without regard to their endogamous and purity status.

2. Non-inclusion of an exogamous Knanite and his/her spouse in Kottayam is against Christian doctrines/ biblical teachings.

Membership is what cannot be granted. Spiritual needs are taken care of whenever requested. Canonically it is legal to have parishes based on rite, language, nationality, or some other basis. (Knanites are of Iraqi-Judeo Christian descent.) It is also exempt from the territorial rule, that is, geographical boundaries. In 1990, Pope John Paul II promulgated a special Code of Canon to safeguard and promote the unique or specific features of the Eastern heritage. This is a safeguard Kottayam must make use of as much as any other diocese. Apostolic tradition shows that there were Jewish Christians, Gentile Christians, etc. Everyone that embraced Jesus’ good news did become Jewish Christians. Jewish Catholics in Israel now has their own diocese.

AK: Membership is what we want, other things will follow that.  If you read the Court Verdict in Biju Uthup case, it is clearly stated that the practice of exclusion is against Christian doctrines/ biblical teachings.  The fundamental tenant of Jesus’s good news is that you love everybody equally, not just your own kind as the Jews practiced at the time of Jesus.  If you say that exclusion is a sign of love, I have difficulty to understand the logic.  Jewish Catholic diocese in Israel does not exclude their non-endogamous families, we should not do either. 

Screen Shot 2016-03-06 at 10.01.13 pm3. Is endogamy against any law or a violation of human rights?

Endogamy is a matter of personal choice made freely and willingly. Any obstruction is a violation of the US Constitution. The practice of endogamy is a 16 plus century old tradition. A tradition with at least 30 years of continuous practice enjoys the force of law. Setting up qualifications for membership in a club, community, etc. is a common practice. Being born of both Knanayaparents is the ‘raison d’etre’ [mainspring] and consecutive principle for membership in the Knanaya community. Also, the characterization that observance of endogamy amounts to promoting Manu’s Code on the caste system is incorrect.

AK: It appears that Mapleton is confused here.  Nobody is against endogamous marriage, that is, marriage between a Kna and Kna, Black and Black, Italian and Italian, etc.  What we object is the practice of exclusion, if one cannot marry from within.  Setting up qualifications for membership in a club, community, etc. is a common practice, but if it is based on race purity, it is fit for a hate group, not for a Christian group.  So, Knanaya practice is a relic of the caste system practiced in India, it has no place in the modern civil and democratic society. 

If endogamy is not against any law or not a violation of human rights, then why the court in Biju Uthup case ruled against Kottayam diocese?  Mr. Mapleton, please answer. The court found that the Knanaya practice is not based on a legally valid custom. 

In defense of exclusion, Mr. Mapleton and others say “being born of both Knanaya parents is the ‘raison d’etre’ [mainspring] and consecutive principle for membership in the Knanaya community”.  I do not believe a person like Mapleton who has a science background truly believes this as the case.  If this is true, why most of the Knanaites, including Mr. Mapleton and me, have a physical feature of fellow Indians (look at Mr. Mapleton’s good looking photo above).  This was also confirmed by our DNA study.  The main reason why most of us look like fellow Indians is that our ancestors after arriving in Kerala married local people as they practiced when they were in Middle East (confirmed in Biju Uthup case). 

4. Purity of Blood

No credible or well- informed Knanite will ever make such a claim. Many nonknanites having experienced the warmth, hospitality, love and generosity displayed by Knanites have on many instances, attributed that as the reason for our previously mentioned bits of behavior.

Also no one has ever advanced “preserving the purity of blood” as justification for the practice of endogamy.

AK: I cannot believe a person with Mapleton’s background would say such a blatant falsehood.  If it is not for preserving the purity of our race/blood, why we insist to exclude our non-endogamous and adopted children?  All our children are pure and precious, and let’s include all our family members in our church and community as we do in our families. 

5. ‘Knai Thommen’ just a trader?

A very poor description of a man with a myriad of talents. Yes, by profession/ business Knai Thommen was a trader who did that between the East and the Middle East before he undertook the leadership for the 400 strong missionary group. Unlike the army that accompanied the European traders from Portugal, France, and England to India, his group did comprise of a bishop and some clergy. What he was doing was obliging the request of his bishop in Uraha (Edessa). Once settled in Kerala, he did more for his people, other Christians, and some patriotic acts for the emperor.

AK:  I agree that Knai Thomman was more than a simple trader.  He was a missionary, he had no problem to mingle with local Christians, he even married a local woman (judicially confirmed by the court in Biju Uthup case).  If he can marry a non-Knanaya and stay in Knanaya, why not our children? 

6. Knanites and Missionary Work

In terms of evangelical work, Knanaya people have always been in the forefront both outside Kerala and abroad. Today, missionary work is not necessarily conversion to Christianity; it is conversion of the mind based on the ‘Good News’ Jesus gave us.

We now have four bishops serving outside of Kerala. There are 172 diocesan priests and 352 missionary priests as per 2008 statistics.

AE: I agree and we are proud of it, but this is not the dispute.  The issue is refusal to admit a non-Kna person through baptism in Kottayam diocese.  It is against church’s evangelical mission.  This is happening in Knanaya because there is no true conversion of the mind based on the ‘Good News’ Jesus gave us.  We are still in a “Jewish mindset”.  Though this is a problem, we do not object to this direct non-admittance as long as we include our non-endogamous family members.

A Truth Never Fully Revealed

Each and every Knanite, male or female, who chose a spouse outside our community, did so very willingly and deliberately after seeking permission in writing, to leave our fold. In general, the factors that favored that choice may be emotional (love) and/or economic (acquiring increased assets, opportunity to go abroad—USA, UK, etc.) Not a single one did so because he/she strongly believed that endogamy as practiced is ‘unchristian’ and wanted to lodge his/her protest vehemently. Paradoxically, however, they are eager to enjoy the best of both the worlds—emotional/material gains from marriage and Knanaya membership. This will very easily explain the reason for all this commotion.

AK: It is true that each and every Knanite, male or female, who chose a spouse outside our community, do so very willingly, but do not seek PLAK willingly.  They sign the PLAK form under duress.  They have no other option.  If they can have an option to stay, there is no issue.  The suit filed in Kerala and Canonical compliant filed in Rome seek to have this option.  Enforced endogamy is not acceptable because it violates our basic rights as a human being. 

Let me make an appeal for understanding. Even before Kottayam diocese was erected, Southists have enjoyed parishes set aside specifically for them with priests from their own community. Therefore, the resistance posed by Southists against inclusion of exogamous Knanites and their families in Kottayam, thereby violating the original Papal frame work for their diocese, is legitimate and therefore calls for tolerance on the part of others. 

AK:  I am sorry to say that Mapleton’s appeal has no value.  An appeal for understanding and tolerance of racist and discriminatory practice is not acceptable.  All the children of Knanai Thomman must have equal right in his family, the Knanaya community, without regard to their endogamous and purity status.  My appeal is that Mapletons of the Knanaya world come to this realism.  If you don’t, we will make it happen, read the history!”

                 Readers are requested to send their reaction to the following    email address:


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