Thiruvananthapuram: A bishop from Kerala’s hilly Idukki district has opened his heart on the issue of inter-religious marriages and waded into a controversy over the desirability of such marriages as well as the varying viewpoints of the church and the larger society regarding inter-religious marriages.

Mar Mathew Anikuzhikkattil opined that Christian girls were being wooed and married by boys from other religions.

While the allegation that a ‘love jihad’ was at work and Christian girls were being married by Muslim boys has been doing the rounds in Kerala for long, the bishop opened a new debate by stating that a similar love jihad was happening, with boys from the Hindu community of Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana (SNDP) Yogam also targeting Christian girls for marriage.

The bishop said such marriages should not be encouraged as they went against the values and beliefs inculcated through the church, adding the faithful should resist such advances and not fall for it.

Expressing his viewpoint, Anikuzikkattil also reeled off some startling statistics. He said that out of every 100 marriages conducted in churches in Kerala, roughly six involved one of the partners being from another religion.

The bishop said divorces were also a matter of serious concern, with at least 5,000 Christian couples in the state having divorced already. Some of it may be owing to Western influences, he said.

Anikuzhikkattil admitted that if a girl who was brought up in a Christian family and was instilled with the community’s values decided to opt for marriage with someone from another religion, it also reflected deficiency in the practice and teachings in the community.

Incidentally, the Syro-Malabar Church recently launched a matrimonial website for its community members. Jose Porunnedam, the chairman of the Syro-Malabar Church internet Mission, which oversees the website, said “there is an increasing trend among youth from Kerala to resettle elsewhere in India and abroad for studies and jobs. Over time, they also settle down in those places. In such circumstances, there is a high likelihood of them marrying people from other religions, and thereby leaving the Catholic faith”.

Porunnedam says the website will be of help for Syro-Malabar church members to find life partners from their own community even if they happen to be based outside Kerala for studies or work.

Bishop Anikuzhikkattil is considered to have played a key role in the setback for the Congress party in Idukki constituency in the last Lok Sabha election. The bishop launched a stinging attack against the Congress for its stand on the findings of the Kasturirangan report, which recommended that large areas of Idukki be declared environmentally sensitive.

The bishop’s opinion went down well with a large number of the constituency’s voters. Partly due to the bishop’s strong stand against the Congress, the party’s candidate Dean Kuriakose was defeated in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.