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Caste rivalries divide Christians over port project in South India

A government-backed industrial development project has divided Catholics and Anglicans along caste lines in the Southern Indian state of Kerala

A government-backed industrial development project has divided Christian leaders in the Southern Indian state of Kerala, with Anglican and Catholic leaders taking opposing stances on the Vizhinjam port project. Twenty five years in the planning, the Vizhinjam port project would see the construction of a cargo and container ship facility at the southern tip of India that would be 10-12 nautical miles from the busy Persian Gulf – Malacca shipping lanes which carry almost a third of the world’s sea traffic. On 13 August 2015 Roman Catholic Archbishop Maria Callist Soosa Pakiam of Trivandrum led a protest march against the project. “We are not against development. But we want the rights of the poor fishermen to be protected,” the archbishop said according to the UCA News Agency. Opponents of the plan fear the construction of the port will harm local fishermen, many of whom are Catholics, who cannot prove ownership of their land and would not be compensated for its taking. However, the Church of South India’s Bishop in South Kerala, the Rt. Rev. Dharmaraj Rasalam (pictured), gave his backing to the project, which is expected to bring jobs and industry to the underdeveloped south. “We want development of the area,” he told reporters, adding “In my opinion the mega port project should not be delayed.” Local reports about the controversy between the churches note the divide in opinion reflects caste divisions. The Catholic church draws its members from the local fishing community, while Protestants are drawn from the higher merchant castes. Kerala has the largest Christian minority of any Indian state, with 20 per cent of its 33 million residents belonging to one of the Christian churches.

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