Mathews, the Real Christian


This is the story of Mathews, aged fifty. He is living with his wife and two children in the State of Kerala in India. Though he has Doctorate in Political Science he is unemployed. He is qualified for the post of lecturer but has not had the luck of teaching students. Mathews is one among the thousands of highly qualified candidates shut out from employment opportunities. Unemployment is the worst curse of Kerala where literacy is cent percent and nearly twenty percent of the population graduates. Mathews had faced many interviews and done exceptionally well. Since most of the schools and colleges are under private sector, what they want is not the best candidate but one who gives the maximum amount. Schools and colleges—particularly engineering and medical colleges—are the best investments and they come up as mushrooms. Unlike mushrooms they thrive and multiply.

Mathews knocked door after door for any employment, and frustrated he went back to agriculture in his inherited farm of two acres. To the compulsion of his parents he got married at the age of thirty. His spouse, Mercy is an unemployed post graduate. They have a son, named George and a daughter, named Daisy. Mathews has been a socialist in ideology from his teen age. Highly intelligent and rational, he couldn’t compromise to the fundamentalism of religions. Religions seemed to him as cleric’s means of livelihood through the exploitation of the laity. Though a socialist he believed in the existence of God. Mathews never went to church or took part in prayer gatherings in houses. Mercy, a devout Catholic attended Masses and rites in the church nearby to their house. Once when the parish priest asked Mathews why he avoided church, his reply was this: “Father, I am an Indian and like a true Indian I believe that God is in me. Aham Brahmasmi (I am God). Why should I seek him elsewhere?” The priest had no reply and he went back to the church thinking that Mathews could not be deceived like any other layman.

Mathews worked on his farm till five in the evening. He enjoyed every moment he spent on the farm. There were coco palms, nut-meg trees, cocoa trees, banana plants, coffee plants etc. He cleared weeds, manured, watered and collected fruits. Mathews took a radio to the farm and played music for the plants’ growth. To the accompaniment of music, his hands moved and the trees and plants danced to the tune with the gentle movement of their leaves and branches. He raised cows, goats, chickens, ducks, cats and dogs which gave him and his family untold happiness. After his work on the farm he took a bath and went to the panchayat (village governing body) library and spent two hours with books and periodicals. Then he visited the recreation club where nearly twenty friends—old and young—waited for his discussion on various topics. He taught them what he had read from the books. Mathews is a man of principles, a pure vegetarian, and a follower of Gandhi and Nehru. His philosophy of life was shared to them. He spoke to them about the relation between Man, Nature and God; how man is related to other beings; how sinful it is to kill and eat animals, birds and fish; about democracy, socialism and dictatorship; corruption of politicians and clergy; the necessity of fighting against corruptions, superstitions and all other evils in the society. The people of the village took him as their guru or teacher.

Mathews sent his children to government schools. George is studying for undergraduate course in a government college in town and Daisy is studying in the tenth standard in a nearby government school. Though the standard of education in the government schools and colleges is poor, Mathews is not willing to sacrifice his principles by giving high donations and fees in private schools and colleges.

Election to the panchayat came and both the political fronts of the State—the Right Wing and the Left Wing started hunting for sure-win candidates. The Left Wing local leaders, knowing well the leftist ideology of Mathews, approached him and requested to stand as their candidate. He told them: “Though I am socialist in my ideology, I don’t want to be labelled as your man. I like and admire the teaching of Marx, Engel and Lenin. But do you follow what they have taught you. Many of your State level leaders are millionaires and corrupt. How can they represent the poor? So I can’t stand as your candidate.” The local leaders were not willing to leave him and they compelled him to stand as an independent candidate supported by the Left Wing. As pressures came from his close friends as well, he gave the assent. He vowed that he would not spend any money for the campaign. The Left Wing was willing to meet the expense. The nomination papers were filed. He visited houses after houses accompanied by his friends and party men. His chief opponent, the Right Wing candidate was also another Catholic, but he did not have any public opinion. Needless to say, Mathews had a thumping victory. Thus Mathews’ radiance started to spread from his village to the total panchayat. The Left Wing won majority in the panachayat council and Mathews was elected the president of the panchayat. As President he was very efficient, amicable and diplomatic and hence won love and respect of the opposition members as well.

As schools came under the jurisdiction of the panchayat, Mathews was invited to every official function in the schools. As stated earlier, in Kerala, government schools and colleges are very few in number compared to government-aided schools and colleges run by private agencies. Government gives salary to the teachers and maintenance grants to the management but the appointment authority rests in the hands of the private management. The Christians who run majority of schools and colleges are a minority here like the Muslims and they enjoy the minority right to appoint any one they like getting lakhs of rupees as donations. The Indian Constitution and the Supreme Court give them the provision to do this practice. In such an aided school Mathews was invited to preside over the School Day celebrations. In his presidential address he touched many ethical issues related to school. He spoke: “Dear teachers, you should be honest in your words and action. Our aided and government schools face great challenge and threat from unaided English medium schools. These unaided schools hook parents to send their children there giving high donation and fees. Consequently there are losses of class-division in our schools and you teachers are either transferred or remain protected staff. Aren’t you also responsible for the mishap? How many of your children are studying in our schools?” Shamefaced the teachers bent their heads, afraid to face him any more.

On another occasion, a seminar on the topic “Secularism in India,” conducted by the panchayat council itself, where leaders of different religions were seated on the stage, Mathews exploded: “I request our religious leaders not to mix religion with politics. Let religion go its way and politics its way. Hasn’t Christ taught us, ‘Give unto Caesar, Caesar’s and unto God, God’s?’ You should not request laymen to vote for this party or that man. Your rights will be safeguarded by courts if politicians or governments encroach them. . . . It is high time we stop discrimination to women. Being the children of God there is no difference between man and woman. Then why should they be denied entry in God’s abode? Do you think Ayyappa Swamy (Lord Shiva’s son) will be angry if women get into his temple at Sabarimala? Do you think Allah will be embittered if women get into mosques to pray to Him? Do you think if a woman celebrates Mass in a church your God will be angry or the altar defiled? These are all remnants of patriarchy and sheer injustice to women.” You can imagine the reaction of the religious leaders on the stage. All of them quitted the place murmuring abuses on Mathews.

Mathews continued his mission of opening the eyes of the people. As the President, he did whatever possible for the welfare of the people. He was successful in getting more and more funds from the State and Central governments for developments in the panchayat. Though clergy and religious leaders were against him, laymen gave him full support. The religious leaders realized the threat, and setting apart their differences of ideology, they unanimously took a decision to pluck the hold of Mathews on their people.

Election to the State Assembly came and the Left Wing approached Mathews again for the contest. Mathews was well aware that the religious leaders were against him and they would dissuade their people from electing him. So he said no to the party men who approached him. Then the Chief Minister himself visited him and compelled him to stand as an independent candidate supported by the Left Wing. He reminded Mathews that good representatives like him are needed by the people and the State. Mathews yielded to the CM’s request and nomination papers were filed. The Right Wing candidate was also a Catholic, Mr. John, a multi-millionaire distiller. Mr. John was given full support by the religious leaders of the three major religions—Christianity, Islam and Hindu. They gave several lakhs to his election fund. In the campaign—notices, posters, banners, flex boards, mike announcements—the Right Wing candidate was several miles ahead of Mathews. Still the survey in the newspapers showed that Mathews would come out victorious. It alarmed the Right Wing camp, especially the religious leaders. They published and read pastoral letters in churches and sent emissaries to each house pleading vote for the Right Wing candidate. There were hundreds of people to campaign for Mathews. He was accompanied by nearly fifty men, women and children bearing placards of his photograph when he visited the houses. None had any doubt that Mathews would have an overwhelming majority of one lakh votes over the Right Wing candidate. The day of the election came and there was heavy polling in the constituency. Ninety percent voters went to the polling booths. The Left Wing camp was very happy and there was no doubt about Mathews’ victory. On the contrary the Right Wing camp was gloomy and they were sure that their candidate would fail. The results would come only after six days.

The day after the election, as usual, Mathews got up early in the morning and went for the forty five minutes’ walk along the deserted street. He was very cautious to walk along the right side of the street. Some vehicle came from behind and dashed him. He fell unconscious on the street with bleeding head. The vehicle disappeared without stopping there. There were no witnesses. Some pedestrians who came along the street took him to the government hospital. The doctor had to do nothing as Mathews had already been dead. The news flashed in the village and spread the whole State. Different news channels of TV announced the tragic death of Mathews to the whole world through ‘flash news.’ The hospital was crowded by people. Mathews’ wife, Mercy became unconscious when she heard the news. After postmortem the body was brought back to the house. The children started crying and sobbing sitting at the coffin. The whole house echoed with wails and sobs. Mercy, who recovered from coma, put her head on Mathews’ cheek, crying and sobbing. Ministers and State level political leaders came and paid homage to the dead hero.

Burial was fixed at five in the evening. Mathews’ brother, Joseph visited the parish priest and sought permission for the burial in the cemetery. Without any compassion, the priest replied: “How can Mathews be buried in the cemetery? He is not a Christian. He does not attend Mass, make confessions or receive Eucharist. Hence his name is not in the parish register.”

“Father, it’s true that he didn’t go to church. But wasn’t he baptized? He was a true Christian in spirit and led a life as Christ has shown to his people. Moreover we do have a family tomb in the cemetery for which we have paid the amount you have requested. So we have the right to bury his body here.”

“Mr. Joseph, there is no need of any argument between us. The canon rule doesn’t allow us to bury him here. I shall report the case to the bishop and if he permits, the body can be buried.”

“OK, Father, you may decide whatever you like, but we will bring the body here for the burial. Will you come to our house for the burial rites?”

“Not likely.”

“Right Father, I am leaving.”

Joseph came back to the house and reported the matter to the closest relatives and friends assembled there. They decided that at any cost the body would be buried in the family tomb.

At 5 pm the burial rites started. As the priest was absent, one pious elder read the prayer for the dead accompanied by dirges from the crowd. The body was taken to the church in an ambulance. Hundreds followed it on foot in long procession. The front door of the church was shut and the parish priest stood on the verandah along with the sexton and the cook.

“Father, please open the door and let the body get into the church,” Mathews’ brother Joseph cried.

“No, I haven’t got the permission from the bishop.”

“Then allow us to bury the body in our tomb. Please open the gate of the cemetery.”

“No, the bishop hasn’t allowed.”

“Brother, please listen to what I say,” Mathews’ wife, Mercy exploded in choking sound. “We will leave the body here on the verandah. Let them do what they like. Father, my husband is far more a Christian than you people. Please don’t forget that you are only one among us, only our representative, and not the representative of God as you falsely claim. My dear relatives and friends, let’s go back. Let them do what they like with my husband’s body.” The whole crowd assembled there started to retreat. Suddenly, the sexton was sent by the priest to Mercy who had gone a few steps from the church. The sexton told her that the priest was willing to bury the body. “Let the Father announce it and apologise to the crowd for dishonouring my dead husband,” she replied. The priest did so, and the gate of the cemetery was opened and the body was buried in the family tomb without any prayers by the priest. No prayers were needed from the priest, not even from Mathews’ wife, since angels had already borne his soul to heaven.

The result of the election came out after five days. Mathews won the seat by a margin of one and a half lakh votes over the Right Wing candidate. There couldn’t be any celebration by the Left Wing. The Right Wing won majority of seats in the State. There was no wonder in it because religions played a major role behind the victory.

Mathews’ assassins could not be found. The police are searching for the murderers. How far will it be successful is to be found in the wake of the shifting of power. Let’s hope that Mathews’ death will be avenged by the interference of court.

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