Context: Tragedy unfolded during a prayer assembly of the Jehovah’s Witnesses community near Kochi, Kerala, leading to the unfortunate loss of two lives and several injuries. This distressing occurrence took place at the Zamra International Convention and Exhibition Centre, where around 2,500 devoted individuals from across the state had gathered for their prayer convention.
Who are Jehovah’s Witnesses?
- Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Christian denomination, hold distinctive theological beliefs that set them apart from mainstream Christianity.
- They do not adhere to the Holy Trinity doctrine, which teaches that God exists as three equal persons—Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit
- Instead, they worship Jehovah as ‘the one true and Almighty God, the Creator,’ identifying Him as the God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.
- While they acknowledge Jesus Christ as the ‘King of God’s Kingdom in heaven,’ they do not consider him to be Almighty God.
- Their doctrinal foundation is solely based on the Bible, which they regard as the literal word of God.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses abstain from celebrating Christmas and Easter, viewing these holidays as rooted in Pagan traditions.
- They are renowned for their evangelical efforts, characterized by door-to-door outreach to spread what they term ‘The Truth.’
- Central to their belief system is the conviction that the end of the world is imminent, and the ‘Kingdom of God’ will ultimately supersede human governments to fulfil God’s purpose for the earth.
- The origins of the Jehovah’s Witnesses can be traced back to a Bible Student movement that began in the 1870s, which challenged various traditional Christian doctrines, including beliefs about soul immortality, hellfire, predestination, the physical return of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, and the ultimate fate of the world.
- The primary organization responsible for disseminating the sect’s teachings is the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, USA.
- They refrain from military service, maintaining a neutral stance in international conflicts, abstain from pursuing public offices or engaging in politics, do not accept blood transfusions, and resist the embrace of nationalistic symbols.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in India:
- Jehovah’s Witnesses have had a presence in India since 1905.
- They established an office in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1926 and secured legal registration in 1978.
- Jehovah’s Witnesses in India benefit from the constitutional guarantees outlined in India’s constitution, which encompass the right to practice, profess, and propagate one’s faith.
- A significant legal case involving this religious group in India was the Bijoe Emmanuel & Others vs. State of Kerala & Others.
- In a landmark 1986 verdict, the Supreme Court of India granted protection to three children who belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and had chosen not to participate in the singing of the National Anthem at their school.
- The court determined that compelling them to sing the Anthem infringed upon their fundamental right to religious freedom, as enshrined in Article 25 of the Constitution.
- The Supreme Court further emphasized that Article 25, which guarantees, ‘Freedom of conscience and free profession, practice, and propagation of religion,’ was included in acknowledgment of the principle that a genuine democracy’s strength lies in its ability to ensure the identity and rights of even a minority, no matter how small, within the framework of the country’s Constitution.
Christianity in India:
- According to tradition, Christianity made its way to India approximately 50 years after its inception.
- Thomas is believed to have arrived on the shores of Kerala around 52 A.D, where he established seven churches in the region. These early Christian communities were primarily concentrated in Kerala.
- The widespread expansion of Christianity across India took place with the arrival of European missionaries in the early 16th century.
- The Portuguese were the initial group, followed by the Dutch, the French, the British, and other European and American missionaries.
- The core religious teachings of Christianity are documented in their sacred scripture known as the Bible.
Major Sects and Divisions:
Christians in India have two major denominations – Catholics and Protestants.
- During the 16th century, a significant religious movement known as Protestantism emerged as a response to what its followers perceived as a crisis within the church and society. The adherents of this movement, called Protestants, sought reforms in light of this situation and notably rejected the authority of the Pope.
- Within India, the main branches of Protestantism include the Calvinists, Anglicans, and Anabaptists.
- In contrast, Catholics held the view that there was no crisis, attributing the emergence of Protestantism to the interplay of intricate and influential factors.
- Within Catholicism, the Pope is regarded as the central authority.
- In India, the major Catholic denominations include the Syrian Church, Latin Church, and Malankara.