By Jose Kavi
New Delhi: A Catholic priest who campaigned for farmers’ rights for more than 25 years died today a month after he met with a serious road accident. Father Mathew Vadakkemuri of Kanjirapally diocese was the chairperson of the Church-led Indian Farmers Movement (Infam), an umbrella organization of farmers' cooperatives. After the accident at Muvattupuzha, the 71-year-old priest underwent treatment at Medical College in Kolencherry and Amrita Medical Centre in Kochi.
Earlier this month, his vital organs stopped functioning after a pneumonia attack. The death came at 12:40 pm, diocesan sources told ucanindia.in. Father Vadakkemuri’s death is “a great loss for the Church as well as for the farmers and poor,” said Infam patron Archbishop George Valiamattam of Tellicherry in his condolence message. The prelate said the hard working priest with foresight was “very much committed” to the cause of farmers all over India and helped solve many of their problems. “Until the end, he fought for farmers,” he added. Father Mathew Paikatt, vicar general of Kanjirapally diocese, agreed and said his senior priest nursed new visions for the poor and farmer even in his old age. “He wanted to start farming in African countries to help the poor in India,” he told ucanindia.in. The vicar general said the funeral would be held at Kanjirapally on Monday. Father Vadakkermuri was the secretary of the Malanad Social Service Society of Kanjirapally diocese for 25 years. He had led several struggles for farmers of Kerala. In 2008, he was jailed for obstructing Kerala state’s agricultural minister by staging a sit-in outside the minister’s office in the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram. The priest tried to export rubber directly to foreign buyers to avoid exploitation by purchasing agents in India. Most of Kerala's some 6 million Christians depend on farming rubber, coconut, black pepper, tea and cardamom and other popular cash crops. However, their prices plummeted after India began to liberalize market policies in 1991. Kerala has about 550,000 hectares of rubber plantations and most growers are Christians, each owning around 1-3 hectares. Its production of about 600,000 tons of natural rubber annually makes it India' top rubber-producing state. Infam was formed in 1999 by various Church denominations led by the Syro-Malabar Church after a number of farmers in Kerala committed suicide as a result of the plummeting prices of their agricultural products. Even Muslim groups in Kerala such as the Muslim Jamait Federation and the State Imam Council had joined the Church movement for farmers' rights. However, the Communist Party of India dubbed Infam as “an anti-Communist movement” to usurp the role communists who it said had protected the rights of the working class.