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Gervasis owns no land, only the tiny plot where his house is situated, though the family is surrounded by small coconut plantations and rice paddies where he works as a day laborer. He explained that life is precarious, as work is only seasonal; there were many months when he could not work at all.

The building of the new Ernakulam International Airport nearby has had little impact on the lives of the poor, except for the eviction of some to build runways and a tiny plot of land as compensation.

The effects of globalization in Kerala are apparent as farmers try to compete with cheaper coconuts and rice shipped from abroad. Rubber, coffee and tea markets have also suffered – commodity prices dropped by as much as a third of what they were a few years ago. This drop strongly affected day laborers like Gervasis. Nevertheless, these workers manage to get by with occasional odd jobs.

Gervasis and Grace have been active in helping build the new Catholic church, under construction on the site of the old.

Gervasis reported that he has no friends among the Orthodox community, for no particular reason other than they tend to be upper class and do not interact with people of more humble origins.

Gervasis’ neighbor, Polycarp, is head of the local former scheduled caste Christian community. In conversation, he revealed that although he and his family are Christians and therefore outside the caste system devised by Hindus, he remains conscious of the caste system.

“The local municipality discriminates against us still, especially regarding marriage,” he says. “We are not able to ‘marry up’ into the old families” who trace their lineage from the ancient Thomas Christians, “and often feel superior. However, we are invited to attend social functions just like anyone else, and in church we are equal.”

Today Polycarp and his family may sit anywhere in church; 50 years ago they would have been segregated.

Paul Allukkal is head of one of the old Thomas Christian families. He and his wife, Alice, run a coconut business and have friends from all classes and creeds.

“We are the best of friends with all people throughout the community, regardless of background,” he told me.

At another middle-class house nearby, Jeffrey Paul and his friends relax after their Easter feast of fried chicken, pork, beef, fish and vegetables. Some play cards on a shaded balcony in the heat of the afternoon. These folks are also from the old families of the Catholic parish, and are mostly involved in business.

Jeffrey worked for several years in Singapore and the Gulf States as an electrical engineer. His high earnings allowed him to build a beautiful home for his parents and buy them a car. Fine modern houses like theirs dot the rustic Kerala countryside, the fruits of labor of sons who work overseas. In the process, Kerala becomes increasingly polarized between rich and poor.

Akkarparambu’s twin churches are renowned as miraculous sites where children, particularly those with speech defects, are cured. Parents bring their children from far and near because of the reputations of these two houses of God.

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Tags: Syro-Malabar Catholic Church Syro-Malankara Catholic Church