Roman Catholic priest booked for hate speech

Diocese condemns him for controversial remarks

July 24, 2021 01:01 am | Updated 01:01 am IST - NAGERCOIL

A Roman Catholic priest in Kanniyakumari has been booked for spreading hate and enmity between religious groups and making controversial remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

Fr. George Ponniah, parish priest from Panavilai, triggered a row by making disparaging remarks about ‘ Bharat Mata ’ and Hindu religion. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Kuzhithurai condemned his comments made last Sunday.

Addressing a meeting at Arumanai in protest against the closure of churches, the ban on conducting prayers in houses and the denial of permission for renovating or constructing churches on private ‘ patta ’ lands, he made disparaging remarks about Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah.

He said Nagercoil BJP MLA M.R. Gandhi was responsible for the Mandaikaadu communal riots in 1982. He said the DMK’s victory in the Assembly election was the “alms given by the Christians and the Muslims”.

His speech was condemned, among others, by State Minorities Commission chairman S. Peter Alphonse.

Acting on a complaint, including from the BJP, the Arumanai police booked him under Sections 153 A (promoting enmity between different groups of religion, race, etc.), 295 A (deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the feelings of any class by insulting religion or religious beliefs), 505 (ii) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes) and 506 (i) (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code. He was also booked under Sections 269 (negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life) and 143 (unlawful assembly) of the IPC, and Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act for organising the meeting, violating the restrictions.

The BJP and some Hindu outfits are gearing up for demonstrations on July 28 to seek his arrest under the National Security Act.

Fr. Ponnaiah said his speech was distorted. “My speech has been edited and circulated on social media to show that I hurt the sentiments of Hindu brothers and sisters. None of us on the dais spoke anything hurting religious sentiments,” he said. “If my speech hurt anyone, I apologise wholeheartedly.”

In a statement, Rev. Antony Pappusamy, Archbishop of Madurai and Apostolic Administrator of Kuzhithurai, said the diocese did not share Fr. Ponnaiah’s views. “His comments are condemnable. The diocese has nothing to do with his Democratic Christian Forum,” he said.

He said the diocese would never allow violence and speeches that ridiculed others and hurt sentiments.

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