Tamil Nadu

Vatican refuses to change the caste title of Devasahayam Pillai

The birth place of Devasahyam Pillai.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Vatican has declined to make changes to the name of Devasahayam Pillai, the 18th century converted Christian and martyr, who is likely to be elevated as a saint in the near future.

In their letter to Angelo Cardinal Amato of the Congregation for the Causes of Saint, which oversees the complex processes preceding canonisation of a saint, former IAS officer M.G. Devasahayam and chairman of the Annai Velankanni Group of Educational Institutions S. Devaraj had requested the “caste title ‘Pillai’ be remove from the Blessed Devasahayam's name when he is canonised and proclaimed a Saint”.

“India’s Constitution and laws are against the caste system and there is a public revulsion against anyone being referred to by his or her caste name. Only hardcore casteists, which some church leaders are, promote caste to suit their own divisive agenda. In the event, adding caste to the name of the saint of the Catholic Church, will be demeaning to the Saint as well as the Church,” Messrs Devasahayam and Devaraj had said in their letter dated March 29, 2017.

They also said that ‘Blessed Devasahayam Pillai’ was from the very small Pillai caste, and he had never used the caste reference with his name, adding, “This is proved by historical evidence.”

However, Marcello Bartolucci, Archbishop Secretary, wrote back in his response to them: “I wish to inform you that, as per special indications of His Excellency the Most Reverend Peter Remigius, Bishop of Kottar [in Kaniyakumari], this Congregation is not in a position to make any change or changes to the name of Blessed Devasahayam Pillai.”

But Mr. Devasahayam argues that Bishop Remigius' request need not be taken into consideration since he has resigned as per canon law and his resignation has been been accepted. “He is continuing because the new Bishop has not been appointed so far,” Mr. Devasahayam says.

Many versions

Born Neelakanta Pillai at Nattalam to a Namboothiri father and Nair mother in 1712, Devasahayam Pillai took the name after converting to Catholicism. He was shot to death at Aralvaimozhi, on the border of the Kanyakumari district in 1752. His remains are buried at the St. Xavier’s Church in Kottar.

“There are many versions on why he converted to Christianity and the torture he underwent at the hands of the officers of King Marthanda Varma, the architect of modern Travancore, are part of folklore,” says A.K. Perumal, biographer of Devasahayam Pillai, and one of the witnesses to the process for canonisation.

“When his wife died, Neelakanta Pillai was not able to overcome his grief and guilt, and Eustachius de Lannoy, commander of the Dutch East India Company, who became the commander of the Travancore army after his defeat in Colachel, advised Neelakanta Pillai to embrace Catholicism,” said Dr. Perumal.

Another version was that he became a Christian after the cattle in his possession died mysteriously. “There was also an allegation that he served food for the Dalit soldiers and those from upper castes together, for which he was removed from the job,” said Dr. Perumal. Devasahayam had worked as an officer in the local temple before his elevation as an official in-charge of food supply to the Travancore Army in the Padmanabhapuram palace.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 11:48:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/vatican-refuses-to-change-the-caste-title-of-devasahayam-pillai/article18445310.ece

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