Catholic priest booked for hate speech

Nagercoil : A Catholic priest in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district was arrested for spreading hate and enmity between religious groups.

Father George Ponnaiah, parish priest from Panavilai, triggered a row by allegedly making disparaging remarks about ‘Bharat Mata’ and Hindu religion. The Kuzhithurai diocese condemned his comments made on July 18.

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 alleged remarked about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah.

According to Father Ponnaiah, M.R. Gandhi, a Bharatiya Janata Party legislator from Nagercoil, 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, the Arumanai police booked Father Ponniah under several section of the Indian Penal Code. They include promoting enmity between different groups of religion and race, deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the feelings of any class by insulting religion or religious beliefs, statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes, and criminal intimidation).

He was also booked for negligent act likely to spread infection of disease dangerous to life and unlawful assembly (under IPC), and Section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act for organizing the meeting, violating the restrictions.

Some Hindu outfits plan to organize demonstrations on July 28 to seek the priest’s arrest under the National Security Act.

Father 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 apologies wholeheartedly.”

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

The prelate also said the diocese would never allow violence and speeches that ridiculed others and hurt sentiments.

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