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Thursday, September 23, 2021

Tamil Nadu: Priest in custody for ‘remarks on PM Modi, Bharat Mata’, event organiser also held

George Ponniah had earlier claimed his speech was edited, and also apologised to 'Hindu brothers and sisters if he had hurt their sentiments'.

Written by Janardhan Koushik | Chennai |
Updated: July 26, 2021 9:37:17 pm
George Ponniah. (Screengrab/Youtube)

A Roman Catholic priest, George Ponniah, has been arrested in Tamil Nadu’s Madurai for allegedly making disparaging remarks about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, Hinduism, and also about the state’s DMK government.

Ponniah, who was arrested Saturday, has been booked for promoting enmity between different religious groups under the IPC and under the Epidemic Diseases Act for holding a meeting amid the pandemic.

One Stephen of the Arumanai Christian Association, who had organised the Father Stan Swamy memorial event on July 18 at which Ponniah made the remarks, was arrested on Sunday.

Ponniah was produced before the Kuzhithurai magistrate on Saturday, who remanded him in judicial custody for 15 days. The priest Sunday complained of chest pain, and was provided treatment at the Palayamkotai Central Prison.

Ponniah on July 24 had apologised to “Hindu brothers and sisters” for his statements, while claiming that parts of his speech were edited.

“By watching that edited video, many people have misconstrued that I spoke against Hindu religion and beliefs. I and the people who spoke at the meeting never said anything of that sort. If at all our speech has hurt the sentiments of my Hindu brothers and sisters, I wholeheartedly apologise for it. I would like to say to my loving Hindu brothers and sisters that even in the future, I will never pass such comments,” he had said.

The speech was made on July 18 in Arumanai town, where a meeting had been convened by minority organisations in memory of human rights activist Stan Swamy, and also to raise other issues being faced by the minority communities.

Ponniah had alleged that the Tamil Nadu minority welfare ministry and Minority Commission had been denying them permission to conduct prayer meetings. Attacking the state government, Ponniah said he had toiled hard along with many minority orgnaisations to win the DMK votes, but after coming to power, the party seemed to be ignoring them.

“We campaigned in areas where politicians were not able to enter. We urged everyone to vote for DMK and said our miseries would be gone if DMK came to power. But within 60 days of this government assuming charge, we were made to protest for our rights. The votes they [DMK] got are alms provide by the minority community,” he said.

Ponniah purportedly also made objectionable comments against PM Modi, Amit Shah, and some beliefs of Hinduism. He allegedly accused a DMK minister of favouring the Hindu community and triggered a row with his comments on ‘Bharat Mata’. Commenting on a BJP politician who avoids wearing slippers as a gesture of respect towards Bharat Mata, Ponniah purportedly said, “We wear slippers to make sure we don’t get our feet dirty and get any disease from Bharat Mata.”

Many Hindu organisations and BJP leaders condemned the speech and demanded that the priest be booked under the Goondas Act. As many as 30 cases were filed against Ponniah in many districts of the state. The State Minorities Commission chairman S Peter Alphonse also condemned the speech, saying strict action should be taken against such persons.

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