The highest court in the state of Tamil Nadu in southern India has ordered a Catholic priest to stand trial for allegedly hurting the religious feelings of Hindus and criticized Christian missionaries claiming that Jesus Christ was the only true god.
The charges against Father George Ponnaiah, vicar of the diocese of Kuzhithurai, “have not been established,” the Jan. 7 order of the Madras High Court said. However, he dropped charges of violating provisions of the Epidemic Disease Act for breaking Covid-19 lockdown rules.
Father Ponnaiah is accused of offending the religious feelings of Hindus and of promoting enmity between different groups on religious grounds and of having committed acts detrimental to the maintenance of harmony among others.
The priest allegedly committed crimes during a public meeting in Arumanai, a village in Kanyakumari district, on July 18, 2021. The meeting was a protest against the continued closure of churches in the district due to a pandemic-induced lockdown .
A video of the speech, which went viral, contained statements against various religious communities, state government leaders Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and leaders of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata (BJP) party, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Interior Minister Amit Shah. .
Right-wing Hindu groups have complained to police demanding the priest’s immediate arrest. He was arrested on July 24 and a local court remanded him on remand. He was then released on bail.
Reading the petitioner’s speech as a whole leaves no one in doubt. Its target is the Hindu community
Father Ponnaiah then asked for forgiveness, saying his intention was not to hurt anyone. However, the police filed charges, forcing him to apply to the Madras High Court to request that the charges be quashed.
However, Judge GR Swaminathan’s single chamber has agreed with police that the priest should stand trial for his statements.
“It is not necessary that all Hindus feel indignant. If the offensive words outrage the feelings or religious beliefs of even a section of Hindus, the criminal provision would be attracted, ”the judge said in his 31-page order.
“Reading the petitioner’s speech as a whole leaves no one in doubt. Its target is the Hindu community. He puts them on one side and Christians and Muslims on the other. He clearly pits one group against another.
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“The distinction is made only on the basis of religion. The petitioner repeatedly humiliates the Hindu community. The remarks made by the petitioner are sufficiently provocative. They reek of wickedness and supremacy. The question is whether the state can ignore inflammatory statements like that of a lunatic fringe. The answer must be no. The applicant is a charismatic Catholic priest. He commands a large audience. “
Judge Swaminathan said the Kings of Travancore allowed missionary works for their political gain.
“They saved the land well but they lost souls. This is a point where Mahatma Gandhi [the father of the nation] and Veer Savarkar [a strong proponent of Hindu nationalism] had converged – lost territory could be won by the enemy but souls lost by the enemy. It’s very difficult to recover, ”said the judge in his order.
“Those who struggle against conversions do not see Jesus as a false god or even a foreign god. They are in fact fighting against the monopoly claim that he is the only god and that all other gods and goddesses are false.
“He created witch hunts and pyre fires during the dark centuries in Europe and he launched the world’s longest inquisition in India, the imposition of which was recommended by Saint Xavier. In Goa, St. Xavier ruthlessly destroyed Hindu places of worship and harassed Hindus, while in Kanyakumari district he is hailed as a saint by residents of the same nation that his recommended inquisition would burn at the stake – no only Hindus but also Jews and Muslims, all Indians.
You will understand what I am saying. Hindus are not a religious community. They guard by their very presence the minorities and their various ways
Judge Swaminathan said evangelical and Islamist forces often join hands in elections to defeat any pro-nationalist political dispensation. It goes through parties, he noted.
“But remember one thing. It is not about religion. It is about theodiversity. The Hindu majority is the protection of all minorities, ”he said.
“Imagine the Catholics of Ireland under the Protestant UK – think of their troubled history. Imagine the Ahmadiyas in Pakistan dominated by the Sunnis. They can’t even call themselves Muslims. Imagine Protestants in a predominantly Catholic society. So imagine all these minorities in a predominantly Hindu society.
“You will understand what I am saying. Hindus are not a religious community. They guard by their very presence the minorities and their various ways.
The judge admitted that he “fell in love with the Lord Jesus Christ. Did he not say, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God. Anyone who loves is born of God and knows God? “
Speaking to UCA News earlier, Archbishop Antony Pappusamy of Madurai, who is also the apostolic administrator of the diocese of Kuzhithurai, disapproved of Father Ponnaiah’s alleged comments. He said the Catholic Church does not support such statements.
The priest still has the option of moving a bench of division from the High Court, then from the Supreme Court, the highest court in the country, to obtain redress for his grievances.
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