Roman Catholic priest George Ponniah was arrested in Madurai on Saturday for his comments allegedly against the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the leaders of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, reported The Hindu, citing the police.
Several Hindu organisations had filed a complaint against the priest for making the comments at a protest meeting in Arumanai town in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district on July 18.
“We wear slippers to make sure we don’t get our feet dirty and get any disease because of Bharat Mata [Mother India],” Ponniah had said, according to The Indian Express. The comments were in reference to an MLA who does not wear slippers as a gesture of respecting “Bharat Mata”, a personification of India.
The priest had also alleged that the Tamil Nadu minority welfare ministry and minority commission had been denying minorities from conducting prayer meetings.
“We urged everyone to vote for DMK [Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam] and said our miseries would be gone if DMK came to power, but within 60 days after this government assumed charge, we were made to protest for our rights,” he had said, according to The Indian Express. “Before elections, they promised to safeguard our rights. The votes they got are alms provided by the minority communities.”
Ponniah had also criticised Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments Board Minister Sekar Babu and Information Technology Minister Mano Thangaraj among others. The meeting where Ponniah allegedly made the comments was convened to pay homage to activist Stan Swamy, who had died on July 5.
The Arumanai police had registered a case against Ponniah on July 20 under various sections, including 143 (punishment of unlawful assembly), 153A (promoting enmity between different religious groups), 269 (Unlawful action likely to spread the infection of any disease dangerous to life), 295A (outraging religious feelings), 505(2) (committing offence during religious worship or ceremonies), 506(1) (criminal intimidation) of IPC and Section 3 of Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897, (disobeying order under the Act), reported The New Indian Express.
Inspector General of Police (South Zone) TS Anbu said a special team of police of Madurai rural district intercepted a car in which the parish priest was travelling to Chennai on Saturday.
Ponniah, who is also a consultant to non-governmental organisation Jananyaga Christhuva Peravai Amaipu in Kanniyakumari, had apologised after his alleged comments triggered a controversy on social media. He said that some portion of his speech was edited out and spread on social media, giving it a communal colour.
“By watching that edited video, many people have misconstrued that I spoke against Hindu religion and beliefs,” he said. “I and the people who spoke at the meeting never said anything of that sort. If at all our speech had 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.”