A Catholic priest has been arrested in Kanyakumari district for his remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, and for 'insulting Bharat Mata'. The priest, Father George Ponniah, has been accused of making 'disparaging' remark while addressing a protest meeting held in Arumanai. According to Indian Express, the priest’s alleged provocative remarks on the Hindu religion and beliefs had created a stir on social media.
The Indian Express reported that Father George Ponniah, while addressing a prayer meeting for Father Stan Swamy, hit out at the DMK government in Tamil Nadu for ignoring minorities and failing its election promises. Hindi Religious and Charitable Endowments Board Minister Sekar Babu and IT Minister Mano Thangaraj for their actions which were partial to the Hindu community. The priest, while talking about an MLA saying he does not wear slippers to respect ‘Bharat Mata,’ had said that “we wear slippers to make sure we don’t get our feet dirty and get any disease because of Bharat Mata.” Many BJP workers and members of the Hindu Makkal Katchi objected to this and around 30 complaints were reportedly filed against the priest.
A video of the priest's speech had gone viral on social media and based on the video, few leaders of various outfits, including Hindu Makkal Katchi and Bharatiya Janata Party, filed a complaint against him. Based on the complaint, the Arumanai Police booked him under various sections including promoting enmity between different religious groups, outraging the feelings by insulting religion or religious beliefs and statements promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes under the Indian Penal Code and Epidemic Diseases Act for conducting the meet amid the pandemic, said reports.
According to the Indian Express, Ponniah had said that a portion of his speech that he made at the prayer meeting has been edited out and that has gone viral. He had added that his remarks were misconstrued and given a communal angle. He, however, had said that he apologises if he has hurt any sentiments.
The police filed an FIR and formed five separate teams to trace him. The police, tracing cell phone signals, arrested the priest from near Kallikudi and arrested the priest. He was taken for a medical check-up at Kuzhithurai government hospital and later produced before the Kuzhithurai magistrate. Later, George Ponniah was taken to Palayamkottai Central Prison.
However, George Ponniah complained of ill-health and was transferred to the prison hospital. He reportedly complained of chest pain and was treated at the emergency ward of the prison hospital.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Kuzhithurai and State Minorities Commission Chairman S Peter Alphonse have condemned the speech made by the priest. Scores of BJP workers, led by the party's state treasurer SR Sekar, staged a demonstration in Coimbatore, demanding that the priest be charged under the Goondas Act for his remarks.