Refusing to quash an FIR against a foul-mouthed Catholic priest named Father George Ponnaiah, the Madras High Court on Friday (December 7) ruled that using offensive words against “Bharat Mata” and “Bhuma Devi” attract the offence of hurting religious sentiments under Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code. Additionally, the Court came down hard on the petitioner and stated that religious conversions cannot be a “group agenda”.
According to a Live Law report, the court observed that while an individual’s choice to change religion is protected by the Constitution and must be respected, religious conversions cannot be a “group agenda”.
Quoting an article written by Aravind Neelakandan where he discussed the changing demographics in the Kanyakumari region, Justice Swaminathan stated, “Religious conversions cannot be a group agenda. The clock of history can never be put back. But the status quo that obtains in the year 2022 as regards religious demographic profile may have to be maintained.”
The court, at its scathing best, dubbed Pastor Ponnaiah a ‘lunatic fringe’ and remarked, “The words uttered by the petitioner are sufficiently provocative. They reek of malice and supremacism. The question is whether the State can ignore such incendiary statements as that of a lunatic fringe. The answer has to be in the negative. The petitioner is a charismatic Catholic priest”.
You cannot stop us; it is a warning: Ponnaiah to Hindus
As reported by TFI, Ponnaiah was arrested in July by the Arumanai police in the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu for hate speech and spreading vitriol against the Bharat Mata, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah, and various others.
Intimidating Hindus with the changing demography of Kanyakumari where Christians have become the majority, overtaking Hindus, Ponnaiah issued veiled threats by stating, “We are now majority (in the Kanyakumari district) from 42 per cent we have crossed 62 per cent. Soon we would be 70 per cent. You cannot stop us. I am saying this as a warning to my Hindu brothers.”
The High Court took cognizance of Ponnaiah’s statements and fed him his own pill by evoking Jesus in the closing remarks.
Justice Swaminathan said, “Did he(Jesus) not say “Beloved, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God”?.”
The Justice further added, “Recently, the world became poorer on account of the sad demise of Rev.Desmond Tutu, the great South African anti-apartheid leader. I only wish that the petitioner reads the moving tribute paid by Shri.Gopalkrishna Gandhi. I am certain that on Judgment Day, God shall admonish the petitioner for having committed an un-Christian act.”
Kanyakumari’s demography has changed
Lately, there has been a concerted effort by missionaries across the country to convert the poor and downtrodden population of backward as well as Urban areas into Christianity. The southern part of India has seen a demographic change, as a direct consequence of such attempts.
As reported by TFI, a study released by the Centre for Policy Studies, a Chennai-based think-tank in 2016 revealed that Tamil Nadu was the most favourable state in India for the growth of Christianity.
Kanyakumari district, where the accused pastor hails from and made the contentions remarks has seen a rapid increase in the number of Christians. The share of Christians in the population rose from 30.7 percent in 1921 to 34.7 percent in 1951 and has risen to 46.8 percent since then.
The population of Hindus which constituted 90.47 percent of the State’s population in 1951 has come down to 87.58 percent by 2011.
You have hurt the sentiments of Hindus: Court to the disgraced Pastor
While the court pulled the Pastor for his conversion and demographic statements, it also made a point to reprimand him for outraging the sentiments of Hindus. During his public address, Ponnaiah had mocked BJP leader MR Gandhi for not wearing footwear out of respect for Mother Earth.
Ponnaiah said, “But we wear shoes. Why? Because the impurities of Bharat Mata should not contaminate us. The Tamil Nadu government has given us free footwear. This bhumidevi is dangerous, you could catch scabies from it,”
The court took note and remarked, “He painted Bhuma Devi and Bharat Mata as sources of infection and filth. Nothing can be more outrageous to the feelings of the believing Hindus.”
The Court also added, “Section 295A IPC (Indian Penal Code) is attracted when there is attack on the religious feelings and beliefs of any class of citizens. It is not necessary that all Hindus should feel outraged. If the offending words outrage the religious feelings or beliefs of even a section of Hindus, the penal provision would be attracted.”
The likes of George Ponnaiah have been allowed to ply their unethical and illegal trade in the state for far too long. It’s high time that the court sends him behind the bars and sets the right example.