Catholic priest’s comments on Bharat Matha and Bhumi Devi hurt religious feelings: Madras HC


George Ponnaiah was convicted in July 2021 for making derogatory comments against Hindus during a memorial service for the late Stan Swamy in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu.

The Madras High Court on Friday January 7 refused to quash the First Information Report (FIR) against a Catholic priest for his speech against Hindus. The offensive remarks made by the petitioner, Priest P George Ponnaiah, against “Bharat Mata” and “Bhumi Devi” amount to offending religious feelings under section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, the court said. . Refusing to annul the FIR against the priest, Judge GR Swaminathan observed that the petitioner had made fun of “those who walk barefoot out of respect for Mother Earth”. He added that the Earth was worshiped as “Bhooma Devi” and that there was no need to launch an attack on the religious beliefs of Hindus.

George Ponnaiah is accused of making derogatory remarks against Hindus during a meeting in memory of the late Jesuit priest and human rights activist Stan Swamy, in Kanyakumari district, Tamil Nadu. The video of the speech had gone viral. Arumanai Police booked the Catholic priest in July 2021 under six sections of the Indian Penal Code, including section 295A (injury to religious feelings) and section 3 (disobedience to regulations) of the Law on epidemic diseases, 1897. The Catholic priest had filed a petition asking to cancel the FIR.

According to the judgment order, the Catholic priest pointed out that Tamil Nadu’s BJP deputy, Mr. R. Gandhi, walked barefoot, but Christians did not. “We wear shoes. Why? Because the filth of Bharat Mata should not contaminate us. The government of Tamil Nadu gave us free shoes. This bhumadevi is dangerous, you could catch it, ”the priest reportedly said.

Stating that the priest described ‘Bhuma Devi’ and ‘Bharat Mata’ as sources of infection and filth, the court said: “Nothing could be more scandalous for the feelings of believing Hindus. It is not necessary. let all Hindus feel indignant. If the offensive words outrage the religious feelings or beliefs of even a part of Hindus, the penal provision would be attracted. “

While lawyer T Lajapathi Roy, appearing on behalf of George Ponnaiah, said that “Bharat Mata” and “Bhuma Devi” are not legal entities, justice observed that “Bharat Mata” evokes a deeply emotional reverence in a large number of Hindus and that ‘Bhuma Devi’ is considered a goddess by all believing Hindus.

“I use the expression ‘believer’ because even materialists, rationalists and non-believers can also be considered Hindus. I can add with irony that even the great iconoclast and rationalist Periyar did not cease to be Hindu, ”said Judge GR Swaminathan, adding that for many Hindus a goddess has her own right.

He also stated that at first glance the petitioner had committed the offense under Article 295A of the IPC, which consists of “willful and malicious acts, intended to outrage the religious feelings of any class by insulting his religion or his religious convictions “.

Justice observed that since the priest called the meeting to mourn the disappearance of Stan Swamy and to demand the opening of places of worship amid the pandemic, there was absolutely no need or need to launch an attack. visceral against the religious beliefs of Hindus. “It was unwarranted and totally irrelevant to the occasion. That’s what makes it deliberate and malicious, ”he said.

“While a civic nationalist believes in India as a secular conception with the Constitution as a guide, for a religious nationalist India is Bharat Mata. Even for the latter, the Constitution must be the founding and guiding document. The difference between “Jai Hind” and “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” will be the difference between the two categories, ”he noted.

In his petition, the priest referred to the writings of Dr BR Ambedkar, who condemned Hindu religion and society in the strongest terms. At this, the court said it was too difficult for the petitioner to be compared to revered leaders like Dr Ambedkar.

However, citing the discourse of comedians and rationalists against religions, Judge Swaminathan said: “When comedians Munawar Faruqui or Alexander Babu perform on stage, they are exercising their fundamental right to make fun of others. Again, their religious identity does not matter.

By the way, Judge Swaminathan recently handed down two rulings in cases where CPI (ML) leader Mathivanan was booked for a Facebook post that read “Travel to Sirumalai for shooting practice,” and YouTuber Maridhas for a video he posted linking Tablighi Jamaat’s meeting to the Spread of covid19. In both cases, he argued that individuals have the “right to be funny” and the “right to express themselves”.

Read: “Right to be funny”, “Right of expression”: the Madras HC defends the rights of citizens in 2 orders

In the case of the Catholic priest, however, Judge Swaminathan observed that whether a critical or even harsh statement regarding religion or religious beliefs coming from a rationalist, reformist, scholar or artist would come out would find on an entirely different footing, those of an evangelist as the petitioner cannot claim a similar privilege.

The court overturned four of the seven charges against George Ponnaiah. Noting that the meeting was held in the priest’s private place to mourn the death of Stan Swamy, and to demand the opening of places of worship, which cannot be an illegal object, the Madras High Court annulled the offense under Article 143 (illegal assembly) of the IPC. Citing that none of them suffered from infectious disease or contributed to its spread, the court struck down section 269 of the IPC and section 3 of the Epidemic Diseases Act, 1897. The charges of criminal intimidation under IPC 506 (1) were also quashed, citing that the speech was delivered from a podium and that no person concerned had complained about himself. feel criminally intimidated.

Partly allowing the priest’s original request, Judge Swaminathan referred to English author Paul Johnson’s book, “Jesus: A Biography from a Believer,” to state that he had fallen in love with Jesus Christ, and a added, “I am sure that on Judgment Day God will warn the petitioner for committing a non-Christian act.”


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