By C V Joseph
Bengaluru: August 23, 2019: Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore has condemned the recent brutal attack on about 40 Christian pilgrims to India’s top Marian shrine, Basilica of Our Lady of Health in Tamil Nadu state, Vailankanni coastal town.
The pilgrims were from Kolar Gold Fields (KGF) in neighboring Karnataka state, 450 km northwest of Vailankanni.
The Tamil Nadu police on August 19 arrested six men belonging to the Hindu Munnani (front) after they allegedly assaulted Christian pilgrims in Vellore district. The pilgrims were walking to Vailankanni church in Nagapattinam district. The accused, say the police, abused the pilgrims and tore apart a poster they were carrying with images of ‘Mother Mary’ and ‘Jesus Christ’.
The incident took place at 9 pm on August 18 in Natrampalli, when the group of 40 pilgrims – 35 men and 5 women — were walking to their place of rest for the night. According to the police, the pilgrimage was an annual occurrence and this was the first time that it had led to an untoward incident.
“The six men verbally abused the pilgrims and tore their poster. While doing so, the two groups got into a tussle. The fight would have escalated if the local inspector did not intervene,” says Deputy Superintendent of police (DSP), Murali. “The pilgrims were taken to their accommodation but were not willing to complain initially. It took up to 6 hours to convince them to give a formal complaint,” he added.
The attack on innocent pilgrims is unacceptable and strongly condemnable, said Archbishop Machado in a statement.
When the pilgrims conceded, the police immediately swept into action and the six accused were arrested by the next morning. He further added that reports that claimed that the pilgrims had preached Christianity were false.
For centuries, the shrine has been drawing pilgrims from all over the world. Besides Christians, the people of other faiths too visit the church to pray. According to an estimate, every year 20 million people visit the shrine during the weeks before September 8, when the Church celebrates the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As per the reports, the miscreants attacked the pilgrims with allegations of a mission on conversion. A false and untenable accusation again raises its ugly head to divide and communalize society, Archbishop Machado regretted.
“We register our strong protest and displeasure. The brazen display of arrogance and terrorism by the misguided elements has hurt the sentiments of the entire Christian community and we are deeply disturbed and troubled.” The archbishop and Christians demanded suitable action against the attackers and called for curbs on such vigilante attacks against minority religious communities in the country, statement added.
The police official too said the pilgrims were “merely walking through the area with a poster. “They were neither preaching nor trying to convert anyone. The attackers were fanatics. There is no motive,” says the DSP.
He also said the attackers were local men and the inspector had seen them himself, making it easy for the police to arrest them. “The men are between the ages of 20 and 50,” the police officer said.
The accused – Singaravel, Charmudi, Prabhu, Sivakumar, Elango and Mani have been booked for non-bailable offences including section 153 A (by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion) of the Indian Penal code.