Churches in India’s southern Tamil Nadu state have condemned an attack on Christian pilgrims visiting from Sri Lanka. The attack has been attributed to Tamil political groups in the state protesting Sri Lanka’s treatment of its Tamil minority.
The 180 pilgrims, who were visiting the Marian shrine of Vailankanni, arrived on Sept. 2, but cut their planned ten-day visit short on Sept. 4, flying back to Colombo on an aircraft dispatched by the Sri Lankan government.
“We strongly condemn this. This should have never happened,” Esther Kathiroli, general secretary of Tamil Nadu Council of Churches (TNCC), told ENInews on Sept. 6 from her office in Chennai.
The pilgrims arrived during an annual feast time when more than one million pilgrims throng the Catholic shrine, the largest in Asia.
“What has happened is sad and shocking,” Roman Catholic bishop Ambrose Devadas of the Thanjavur diocese, which includes Vailankanni, told ENInews.
Devadas said that the pilgrims were threatened by more than 100 protesters who shouted slogans at them when they reached Vailankanni. When they left for the airport under police escort, Ambrose said, their convoy of four buses was waylaid and pelted with stones, leaving seven pilgrims injured.
“This is not a public protest. The political parties are trying to cash in on the anti-Sri Lankan sentiments,” Kathiroli said. “Ironically, in the name of upholding the Tamil cause, the hooligans attacked the pilgrims, most of whom are Tamils,” she said.
T. M. Selvaganapathy, from the opposition Dravid Munnetta Kazhakam Party, told UCAnews.com, a Catholic news service, that anti-Sri-Lankan sentiment is strong in Tamil Nadu.
“I don’t justify attacks on innocent pilgrims but when they [in Sri Lanka] are showing hostility to our brothers and sisters, some people may overreact,” he said.
He appealed to the federal government to cut ties with Sri Lanka and reiterated cross-party opposition to an upcoming visit to India by Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Political parties in Tamil Nadu state, with over 72 million Tamil speaking people, have been carrying out regular protests against Sri Lankan targets, blaming the Sri Lankan government for oppressing minority Tamils.