03/05/2010, 00.00
INDIA
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Tamil Nadu: police arrests then releases bishops and faithful marching for Christian Dalit rights

by Nirmala Carvalho
The arrests come on the last day of the “long march,” launched to defend the rights of Christian “outcastes”. Despite the disturbances, a public meeting scheduled for tonight in Chennai is still to go ahead. Catholic priest says arrests show how people involved in “legitimate democratic struggles” are treated.
Chennai (AsiaNews) – Indian police today arrested Christian bishops, priests, nuns and ordinary Catholics, and released them after four hours. Mgr Anthonisamy Neethinathan, bishop of Chinglepet, Malayappan Chinnappa, archbishop of Madras-Mylapore, and Mgr Peter Fernando, archbishop of Madurai, were among those taken into custody. All of them took part in a march for equal rights for Christian Dalits. Fr G. Cosmon Arokiaraj, member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), talked to AsiaNews about the incident, slamming the State (Tamil Nadu) and Union governments for treating this way people involved in “legitimate democratic struggles.”

The arrests came at the end of a “long march”, a month-long march that set off from Kanyakumari to Chennai, in the State of Tamil Nadu, in southeast India, drawing thousands of Catholics. Its purpose was to raise awareness amongst the population and the authorities over the discrimination still practiced vis-à-vis Christian Dalits or outcastes.

Despite the disturbances, a public meeting will still go ahead at Mangkollai, in Chennai. It had been scheduled to conclude the demonstration, but was cancelled after prelates and faithful were arrested. Some 15,000 people are expected to be present at the event.

Tonight, at 7 pm (local time) a private meeting is also scheduled between the bishops and other arrested Catholic leaders and the chief minister of Tamil Nadu.

Fr G Cosmon Arokiaraj, executive secretary of the CBCI Commission for Schedule Caste and Backward Tribe, described to AsiaNews what happened.

“Around 12.30 today, Mgr Neethinathan and 500 faithful wanted to join the march. When they reached Guindy, a Chennai neighbourhood, police stopped them and prevented them from going any further. It then proceeded to arrest them.”

Earlier in the morning, at around 11.30, the other two prelates tried to meet the chief minister of Tamil Nadu. However, the latter said that he was not prepared to meet Catholic leaders.

When they learnt about the arrest of the bishop of Chinglepet, “Mgr Chinnappa and Mgr. Peter Fernando went to the area of the incident, near St Thomas Mount, and were promptly arrested as well.”

The priest slammed the bishops’ arrest as well as that of the faithful. “This is how the State and Union governments respond to those who undertake legitimate democratic struggles.” For this reason, he called on all Christians "to awake and respond to state repression.”

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