CHENNAI: Describing the move of Sri Lankan government to demolish the ancient St Antony’s Church in Katchatheevu as “a carefully calculated provocation”, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa on Saturday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to prevail upon Colombo to accept reconstruction of the shrine jointly by India and Lanka after obtaining the concurrence of the Tamil Nadu fishermen.
Expressing serious concern over the development, the Chief Minister, in her letter to the Prime Minister, pointed out that the Tamil Nadu fishermen fear that they would lose their traditional and customary access to this important place of worship in future if the Church was demolished and reconstructed by Lankan unilaterally.
“To allay the apprehensions of Tamil Nadu fishermen, the Government of India ought to urgently respond to this provocation and prevail upon the Lankan Government to first consult Tamil Nadu fishermen on this issue and take further steps in this regard only in consultation with all the key stakeholders”, Jayalalithaa said.
Jayalalithaa also recalled that at the time of the last festival of this church in February, when the local priests brought up the proposal to demolish and reconstruct the church, the fishermen from Tamil Nadu indicated to them that as the church represented the joint heritage of the fishermen from both India and Sri Lanka, the reconstruction should be taken up jointly by the two sides.
“In this context, the present unilateral decision of the Lanka without consulting Tamil Nadu fishermen who are vital stakeholders, appears to be a carefully calculated provocation”, she added.
“The fishermen who mostly belong to the Roman Catholic faith are extremely concerned at this move. The church holds considerable religious significance for the fisherfolk in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu including Nagapattinam, Thanjavur, Pudukottai, Ramanathapuram, Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli, she added.
Meanwhile, DMK president M Karunanidhi too expressed concern over the move to construct a new Church in Katchatheevu. In a statement here, he wondered what was the need for constructing a new church when the ancient one was there in that island.
Pointing out that the people from India and Sri Lanka treat the existing church as very holy, the DMK chief said since already there was controversy over Katchatheevu, efforts should be made to strengthen the existing church and to give up the move to build a new one.