By UCA News
Christian pilgrims from Sri Lanka were forced to flee India yesterday after coming under attack by a mob in southern Tamil Nadu state.
The attack and a series of earlier protests against the group have prompted the Sri Lankan High Commission to issue a travel advisory to its nationals wanting to visit the state.
Of the group of around 148, at least eight pilgrims were reportedly injured when the mob attacked the five tour buses they were traveling in, following a visit to a popular Catholic shrine.
“A pro-Tamil mob blocked their vehicles and pelted them with stones. Police escorted them to the airport and they were flown back to Sri Lanka on a special flight yesterday,” a police official told ucanews.com.
The pilgrims, who included 75 women and 36 children, earlier had to endure a gauntlet of abuse as they were praying at the famous Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health shrine in Velankanni, near Nagapattinam.
The protesters demanded they leave the country and attacked as they left the shrine, one of the pilgrims said after returning to Colombo.
“They were carrying LTTE -flags and pictures of the late LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran,” Waranakulasuriyage Chamin Sumith said.
“One protester threw a knife and one pilgrim tried to defend himself but ended up losing three fingers,’’ he explained.
“Several others received minor injuries after being hit by bricks thrown by the attackers,” he added.
Their ordeal began as soon as they arrived at Poondi Matha Church, a Catholic shrine near Thanjavur on Monday at the start of a week-long annual pilgrimage to several shrines in the state.
The hostility follows weeks of anti-Sri Lankan rhetoric from all the political parties in the state where the population is predominantly Tamil.
State politicians have been hitting out at Sri Lanka, in particular the Sinhalese majority, over allegations of human rights abuses committed against Tamils during and after the long running civil war.
The state government has also been objecting to India providing military training to Sri Lankan security personnel, while Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa recently ordered the expulsion of a visiting school football team.
T. M. Selvaganapathy, from the opposition Dravid Munnetta Kazhakam Party, told ucanews.com that anti-Sri-Lankan sentiments are very strong in Tamil Nadu.
“I don’t justify attacks on innocent pilgrims but when they [the Sinhalese] 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.