Dalit rights activist of Pondicherry Archdiocese dies at 82

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By DCD Reporter

Father P. Antonysamy, former Vicar General of the Pondicherry Archdiocese and Dalit rights activist, died on September 5. He was 82. 

His death was due to old age, said Dr. V. A. Rameshnathan, former general secretary of the National Dalit Movement for Justice.

The deceased priest was the maternal uncle of Rameshnathan, executive director of the Social Awareness Society for Youth (SASY), Tindivanam, Tamil Nadu, south India.

He was a gentle priest, soft-spoken, a good administrator, a peacemaker, and a spiritual person, says Father Devasagayaraj M Zackarias, former national secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Office for Dalits and Backward Classes.

The deceased priest was born on March 29, 1940, at Thurijipoondi and was ordained a priest on December 23, 1967. 

“He was my parish priest at Kanakkankuppam, Villupuram district when I was a seminarian.

People loved him so much because of his simplicity and love for people,” recalled Father Zackarias. “He was the first priest in our parish who shed away clericalism and related freely with the people.” 

It was at Kanakkankuppam that he invited a street theatre group for a performance, which Zackarias saw for the first time, and which inspired Zackarias to start a street theatre group, “Kanal”, when Zackarias was the youth director of the Archdiocese. 

Seeing the caste discrimination in the church when the DCLM started, they also conducted a meeting at Kanakkankuppam parish when he was the parish priest. 

He was the first diocesan secretary for the Commission of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

He encouraged people’s movements. The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that did development work in the former South Arcot district (present Cuddalore, Villupuram, and Kallakurichy districts) banded together and formed Social Action Groups (SAGs).

He was a councilor and a spiritual guide to them. He was a talented person. Even when he was a seminarian, he used to make birettas (a square cap with three or four peaks or horns, sometimes surmounted by a tuft). 

Traditionally, the three-peaked biretta is worn by Catholic clergy and some Anglican and Lutheran clergy). The late Father A. Pichaimuthu used to say that Father P. Antonysamy was best at making it. 

“I was happy to be the parish priest of Vellakulam, where he served as its first parish priest.”

People remember him fondly for his love. He built the presbytery at Vellakulam in the 1980s,” said Zackarias.

As the Vicar General of the archdiocese, he embraced all and made amicable settlements through his capacity for peacemaking. He contributed much to the archdiocese and society.

Dalit Christian Liberation remembers their ardent supporters of their movement and offers their condolences.

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