Indian Christians in Bangalore participate in a protest against attacks on Christians and an anti-conversion bill. Indian Christians in Bangalore participate in a protest against attacks on Christians and an anti-conversion bill.   (ANSA)

Indian archbishop decries demolition of statue, attacks on churches

Archbishop Peter Machado has condemned the demolition of a statue of Jesus by civil authorities in his Archdiocese of Bangalore. He also lamented continued attacks on churches in Karnataka state.

By Vatican News staff reporter

An archbishop in southern India’s Karnataka state has vehemently denounced the demolition of a statue of Jesus by civil authorities, saying it is part of a continued attack on Christians.

Shobitha R., the tehsildar (revenue officer) of Mulbagal, accompanied by hundreds of policemen, on February 14 tore down a 6-metre-tall statue of Jesus and the Stations of the Cross at Gokunte village in Kolar district.

Stay order vs demolition

Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore, the capital city of Karnataka state, condemned the act saying it violated a court stay order, as the land dispute where the statue stood was pending before the High Court, Indian Catholic Matters reported.   “The systematic and ill-conceived demolition drive is pursued with dogged determination by the government and its machinery,” Archbishop Machado alleged.  

He lamented that although the Church had documents of the two acres of the land where these structures were located, the local authorities considered them as irregular or incomplete. Despite the local Church authorities’ efforts to make Shobitha understand the court’s stay order, “she refused to cooperate and even to share the fresh directives of the court if any.”  He said, “We were not served with a written notice of the impending action, which she went ahead with the determined notion to demolish the structure.”

On the contrary, Shobitha argued that the High Court ordered the demolition as the statue had been erected on government land set aside as pasture for animals.

Protection of religious structures

“Assuming that the structures were not fully authorized, the government agencies could have had the magnanimity to regularize these structures, which were in place for over 25 years,” Archbishop Machado said, adding that the purpose of the Karnataka government’s recent law was to protect unauthorized religious structures built on government lands.   

He was referring to the Karnataka Religious Structures (Protection) Act 2021, which came into force on Oct. 22, 2021.  The law states that the government shall protect religious structures already existing on government land, “notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force or any judgment, decree or order of any court, tribunal or authority.”

Discriminatory action

Archbishop Machado denounced the demolition as “discriminatory”, asking whether this act was applicable only to certain religious groups and not for minority communities.  “Are there the pressures from fundamentalist groups who are bent on the demolition of these Christian structures? Does the government have any control over such fringe elements?” he asked.

The statue of Jesus has stood on a hill overlooking Gokunte near the parish of St Francis Xavier since 2004. The village close to the border of Andhra Pradesh state has a population of 500-600 people, all of them except 4 families are Catholic.  Entrusted to the Missionaries of Saint Francis de Sales in 1977, the church is one of the oldest Catholic presences in the Kolar district.

The parish runs a home for poor children, a pilgrim's house and many other social uplift activities, such as vocational training centres for women (tailoring school) and an English school for children.

The Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) heads the government in Karnataka where an anti-conversion bill is under discussion. 

Continued attacks on churches

The 67-year-old archbishop decried the continued attacks on the churches across the state with no regard for community feelings.  “In the last two years,” he said, “we have seen demolitions occurring at six such places on the hills, and systematic attacks on the Churches across the state.” He asked whether “it too big an expectation from the government for any act of benevolence to the Christian Community”. 

“Notwithstanding these ill-conceived acts,” Archbishop Machado said, “We still hope and pray that the government will protect our places of worship, religious symbols and sacred structures, and that it does not continue to hurt the religious sentiments of the Christian minority.”

18 February 2022, 14:11