For Archbishop Machado, the demolition was an act of religious intolerance. The local parish had not applied to use public land. However, Hindu temples in the same locations have been left intact. This is the fourth time in the last six months that crosses have been pulled down in the Indian state. Catholics plan to take legal action.
Chikkkaballapur (AsiaNews) – The recent removal of crosses in a small village is a "selective action carried out [by the authorities] against Christians in the current climate of religious intolerance,” said Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore.
Speaking to AsiaNews, the prelate explained that 15 crosses were taken down from a hill near the Church of St Joseph, in Gerahalli (Karnataka), on 23 September. The operation took more than six hours.
After 300 police and revenue officers isolated the area, they proceeded to remove a 32-metre cross, plus 14 smaller crosses representing the Way of the Cross.
Gerahalli is a small parish home to about hundred Catholic families. The local parish priest, Father Antony Britto, says he received a visit from an administrative officer on 22 September, who informed him of the removal order issued by the High Court.
The next day the demolition began. The crosses were taken away with a tractor. Distraught at the sight, local Catholics began to protest. Some wept whilst others recited the rosary.
According to Archbishop Machado, local Christians have been going to the hill for decades to show their devotion, but the Church did not apply for the use of what is public land.
J. A Kanthraj, spokesman for the archdiocese, was keen to explain that a specific request to the district authorities was presented ten days ago.
"It is Gomala (pasture) land,” said the archbishop, “but in addition to the crosses, there are Hindu temples, which have not been touched.”
Catholics point out that all the land used for “sacred” purposes, Hindu temples included, covers eight acres out of 173. The area the crosses occupied was around an acre.
In Karnataka, where the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is in power, the removal of crosses is the order of the day. Last week’s cross removal was the fourth in the last six months.
Fr Britto plans to appeal against the court decision. However, he admits that it will be difficult to find the necessary documents. Meanwhile, he has appealed for “peace, prayer and calm”.