02/17/2022, 00.00
INDIA
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Statue of Jesus arbitrarily torn down in Karnataka

by Nirmala Carvalho

The local administration removed the statue, erected 18 years ago, despite opposition from residents. It claimed that it was executing a High Court order when in fact, the case is still pending in court. Hindu ultranationalists have long claimed the land on which the local church stands.

 

Gulbarga (AsiaNews) – Hijabs are not the only issue in Karnataka. A few days ago, the regional administration office in Mulbagal tore down a statue of Jesus located in Gokunte, a village in Kolar district.

Mulbagal’s tehsildar (tax officer), Shobhita R, gave the green light to the demolition claiming that the statue was built on government land reserved for grazing animals.

Shobhita said the High Court had ordered the demolition. Local Christians responded saying that the statue was actually pulled down illegally because the case was still pending in court.

On Monday, the official and hundreds of policemen arrived in Gokunte. The statue of Jesus, about 6 metres high, was torn down around 3 am despite opposition by local residents.

"We demolished the statue based on the High Court order,” Shobhita said. “After seven to eight hearings, the High Court had ordered the demolition,” she added.

In her view, the demolition order had been issued in March 2021 and the local administration had to submit a compliance report to the court by yesterday.

Christian leaders, however, dismissed the tehsildar's claims, arguing that the matter was still pending. Fr Theres Babu, a priest and lawyer, said he never received any demolition notice.

"The matter is still pending in court and the hearing is today,” he said yesterday. “The government has repeatedly said that it had sent a letter. We have been asking to see the demolition order. It is not clear if it was a ruling.”

Ryappa, a Christian from Gokunte, said local residents opposed the decision. “There were hundreds of police officers. We have been praying at the statue since 2004, but they didn't listen to us and removed it with heavy equipment vehicles.”

“Despite asking the taluk administration to safely remove the statue and hand it over to us, it was demolished and taken away in a tractor. Around 14 small structures and an arch were also demolished. We had put together funds and worked hard to build it," he added.

The statue stood near St Francis Xavier Church for 18 years, since 2004. According to Gokunte residents, the case was brought to court by members of pro-Hindu groups.

St Francis Xavier’s parish priest, who did not want to be named, said he was in shock after the demolition.

“For decades we received letters of claim to the land,” he told AsiaNews. “But we went on with our activities because we have ownership papers.”

“Then, last year, a supporter of Hindu ultra-nationalism in Bangarpet filed a petition with the High Court and spread false news saying that we had encroached on 300 acres of land."

The village of Gokunte is located just two kilometres from the border with Andhra Pradesh, and is home to 500-600 people. With the exception of four families, all residents are Catholic.

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