A 20-foot statue of Jesus Christ along with other religious structures located in India's Karnataka state was destroyed on Valentine's Day by the Indian authorities on claims that the property belongs to the government.
The statue of Jesus has been standing beside the St. Francis Xavier's Church in Karnataka's Gokunte village for 18 years. The Christian Post reported that the Karnataka authorities demolished it out of claims that the property was allocated by the government for animal pasture.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Bangalore presented documents proving ownership of the land on which the statue was placed to prevent the demolition. The Archdiocese revealed that the authorities were uncooperative and that the case on the land was still pending but the demolition was nonetheless ordered by the Karnataka High Court.
Bangalore Archbishop Peter Machado, in a statement, condemned the demolition and said other structures were destroyed by authorities.
"It is sad to note that yet another ruthless demolition of a Christian Structure, which included a 20- feet Statue of Jesus and 14 Stations of Cross was carried out by the Taluka authorities in a Christian Village, Gokunte, in Kolar (65 km from Bangalore), a District of Karnataka touching the border of Andhra," Machado said.
"Though the Church has documents of the two acres of the land where these structures were located, the local authorities considered them as not proper or incomplete. The matter is still being heard in the Courts. In fact, the trial court had issued a stay order on the demolition, prior to the High Court's directives," he added.
A local official told Crux Now that they demolished the statue following the court's order. The official said they provided a notice about the demolition to the archdiocese prior to taking it down.
"We demolished the statue based on the High Court order. After seven to eight hearings, the High Court had ordered the demolition of the statue as it was constructed on government land. We had issued a notice to the church regarding the demolition. We had to submit the compliance report to the High Court on Wednesday and hence it was demolished," the local official.
However, Machado disclosed that they have not received any notice from the authorities, who had already decided to demolish the structures. The archbishop detailed that "200 strong police forces" came to the property on February 14 that the local official-called Tehsildar Shobitha-personally "supervised" until midnight to complete the demolition.
The Archbishop said the local official, a woman, did not care about the consequences of her actions which "has seriously affected not only the sentiments of the Christian community but also the people of other faiths."
"It was heartbreaking to see hundreds of people shedding their tears. Even assuming that the structures were not fully authorized, Government agencies could have had the magnanimity to regularize these structures, which were in place for over 25 years," Machado stressed.
"Isn't the Karnataka Government recently introduced a bill to protect unauthorized religious structures built on government lands not being demolished in Karnataka? Is this privilege applies only to certain religious groups and not to minority communities?" he continued.
There were other religions with "illegal structures on public or government properties" but the local authorities have a distinct "discriminatory attitude towards the Christian Community only," the Bangalore Archbishop said. The local authorities were in such a hurry to demolish the structures because of "pressures from fundamentalist groups who were bent on the demolition."
The said group were also bent in destroying the "peace and harmony" in the village and its vicinity.
"The place that witnessed the demolition was a peaceful area where even the members of other religious communities were visiting the place to offer prayers and petitions. We are told that the people who created the problems were outsiders whose main aim was to spoil the peace and harmony in and outside the village," Machado pointed out.
"We only fear that much more such harsh, orchestrated and insensitive attacks are sure to happen in the coming days. Notwithstanding, 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 Christian minority," he added.