Bengaluru: Tension has gripped Mahima Betta near Devanahalli on the outskirts of north Bengaluru after a statue of Jesus Christ was removed by the local authorities following a complaint by some “Hindu organisations”.
This comes over a month after a major controversy erupted in connection with the proposed installation of a Christ statue in Kapalabetta hillock, 30 km from Bengaluru.
In the latest incident, the Christ statue atop the hillock named Mahima Betta was removed Tuesday by the local tehsildar after he received a complaint by some Hindu groups, who alleged the land allotted for a cemetery was being “misused”, said Inspector General of Police (Central Range) K.V. Sharath Chandra.
“Twenty days ago, the tehsildar had received a complaint from some Hindu organisations that a statue of Christ had been installed on government land. We have shifted the statue to a local church,” Chandra told ThePrint.
Names of the “Hindu organisations” could not be ascertained.
Police said the tehsildar ordered to remove the statue only after conducting a thorough inspection. The statue has now been kept outside St Joseph Church in the area.
Chandra said police personnel were deployed in the area Tuesday as a precautionary measure to ensure that shifting of the statue happened peacefully.
The four-and-half-acre land was allotted in September 2019 to be used as a burial ground. Local Christians have been using the land for the purpose of prayers for a few decades now.
The area around Mahima Betta is a Christian-dominated neighbourhood. During the month of Lent, a period of 40 days that comes before Good Friday and Easter, many people flock to the hillock for prayers.
On top of the hillock, there was a wooden cross, and Christians used to pray in front of it.
“They demolished the cross and moved the statue away,” said Fr Mathew Kottayil of St Joseph Church.
“We had a peace meeting on 27 February along with the tehsildar. At the meeting, we were asked to remove the statue. We sought a month’s time as our Lent season ends in April. But we were told that they cannot wait and the statue will be removed,” he added.
Land used for ‘forcible conversion’
A local Hindu leader, who was among the complainants, told ThePrint the land was being used to “forcibly convert people to Christianity”. This was also stated in the complaint letter, added the leader, who didn’t want to be named.
“Though the tehsildar did not find any case of forcible conversion, the illegal installation of the statue was immediately acted upon,” said a police officer, who did not wish to be identified.
The land was being used for purposes other than burial, and the tehsildar felt it was necessary to get the land vacated, the officer added.
Handiwork of ‘outsiders’
The incident has led to an outcry among the Christian community, with the Archbishop of Bangalore Rev. Peter Machado describing the incident as “unfortunate”.
“It is very sad, unfortunate and regrettable that the police bowing to the pressure of a few outsiders have forcefully removed the statue of Lord Jesus. It is a blow to the communal harmony of the people in our village and violation of religious freedom as guaranteed in the Constitution,” a statement released by Machado said.
“During the weeks before Good Friday and Easter, Christians have prayers and devotions called Way of the Cross to meditate on the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ. This practice has been going on for more than 30 to 40 years without any difficulty,” read the statement.
Officials at the St Joseph Church said non-Christian local residents never raised an objection to the “prayers, burial or devotions on the hillock”.
They alleged that the complaint was the handiwork of a few Hindutva leaders who are “outsiders” and want to create tension.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.