Archbishop asks Indian state government to return Christ statue to cemetery

A golden statue 1of the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Rome Italy on June 9 2015 Credit Bohumil Petrik CNA 6 9 15 Bohumil Petrik/CNA.

The Archbishop of Bangalore decried Wednesday the removal of a statue of Christ from a Christian cemetery. The statue was taken down after complaints from non-local Hindus.

"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," Archbishop Peter Machado wrote March 4 at AsiaNews.

"It is a blow to the communal harmony of the people in our villages and also violation of the religious freedom guaranteed to us by the Indian Constitution."

The 12 foot tall statue was taken down March 3 from Mahima Betta cemetery in Doddasagarahalli, more than 30 miles north of Bangalore in India's Karnataka state.

India's ruling political party, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has been increasingly hostile to religious freedom for minorities. The BJP also controls the government of Karnataka.

According to Archbishop Machado, Christians have been making devotions at the cemetery "for the last 30 to 40 years without any difficulty," and "there is absolutely no problem from local people to our burials, nor our prayers and devotions on the hill."

He noted that for the past week or so "some people from outside have been creating tensions by spreading wrong rumors that the place is used for conversion, which is completely far from the truth."

"The local villagers have publicly said that the presence of Christians and their prayers are absolutely no problem for them and, this being the case, why should some outsiders come and disturb the harmony of the village," the archbishop asked.

He suggested that the government investigate the allegations of "forceful conversion," but that "it will not bring credit to the Government and to the local authorities to unnecessarily interfere in the religious tenets and practices of Christians by yielding to the pressure of some groups."

The archbishop said Christians love peace, "obey the rules of the country", and "render their selfless service to the nation in the best possible ways, irrespective of caste, color or religion."

"The Christians of Bangalore consider the forceful removal of the statue of Lord Jesus at our legally allotted burial ground at Doddasagarahalli as unacceptable and are greatly shocked and we condemn this high –handed action of the local authorities."

He asked that the Christ statue "be reinstalled immediately," and urged that the Karnataka government "instruct the local authorities to do this redressal act immediately."

"We request the authorities to take action against the perpetrators of such acts that have pained the community," he added.

The Archdiocese of Bangalore had already faced opposition from Hindu nationalists over a Christ statue this calendar year.

In January, work began on a statue that would be nearly 100 feet tall, but Hindu groups have objected, saying one of their gods lives on the hill designated for the project.

The hilltop where the statue is to be built is owned by the Bangalore archdiocese.

The BJP came to power in India in 2014, and strengthened its majority in the 2019 general election.

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According to the 2019 report from the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, "religious freedom conditions in India continued a downward trend" in 2018.

The commission said India's "history of religious freedom has come under attack in recent years with the growth of exclusionary extremist narratives-including, at times, the government's allowance and encouragement of mob violence against religious minorities-that have facilitated an egregious and ongoing campaign of violence, intimidation, and harassment against non-Hindu and lower-caste Hindu minorities. Both public and private actors have engaged in this campaign."

Some state governments in the country have anti-conversion laws meant to bolster Hinduism.

"In 2018, approximately one-third of state governments increasingly enforced anti-conversion and/or anti-cow slaughter laws discriminatorily against non-Hindus and Dalits alike," the commission stated.

"Mob violence was also carried out against Christians under accusations of forced or induced religious conversion. In cases involving mobs killing an individual based on false accusations of cow slaughter or forced conversion, police investigations and prosecutions often were not adequately pursued."

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