Visuals of a large statue of Jesus Christ that was revered in Gokunte village in Kolar district, being broken and toppled over by heavy machinery have been doing the rounds of social media. The visuals can be distressing to Christians and others who pray and pay respects to symbols of faith across the country. Crosses, small Hindu temples, Muslim shrines, and statues of religious figures are often visited and revered by locals across community lines in many parts of India.
However, in Karnataka, the Mulbagal taluk administration has recently demolished a 18-year-old Jesus statue in the Gokunte village of Kolar district. According to news reports, the Tehsildar ordered the demolition claiming that the statue was built on government land which was reserved as an animal pasture. Mulbagal Tehsildar Shobhita R stated that the High Court ordered the demolition, Christian leaders from the region alleged that the statue was illegally demolished while the case was still pending in court.
On Monday evening, the Mulbagal taluk administration team arrived at the spot accompanied by hundreds of policemen and proceeded to demolish a 20-feet tall Jesus statue, reported News9live.com. Even though locals objected, the demolition of the statue was done and by Tuesday morning it was reduced to rubble. According to news reports the Tehsildar claims she acted on the orders of the High Court but Christian leaders stated that the matter was still pending in the court.
The Mulbagal Tehsildar told News9, “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.” She also claimed that the High Court had issued the order for demolition in March last year.
However, Father Theres Babu, who is also an advocate, told the media that the demolition letter was never shown to them and that the next hearing was due on Wednesday. He said, “The government has been repeatedly saying that the demolition letter was issued. We have been asking her to show the demolition order. It is not clear if it was a judgement. But she never showed us the order. She has been claiming that the government advocate has sent her an email, saying that the High Court has given an order and based on that she went ahead and demolished the statue”.
The report quoted a Gokunte villager named Rayappa saying they “have been praying at the statue since 2004. They did not even listen to us and just removed everything using JCBs,” adding, “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. There were around 14 small structures and an arch was also demolished. We pooled in funds and worked hard to construct it.”
The statue was erected in the village 18 years ago by the local St Francis Xavier’s Church, reported MattersIndia, adding that around 90 percent of the village’s 500 odd people are Catholics. The villagers told the media that “a few activists of pro-Hindu organisations wanted to create tension in the region and filed a plea in the High Court”.
The Catholic bishops in Karnataka told the media that the demolition of the Jesus statue is the latest example of growing attacks on Christians in the state. According to a report in MattersIndia, Father Faustine Lobo, the spokesperson of the Karnataka Regional Catholic Bishops Council (KRCBC) said that the statue in Kolar was demolished in a “very rude and painful way” and without a proper court order. Kolar that comes under the Archdiocese of Bangalore is some 65 km northeast of Bengaluru, the state capital. He said, “The video of the demolition was widely circulated and the Christians are really alarmed and pained at such repeated acts by the pro-Hindu government machinery.”
The Bangalore Archdiocese’s Public Relations Officer Kantharaj, was quoted by Matters India saying the court had only asked for a status report about the history of the statue, not the compliance report after the demolition, “Local Panchayat and the police were aware of it, but the tehsildar was too hasty to please her masters. We don’t understand why the majority Hindus should be afraid of 1.87 percent Christians in the Country.”
According to the news report, Father Lobo said a similar event took place in Mangaluru, a port town some 350 km west of Bengaluru, on February 5 where a church was demolished, alleging that it was built on government land. “There too, the matter was in the court and some people demolished it,” said Father Lobo.
Meanwhile, an annual report of United Christian Forum, revealed that Karnataka recorded the highest incidents of anti-Christian violence in southern India. The United Christian Forum (UCF) has a toll-free helpline number (1-800-208-4545) that was launched in January 2015 and has received 505 distress calls in 2021, between January- February 14 2022, 53 incidents have already been reported to the UCF helpline. Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore who released the report said Karnataka was earlier known for its progressive politics for being the IT hub of the country, but “seem to have lost our humanity.”