The removal of a Jesus Christ statue and 14 Stations of the Cross, from a hill in Devanhalli near Bengaluru, has caused distress to members of the Christian community.
JA Kanthraj, the spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Bangalore, said the statue was on land that was allotted by the Karnataka Government as a Christian burial site.
He told NDTV: "In 2012, parishioners applied to the tahsildar, through the local priest, for a burial ground for Christians. In 2018, they followed up on the request. The tahsildar took it forward and recommended it to the Deputy Commissioner (DC), who after inquiry, sanctioned 4.2 acres land. The letter was sent to the tahsildar who forwarded it to the panchayat, which said it had no objections."
The tehsildar who took the decision to remove the statue told NDTV, "The land was allotted for a burial ground. Not for any particular community. Not for Christians or any community. There are many issues over there and other community people raised the issue that they are putting the statue. It became an issue in channels and the press. It is a false statement to say it was allotted for a Christian graveyard."
When NDTV asked about the Christian community and the Archbishop expressing how upset they were by developments, he denied any discrimination. The tehsildar said, "We have removed temples also. We are following guidelines. We have removed Anjaneya temples. We are planning to remove more temples also."
A small hill on the site was considered Calvary, and that's why a statue of Jesus was erected.
Mr Kantharaj said, "About 15 days ago, the tahsildar called all communities and said there had been complaints about conversion. People, however, said there was no problem and no conversion was happening. But two days ago, the tahsildar brought police and a JCB loader, and without any notice, oral or written, they removed the statue and the stations of the cross."
The statues were not damaged and were handed over safely to the church authorities.
A complaint has been filed with the local police over the incident and the Archdiocese is considering approaching the court.
However, it seems that no official complaint against the statues was lodged.
The Archbishop of Bangalore, Most Reverend Dr Peter Machado has issued a statement, in which he says, "It is very sad, unfortunate and regrettable that the police is bowing under the pressure of a few outsiders and forcefully removed the statue of Lord Jesus. It is a blow to communal harmony and a violation of the religious freedom guaranteed to us under the Indian Constitution. If there is an instance of forceful conversion, let the government investigate and take action... But it will not bring credit to the Government and local authorities to unnecessarily interfere in the tenets and practices of Christians by coming under the pressure of some groups."
The Archbishop said the removal of the statue was unacceptable and that the Christian community was shocked. "Christians want the statue of Jesus Christ that was unceremoniously removed. They want it to be reinstalled immediately, the statement said.
The statement ends by saying they would pray for those who had carried out the desecration in the words of Jesus Christ: "Father forgive them as they do not know what they are doing."