Veteran lyricist and poet Javed Akhtar has commented on the removal of a Jesus Christ statue from a hill near Bengaluru, saying that as an atheist the move had caused him to "hang my head in shame".
Mr Akhtar, while recognising the removal had been carried out on orders from the Karnataka government, also highlighted India's religious diversity and tolerance, recalling that a church had been built in Agra with "permission and blessings" of Mughal emperor Akbar.
The statue of Jesus Christ and 14 Stations of the Cross had been removed, without damage, from a hill in Devanahalli town, which is around 40 kilometres from Bengaluru, on Friday and handed over to church authorities.
Although I am an Athiest I hang my head in shame as an Indian that near Banglore a statue of Jesus was removed with a crane by the police following the orders of Karnataka Govt.— Javed Akhtar (@Javedakhtarjadu) March 7, 2020
JA Kanthraj, the spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Bangalore, criticised its removal and pointed out the statue was on land that had been allotted by the government as a Christian burial site.
The first church made in India ( out of Portuguese territories) was in Agra during Akbar ‘s regime with his permission and blessings .— Javed Akhtar (@Javedakhtarjadu) March 7, 2020
Prior to the statue's removal rumours of forced conversion had surfaced.
"About 15 days ago, the tahsildar (S Ajit Kumar Rai) called all communities and said there had been complaints over conversion. But no conversion was happening," Mr Kantharaj said.
"Two days ago the tahsildar brought police and machines and, without any notice, oral or written, they removed the statue and Stations of the Cross," he added.
In his response to the incident the Archbishop of Bangalore, Most Reverend Dr Peter Machado, said the removal was "unacceptable".
"Christians want the statue of Jesus Christ that was unceremoniously removed. They want it to be reinstalled immediately," a statement by the Archbishop said, adding, "It is a blow to communal harmony and a violation of the religious freedom guaranteed to us under the Indian Constitution".
A complaint has been filed with the local police over the incident and the Archdiocese is considering approaching the court.
On allegations of forced conversion, the Archbishop said: "If there is an instance of forceful conversion, let the government investigate and take action... but it will not bring credit to the government to interfere in tenets and practices of Christians by coming under the pressure of some groups".