A 20ft-tall statue of Jesus that stood in a village in southwest India for 18 years was taken down on Tuesday after local officials claimed it was built on land set aside for grazing for animals.
An authority told Catholic media Node that the High Court ordered the destruction; however, Christian leaders in the area say the issue was still unresolved.
The statue was built in 2004 next to St Francis Xavier Church in the village of Gokunte in the state of Karnataka.
“We have torn down the statue based on the High Court order,” an official said. “After seven to eight hearings, the High Court had ordered the demolition of the statue as it had been built on government land. We had issued notice to the church regarding the demolition. We had to submit the compliance report to the High Court on Wednesday and as a result it was demolished.”
Villagers say several members of a pro-Hindu organization sought to create conflict in the area and filed a plea in the High Court.
The village of Gokunte has a population of 500-600 people with four Catholic families.
“We have been praying in front of the statue since 2004,” said a villager named Rayappa. “They didn’t even listen to us and took everything away.”
He added: “Although he asked the (local) administration to remove the statue safely and hand it over to us, it was demolished and taken away in a tractor. There were about 14 small structures and a ark was also torn down. We pooled funds and worked hard to build it.”
Father Faustina Lobo, spokesperson for the Karnataka Regional Council of Catholic Bishops, told the media India Matters that the statue was torn down in a “very crude and painful manner” and without a valid court order.
“The video of the demolition has been widely circulated, and Christians are truly alarmed and pained by such repeated acts by the pro-Hindu government apparatus,” he said.
Catholic bishops in Karnataka say dishonoring the statue of Jesus is an example of growing attacks on Christians in the Indian state. The state of Karnataka is ruled by the Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata (BJP).
India currently ranks 10th on the 2022 Open Doors Global Watchlist of the hardest places in the world to be a Christian.
The Open Doors watchlist warns that “persecution of Christians in India is escalating as Hindu extremists aim to cleanse the country of their presence and influence.”
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