Hundreds of Hindu radicals assembled Monday to protest plans by the Catholic Church to erect a massive statue of Jesus Christ on a hill owned by the Archdiocese of Bangalore.
Hindu groups were successful in forcing the Archdiocese of Bangalore to halt work on the project, which promises to be India’s tallest statue of Jesus Christ, a white, granite monolith reaching some 30 meters above the hilltop.
Karnataka state’s government, headed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ordered that work be suspended until an official inquiry can establish the ownership of the land, after Hindu groups challenged the archdiocese’s property rights over the 10-acre parcel.
According to Father Cyril Victor Joseph, chairman of the archdiocesan media commission, the land was donated to an archdiocesan Catholic trust by former state minister and congress party leader D.K. Shivakumar, a Hindu. Shivakumar presided over the statue’s inauguration ceremony on December 25.
Protesting Hindu hardliners claim that one of their gods — Munieshwara, a form of Lord Shiva — lives on the hill designated for the project, while also insisting that the structure goes against “the spirit of communal harmony.”
Father Joseph, however, said the land in Ramanagara district has long been owned by the church.
“We used the same land for decades and conducted the Way of the Cross during Good Fridays,” he said. “A cross was there, and we wanted to replace it with a statue of Jesus after the land was donated to us.”
Carrying saffron flags, members of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the hardline parent organization of the BJP, demanded Monday that the state government revoke permission for the statue in the presence of some 1,000 police.
“We want to stop (the statue), since it goes against the spirit of communal harmony and encourages religious conversions which is rampantly carried out by Christian missionaries,” said Prabhakar Bhat, a top RSS official.
“We will not allow a statue of Jesus to be erected at Kapalabetta. They are trying to make it a Christian land just like Pakistan is a Muslim state,” he said.
Protesters have launched a Change.org petition to stop the “illegal installation” of the “Jesus idol.”
“Scam tainted Congress leader DK Shivakumar lays foundation for tallest statue of Jesus in a Karnataka village; Questions raised over ownership and timing of the move,” states the petition, which so far has garnered 821 signatures.
India came under special scrutiny by religious liberty groups in 2019 as acts of Christian persecution reached unprecedented levels.
Just prior to Christmas, International Christian Concern (ICC) reported that Christians in India had suffered over a half dozen acts of targeted persecution in just one week.
Growing intolerance and persecution of India’s Christians severely curbed Christians’ ability to freely celebrate the Christmas holiday, ICC said, forcing many to adjust their Christmas celebrations accordingly.
According to Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List of countries where Christians face most severe persecution, India ranks as the 10th worst country in the world for Christians to live.