Government officials ordered the demolition on Tuesday of a 20-foot tall Jesus statue in Gokunte — a Christian village in southern India’s majority Hindu Karnataka state — resulting in the giant sculpture allegedly “smashed to pieces” by the laborers tasked with the teardown, the British Asian Christian Association (BACA) reported on Friday.
The incident took place on the morning of February 15 after a local district administration official arrived in Gokunte along with a demolition team and roughly 40 police officers to pull down the Christian statue. Eyewitness video footage of the teardown published by BACA on Friday shows a laborer operating a backhoe to slowly pick away at the statue’s large concrete and metal base. Other videos show ropes tied to the Jesus figure before machines off-camera pull the structure to the ground.
“Locals object to the government’s decision to demolish [the] Jesus statue in Gokunte village on Tuesday,” Karnataka’s News9 digital platform reported.
A local government official told News9 on February 15 “she acted as per the orders of the Karnataka High Court” when approving the Jesus statue’s teardown.
“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,” the official said.
“We had issued a notice to the church regarding the demolition. We had to submit the compliance report to the High Court on Wednesday [February 16] and hence it was demolished,” she continued.
The official further told News9 the Karnataka High Court “had issued the order for demolition in March last year.”
The Archbishop of Bangalore Peter Machado issued a press release this week denying local government officials had the proper authority to destroy Gokunte’s Jesus statue.
“He alleges the district administration had no right to demolish the statue, because the 2 acre land on which it was erected is belonged to a local church [sic],” BACA relayed on Friday. “He has also stated that paperwork confirming ownership is with the church.”
“The Catholic Church in India is incensed that the demolition took place despite a court stay order in place, from a trial court, denying authority for the action taken,” BACA reported. “The next hearing for the case was too be 16th February and it seems intentional that the District authorities smashed the statue before the court could give its verdict [sic].”
Gokunte is a small village of about 600 residents. The community “is mainly comprised of Christians who observe the Roman-Catholic faith. It is believed only 4 families adhere to the Hindu faith in the locality,” according to BACA.
Gokunte is located in Karnataka state which, along with the rest of India, is majority Hindu. India’s latest available census data from 2011 found 84 percent of Karnataka’s population at the time (61.1 million) identified as Hindu, while just 1.87 percent of the state’s populace identified as Christian. Approximately 80 percent of India’s population in 2011 (1.2 billion) identified as Hindu, while 2.3 percent said they were Christian.