A protester holds a placard during a rally by hundreds of Christians against recent attacks on churches nationwide, in Mumbai, February 9, 2015. | Reuters/Danish Siddiqui
As Christian persecution continues to rise under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India, authorities in a southern state removed a statue of Jesus and 14 crosses from a Christian property after radical Hindu groups alleged the Christian center was being used for religious “conversions.”
The 12-foot statue and crosses were taken down this week from Mahima Betta, a Catholic cemetery and center, in Doddasagarahalli, about 30 miles north of Bangalore in Karnataka state, according to Catholic News Agency.
Officials had recently “called all communities and said there had been complaints about conversion,” J.A. Kanthraj, a spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Bangalore, told the Indian news channel NDTV. “People, however, said there was no problem and no conversion was happening. But two days ago, the tahsildar (official) brought police and a JCB loader, and without any notice, oral or written, they removed the statue and the stations of the cross.”
The land has been used by local Christians for nearly 40 years without any prior issues, the U.S.-based persecution watchdog International Christian Concern said. During the Lent season, Indian Christians also use the area for the Way of the Cross and prayer gatherings.
The area’s Catholic Archbishop Peter Machado said the Christians of Bangalore “consider the forceful removal of the statue of Lord Jesus at our legally allotted burial ground … as unacceptable and are greatly shocked and we condemn this high-handed action of the local authorities.”
The archbishop added that there had been “absolutely no problem from local people to our burials, nor our prayers and devotions on the hill.”
“While the Christians attend these prayers and devotions, the others are not forbidden to visit this place. Since about a week, some people from outside have been creating tensions by spreading wrong rumors that the place is used for conversion, which is completely far from the truth,” the archbishop clarified.
“It is very sad, unfortunate and regrettable that the police, bowing to the pressure of a few outsiders, have forcefully removed the statue of Lord Jesus. It is a blow to the communal harmony of the people in our villages and also violation of the religious freedom guaranteed to us by the Indian Constitution,” he added.
Modi, of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, took office as Prime Minister in 2014.
“Since the current ruling party took power in 2014, incidents against Christians have increased, and Hindu radicals often attack Christians with little to no consequences,” noted Open Doors World Watch List, which ranked India as the 10th worst country for Christians.
“The view of the Hindu nationalists is that to be Indian is to be Hindu, so any other faith — including Christianity — is viewed as non-Indian. Also, converts to Christianity from Hindu backgrounds or tribal religions are often extremely persecuted by their family members and communities,” Open Doors added.
At least one Christian was attacked every day last year, according to Open Doors.
During his first official visit to India, U.S. President Donald Trump praised Modi’s record in governance and his willingness to discuss religious freedom. While Trump was in the country, the city of Delhi, the nation’s capital, was witnessing religion-based violence.
Less than 10 miles from Hyderabad House, where Trump and Modi met in Delhi, a targeted spate of violence killed at least 53 people, mostly from the Muslim minority. Trump told reporters during a news conference that he and Modi “did talk about religious freedom” for “a long time,” and stressed that he “really believes” religious freedom is what Modi wants.
“The prime minister was incredible on what he told me. He wants people to have religious freedom,” he added. “He said that, in India, they have worked very hard to have great and open religious freedom. And if you look back and you look at what’s going on, relative to other places especially, they have really worked hard on religious freedom.”
More than a dozen incidents of Christian persecution were recorded by Christian groups in India last month alone.
In India, Muslims and Christians have had good relations as both communities are politically targeted by Hindu nationalists.