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India: Hindu extremists protest against Jesus statue

by Heather Preston

The proposed erection of a Jesus statue to rival Rio de Janeiro's "Christ the Redeemer" in size has been met with animosity by Hindu nationalists in India.

Hundreds of hard-line Hindus rallied in the southern state of Karnataka to protest against the planned lankmark, claiming the structure goes "against the spirit of communal harmony".

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a parent group of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's right wing political party Bharatiya Janata led the demonstrations in Kanakapura, demanding the state government reverse its decision to allot land for the proposed 114-foot-tall statue.

The organisation has threatened to hold further marches if its demands are not met by 25th January.

The Kanakapura Chalo rally started at the Aiyappa Swamy Temple and ended at the tahsildar office, where a memorandum was submitted to the authorities.

Prabhakar Bhat of the RSS told Indian media: "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.

"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."

A number of Hindu's have taken issue with the proposed location of the statue, which is set to stand on a hill in the Christian majority town of Harobele, believing the site is home to the deity Munieshwara.

Christians are thought to have inhabited the area since 1906, following the start of missionary work by the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

The land earmarked for the project is owned by the Archdiocese of Bangalore, a fact which has been challenged by Hindu groups.

Speaking to UCA News, Fr Cyril Victor Joseph, chairman of the archdioceses' media commission, said there should be no cause for dispute as the land has been owned by the church for many years.

"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."

Fr Cyril claimed the former state minister and Congress party leader D.K. Shivakumar donated the land to a Catholic trust in December.

According to TimesOfIndia, RSS's Kalladka Prabhakar Bhat declared to protesters their fight was not against Jesus Christ, but against forceful religious conversions in his name.

Construction of the structure has been halted while the state government clarifies the lands ownership.

Persecution towards Christians has intensified in the Hindu majority country in recent years.

According to research from religious freedom charity Open Doors 1,445 physical attacks and death threats were reported against Christians in the past year.

India is ranked number 10 on the charity's 2020 World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most extreme oppression for their faith.

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