The hill shrine in Andhra Pradesh is being falsely claimed as a sacred spot for Hindus
Christians protest against vandals attacking the statues of Mother Mary, Infant Jesus and the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Guntur Diocese in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on May 15. (Photo supplied)
Unidentified vandals destroyed statues of Mother Mary, Infant Jesus and the Sacred Heart of Jesus at a hill shrine in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh causing shock among the local Catholics.
The incident happened on the intervening night of May 14 and 15. “We came to know about it through some Catholics who had been there early morning,” said Father Bala Subash Chandra Bose who is in charge of the shrine.
The newly constructed shrine complex at Edlapadu in the Guntur district was being readied for an inauguration, Father Bose told UCA News on May 18.
“Christians here are in a state of shock and disbelief,” the Guntur diocesan priest said. “We organized a protest march on May 15 evening to press for speedy investigations.”
However, three days after no one had been arrested and the priest said a peace march had been planned on the morning of May 19 to be followed by another protest march on May 22.
The shrine had become an unlikely religious flashpoint in 2021 with the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) claiming it was being illegally erected at a spot where a carving of the Hindu deity Narasimha and footprints of Sita Maa (the wife of Hindu god Ram) existed originally.
The claim made by Sunil Deodhar, BJP’s national secretary in charge of Andhra Pradesh, on Twitter was debunked by the Guntur district police, which also issued a video showing how the Catholic shrine and the Hindu deity existed on “two different hillocks” located around half a kilometer away from each other.
But the BJP and its militant Hindu allies continued with their campaign, claiming “Christian mafias” were “creating havoc” in Guntur.
“Six months back one lady who identified herself as a worker of the BJP came to the shrine and claimed that the place belonged to Sita Maa,” recalled Bishop Bhagyaiah Chinnabathini of Guntur.
The prelate, however, refused to comment on who could’ve been behind the latest attack as the “matter was under investigation.”
“We have a very good rapport with people from other faiths. No such incident was reported in the past so it is quite shocking for all of us. We have no idea who could be behind the attack, but we condemn it,” he told UCA News.
Bishop Chinnabathini said the allegation that the shrine was illegal was baseless as they had “necessary documents to prove” the ownership.
Father Bose said the hillock was bought by a Christian group 35 years back and people started praying there. “As more and more people began to turn up to pray we decided to build a shrine. Last year we erected a cross that was objected to by BJP and others,” he added.
The shrine atop the hillock can be reached by 170 steps and has six statues at the entrance that now stood vandalized, the priest said.
He said local Christians were “very much hurt and agitated” because the cross, statue, and shrine were funded by them.
“The shrine complex was ready for inauguration and we were waiting for some paperwork to be completed when the unexpected incident happened,” Father Bose said.
Vidadala Rajini, the local legislator and health minister, visited the shrine and promised speedy investigations.
Rajini belongs to the ruling Yuvajana Shramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) founded by Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, a Christian, who is often falsely accused by the BJP and other pro-Hindu parties of “evangelizing” the state.
Rajini told local media that “strict action will be taken if anyone tries to disrupt religious harmony” in her home constituency.
The 2011 census report said Hindus are a majority in the Guntur district making up over 86 percent of its some 900,000 people. Christians form just 1.84 percent of the population.
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