Church Demolition Upsets Catholics In Delhi

Church Demolition Upsets Catholics In Delhi

By Jessy Joseph

New Delhi: The demolition of a church in south Delhi has upset the Syro-Malabar Catholics living in the national capital.

Father Jose Kannukuzhi, parish priest of Little Flower Church in Lado Sarai, said that on July 12 morning officials of the South Delhi Municipal Corporation came with three bulldozers and some 150 police personnel.

“They told me they would only demolish a hall adjacent to the church building. So I did not remove the sacred things from the church building,” the priest told Matters India.

As the news of the demolition spread through social media, parishioners came to the demolished church to protest. People from other parishes also gathered at the church compound and joined a Mass and a candle light protest late in the evening.

Monsignor Joseph Odanat, vicar general of Faridabad Syro-Malabar diocese, said the demolition was a “calculated hidden agenda of the local administration and the land mafia to evacuate us from there.”

He claimed the diocese had obtained a stay order in 2015. “We will go ahead with legal actions,” Monsignor Odanat told Matters India.

Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara of Faridabad expressed sadness and shock over the incident. “The authorities have razed a religious place and hurt the sentiments of the people,” he told Matters India.

The land was donated to the diocese 12 years ago for religious purpose of some 1,500 local Catholics.

Monsignor Odanat said the municipal administration had cited the reason for demolition as “encroachment of government’s agricultural land.”

“We had approached the officials several times for the conversion of land for religious use but the land mafia is so strong that we could not get it done,” the vicar general explained.

The district administration, in a statement, said the church was built on the gram sabha (village council) land, which was “encroached by some people by installment of religious structures.”

“Over time the encroached area started increasing in the garb of the expansion of the religious structure. Therefore, the Block Development Office tried to undertake the demolition of the unauthorized structures,” it said.

It added that the matter was earlier transferred to the “religious committee” upon the National Human Rights Commission’s directive.

The statement said the administration on March 3 received a letter from the Home Police Department directing them to demolish “the entire construction above the ground floor as well as portions of the ground where idols are not installed/placed without waiting for the decision of the Religious Committee.”

According to a notice dated July 7, the office of the Block Development Officer (South) directed the “encroachers/unauthorized occupants” to remove the encroachment within three days.

However, Pastor council member and lawyer John Thomas said the church never received the notice.

“Neither did we receive any notice nor were we given time to vacate the land. We were not even allowed to retrieve our sacred things,” Thomas told reporters.

According to him, the demolition was “a completely illegal and illicit act and we will take legal action against this.”

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