The issue of the intolerance of the Christian community regarding the installation of Bharat Mata statue at a Hindu temple (Isakki Amman) in Muppandal, a remote village in Kanyakumari, doesn’t look as if it will end any time in the near future. The Christians in the area have filed another petition that objects to the reopening of the temple against their wishes.
A Christian group, the All India Christian Development Army (AICDA), registered its protest over the installation of the Bharat Mata statue as they alleged that it will disturb communal harmony and disrupt traffic in the area. They also quoted the suggestions of the Venugopal Commission on the Mandaikadu communal riots in March 1982 in Kanyakumari district between Hindus and Christians, over religious conversions by Christians, based on which a rule was formulated that no new place of worship can be built without the permission of the government and that no new place of worship can be constructed within 400m from an already existing one (in the Mandaikkadu riots, the temple and church were 300m apart).
Stirring a hornet’s nest
However, this rule applies only to new constructions. The Bharat Mata statue had been erected inside the premises of an already existing temple, which is a private property. After BJP leader Tarun Vijay and MP Alphonse Kannathanam wrote to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and following multiple forms of protests staged by local Hindu outfits and BJP cadre, the district collector allowed the statue to be uncovered.
But the Christian community has again lodged complaints with the district collector stating that installing the statue during the lockdown tantamounts to ‘unruly behaviour’. As Hindus gathered to mark the reinstallation of the statue, the Christian group expressed their displeasure against it by stating that they flouted lockdown rules.
Theodar Sam, President of AICDA, remarks in a video shared by him –
“In the village of Punnayadi, people of all religions, with Christians being the majority, have been living peacefully. Some people have built the compound wall around an already existing temple, Mamoottu Isakki Amman temple, and put up a statue on it. It’s funny that they’ve done this during the lockdown and it’s atrocious that the government is allowing it.
After the statue was reinstalled, people from the area have complained to the district collector, tehsildar, police commissioner and other officials. They took action and covered the statue fully and made it invisible. However, after protests by the BJP and other communal organisations, they have uncovered it. They say that it is the statue of Bharat Mata. What is the purpose of installing such a statue on the compound wall of the road which is widely used by the public, especially during the lockdown? (it is said that Christians walk through the road to the churches). While uncovering the statue in front of the officials, they inserted the national flag into the hand of the statue to avoid further issues arising and to cheat the officials. A few minutes later it was replaced with a saffron flag. We think that it’s a planned execution of communal forces to incite communal riots.”
AICDA has lodged a second complaint with the district collector and, if the statue isn’t removed, threatened to protest continuously once the lockdown is lifted. It is pertinent to note that they have referred to the statue as ‘some statue’ instead of Bharat Mata.
Interestingly, the organisation, AICDA, does not have a high degree of visibility in the public domain. However, its president, Theodar Sam, is well known in the area for his hardline Christian activism:
- As the district secretary of Samathuva Makkal Katchi (a caste party), he burnt the effigy of Kerala CM Oommen Chandy for opposing sharing water from the Neyyar dam with TN.
- Organised an accident-drama awareness programme on road safety along with the Kottar diocese Kalari (Kalari is a traditional martial arts form of Kerala) team.
- Said that the replica of the Tirumala Tirupati Balaji temple in Kanyakumari will cause problems as its only 40m away from Chinnamuttam Church while the stipulated distance between a temple and church has to be 500m, and that using the path to the fishing harbour would cause difficulties to the vehicles approaching the harbour.
- Staged a protest along with multiple Christian organisations asking the district administration to give up the practice of refusing permission to build new churches citing communal tension and not to ban gospel meetings, processions, children’s homes and NGOs. (Although he protested seeking permission for these activities, he now denies his involvement and highlights this to the Hindus).
- Is the legal advisor to Concordia Theological Seminary, Nagercoil
- Is an associate of Fr. Churchil of South Asian Fishermen Fraternity who spearheaded the protest against Enayam International Container Transshipment Terminal (EICTT), as the coordinator of Anti-EICTT Struggle Committee.
- Protested against the use of Common Era (CE) vis a vis AD (Anno Domini) and BC (Before Christ) in school books in Tamil Nadu.
Thus, one may get a clear picture of why he wouldn’t have liked the idea of a Bharat Mata statue. However, if the statue has a saffron flag instead of the national flag, how does it represent Bharat Mata to the Christians? Wouldn’t it be just another ‘heathen idol’ for them?
But then Sam Theodore doesn’t seem to have a problem with anything Hindu if it’s appropriated and inculturated, as in the case of Kalari. Moreover, there are numerous statues of Jesus Christ and Mary in the form of Hindu gods with accessories and attire similar to the Hindu tradition. What should be done with them? Besides, statues such as Mary in a traditional saree are mainly found in Tamil Nadu, even in Kanyakumari. How is it different from a female statue having the national flag in its hand?
The actual question must be: Why does a statue with a saffron flag in its hand bother Christians, by whichever name it’s called? If it does bother them, what should Hindus, and in some cases even temples and mutts, do about all the murtis of Hindu deities?
The legendary tolerance of the Hindus can no longer be taken for granted.
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