MUMBAI, India – Archbishop Peter Machado of Bangalore has condemned the removal of a 12-foot statue of Christ from a Christian burial place in a rural district of the city by local police on Tuesday.

Hindu radicals had objected to the statue, and villagers had said outside agitators had warned Christians from visiting the 4.5-acre site, which had been allocated by the state government of Karnataka for burial for the Christians in Doddasagarahalli village.

“The Christians of Bangalore consider the forceful removal of the statue of Lord Jesus at our legally allotted burial ground at Doddasagarahalli as unacceptable and are greatly shocked and we condemn this high-handed action of the local authorities,” Machado said in a statement.

“During the weeks before Good Friday and Easter, the Christians have prayers and devotions called the Way of the Cross to meditate on the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ, and also conduct reconciliation prayers etc.,” the archbishop explained.

He noted the site had been a place of Christian devotion for 30 to 40 years without any difficulty, and there has 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 said.

“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,” Machado continued.

Karnataka is currently ruled by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has also ruled the national government since 2014.

Religious minorities have complained of increased harassment since the party took charge.

Hindu nationalists often accuse Christians of “forced conversion,” and several states of passed anti-conversion laws.

“As everyone is quite aware that Christians are peace loving people, who obey the rules of the country. And they render their selfless service to the nation in the best possible ways, irrespective of caste, color or religion,” Machado said in his statement.

The archbishop said the Christians of Bangalore want the statue of Jesus to be reinstalled immediately.

“We firmly believe that the state government will instruct the local authorities to do this redressal act immediately. We request the authorities to take action against the perpetrators of such acts that have pained the community,” Machado said.

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