MUMBAI, India – Hindu nationalists have vandalized a movie set depicting a church in the Indian state of Kerala, claiming it offended Hindu sensibilities.

Production on the Malayalam language film “Minnal Murali” had been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.

The set was destroyed on Sunday, with the Hindu nationalist groups Antharashtra Hindu Parishad (AHP) and Bajrang Dal publicly claiming responsibility for the vandalism, saying the set was near a Hindu temple.

“When they were building it, we had said no. We had submitted complaints. We don’t have a habit of pleading, so we decided to demolish it. We have to protect our self-respect,” Hari Palode, the general secretary of the AHP, wrote in a Facebook post featuring photographs of the vandals destroying the set.

Hindu nationalists destroy a movie set in Kerala, India on Sunday, May 24, 2020. (Credit: Facebook.)

On Monday, Kerala police arrested two people in connection with the crime, and filed charges against several others. Kerala is one of the centers of Christianity in India, and Christians make up nearly 20 percent of the population.

“Minnal Murali” is directed by Basil Joseph and stars Tovino Thomas, both members of the Christian community.

“I don’t know what to say,” Joseph wrote in a Facebook post after the incident.

“For some people, this may be a joke, a troll, political or publicity move. But for us, this was a dream. Till a few days ago, when we used to look at the photograph of the set, we used to feel proud. When shooting got suspended, we were sad and uncertain about when we can resume working. We have been working on this film for the last two years. We have put a lot of sweat into making it. The art director and his team built it over several days in the hot summer sun. We had taken all permissions. At a time when we are all fighting against a pandemic together, when we all stood with uncertainty, we didn’t think even in our dreams that something like this could happen. Especially in Kerala. We are very sad and anxious,” he continues.

Thomas also issued a statement: “The reasons they cite for this unceremonious act are not understood to our senses till now. We’ve heard of movie sets being vandalized by religious fanatics in northern parts of India. Now it’s happening to us right here.”

Sajan K. George, the president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), told Crux he condemned the vandalism.

“The workers from the pro-Hindutva outfit alleged that the makers of the Malayalam movie had erected a set of a church in front of the Shiva temple in Kalady. This religious intolerance is deplorable and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” he said.

“In these times of crisis, when the country is struggling with the pandemic and the lockdown, right-wing forces continue their communal propaganda and promoting extreme majoritarianism which is poisoning minds and encouraging violence,” George continued.

“Alarmingly, this blatant display of religious intolerance and violence on the ground that it has hurt their religious sentiments is eroding the secular fabric of India,” he added.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has promised tough action against those behind the incident.

“This is clearly aimed at provoking religious sentiments. Kerala is not a land where such communal forces can thrive. The government will take strong action. There is no doubt about it,” she said Monday.