Clashes over procession to install holy cross atop hill

Tension prevailed in and around Bonacaud, around 50 km from here, on Friday after a group of believers clashed with the police over the ban on an annual trek, organised this year to install a wooden cross atop a hill.

More than 30 people, including protesters and policemen, were injured in clashes after police stopped the believers, citing a high court directive against new constructions or conducting prayers in the forest land.

Hundreds of believers, part of the Latin Catholic Diocese of Neyyattinkara, had taken out the annual procession up the Kurishumala (mount with holy cross), organised on the first Friday of the year. Denied permission for the trek, believers tried to breach barricades and hurled stones, leading to a police baton-charge that left many including women injured. More than 20 people were admitted in the Government Medical College Hospital here.

In August 2017, a concrete cross and altar atop the hill was found demolished, leading to protests by the diocese. In November, a wooden cross erected on the spot was also damaged. Even as the Forest Department maintained that the cross was damaged in lightning, diocese officials alleged the hand of anti-social elements.

G Christudas, Vicar-General of the diocese, said the incidents were part of recurring attempts to create communal tension. "The believers have undertaken this procession for about 60 years. After the wooden cross was destroyed, it was decided to install another cross at the spot. Talks were also held with the minister for forests and forest department officials," the Vicar-General told DH.

The clashes that erupted near the Kaanithadam check-post later spread to the nearby town of Vithura. Protesters also hurled stones at a KSRTC bus. Following talks between officials in the district administration and representatives of the diocese, about 20 people, who were arrested in connection with the clashes, were released.

Christudas said the diocese would initiate talks with the state government to resolve the issue. "Permission was denied to believers on the grounds that the high court has ordered status quo. But the installation of a wooden cross as a replacement could not be seen as a new construction," he said.

Minister for Forests K Raju said allowing "thousands" into forest land for regular prayers could not be considered. "We could let believers in smaller batches, of 10 or 25 people, on select days," he said.

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