In the temple town of Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh, four men have been nabbed by the police for reading the Bible at a park close to the Mallikarjuna temple. The four men, Peter, Timothy, Praveen and Joshua were brought to the Srisailam I Town police station by the temple security staff, police said.
According to I Town Sub-Inspector Vijay Kumar, on Friday evening around 4 30 pm, the four men were spotted by the temple security staff at Rudra park, located at a distance of about a kilometre from the temple. “The four accused had attended a religious meeting somewhere nearby. After that, they came to the park, and we were told that they opened a copy of the Bible and kept it there. They also took photos with the Bible. As they were reading the Bible, the temple security staff noticed them and reported it to the Chief Security Officer. They were then brought to the station and case was registered,” SI Vijay Kumar told TNM.
According to Vijay Kumar, the act of reading the Bible and taking photos with the book near the temple violates the Andhra Pradesh Propagation of other religion in the places of worship or prayer (Prohibition) Act, 2007 as the temple and the hills come under the Act. The Act however makes no mention of the distance. The four men were booked under Section 153A of the IPC (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc. and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony). They have since been sent to court and were released on bail.
When asked if the accused were interacting with or addressing the people in the park, the SI said that they were not engaging in any such acts. “People of other religions cannot come here and pray, and open their books and sit here. They cannot take photographs with the Bible in front of the sculptures of Hindu deities,” the SI said. He also added that the ‘prime accused’, Peter, had previously been arrested for riding around near the temple on his motorcycle, carrying the Bible and various ‘religious stickers’.
Several controversies have cropped up in the recent months over alleged religious conversions and promotion of non-Hindu religions at major Hindu temples, including the Venkateswara temple in Tirumala and the Kanaka Durga Temple in Vijayawada. Hindu groups have alleged a threat to the Hindu religion and Hindu places of worship, accusing the YSRCP government of encouraging promotion of Christianity, as Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy practices the Christian faith.