A Facebook page claiming to represent Praveen Togadia’s AntarRashtreeya Hindu Parishad — which positions itself as an ‘alternative Hindu organization’ to the Sangh Parivar in Kerala — has claimed responsibility for the destruction of a Church built as part of a movie set on the Periyar riverbed in Kerala.
The page posted pictures of some people destroying the structure built on the bed of the Periyar river in Aluva near Kochi.
The set was reportedly made at a cost of around Rs 50 lakhs for shooting ‘Minnal Murali’ starring Tovino Thomas. However, the shoot was interrupted by the COVID-19 lock-down.
The activists said they have opposed the structure from day 1.
“We opposed it on Day 1. We gave several complaints [to the authorities]. It is not in our nature to beg. Hence we decided to bring it down,” AHP said on its Facebook page.
The bed of Periyar (literally ‘the big river’ in Tamil) is used for religious purposes by several Hindu communities in Kerala.
Thousands of people give offerings to their dead ancestors on this riverbed during Shivarathri festival in late February. There is also a Shiva temple on the riverbed.
Comments under the posts indicated that some of activists feared that the structure would attain a permanent nature.
The issue of erecting new religious structures on public land is a contentious one in Kerala. The state often sees controversies erupt over the erection of crosses in reserve forests and hilltops.
It is not clear for how long the film crew was authorized to maintain the structure and conduct its shooting.
It is likely that the permission period may have come to an end already, given that the riverbed is often flooded during the monsoons.
The incident comes in the wake of competition between the AHP, started by former VHP leader Praveen Togadia, and the more established Hindu group lead by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteer Organization).
AHP comprises saffron activists who are disillusioned by the more mainstream Sangh Parivar led by the RSS and which also includes the BJP, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (All India Students Federation) and Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh (Indian Laborers’ Organization) so on.
The AHP and its arm Rashtriya Bajrang Dal position themselves as the uncompromising and true defenders of Hindutva ideology, uncorrupted by power.
VHP also has in its ranks some who have left the main group due to internal group fights.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan linked the incident to what he called a rising tendency to give a communal angle to art and films, and said strict action would be taken against the perpetrators.
“Kerala is not a place where communal forces will be allowed to run riot,” he said.
BJP Kerala unit also saw it as a cheap publicity stunt by an organization that is trying to position itself as a champion of Hindu interests.
“These people have no links to either the BJP or the mainstream Hindutva movement,” said spokesperson Sandeep Varier.
“A film set is a work of art. It is something that will be removed after the shooting is over,” he said, adding that those who conducted the attack are ‘fake activists’ in the guise of protectors of Hindus.
“The decision to tear down a temporary structure is just an attempt to gain publicity,” he said.
Sophia Paul, producer of Minnal Murali, said the incident has caused her team a ‘colossal’ loss.
“Minnal Murali is an ambitious super hero project which is under production and we have filmed almost a major portion of the film. The film required almost 2 years of pre-production and planning owing to the scope and scale of the film…
“The next schedule is planned in Kaladi [on the riverbank] and we have had constructed a massive set of a church where the climax was to be shot. Unfortunately due to the pandemic we couldn’t resume the shoot and was waiting for government guidance regarding the permissions to resume shoot. The set at Kaaladi was planned and built for one of our most important scene. All required permissions to build the set at the location was taken. Today’s incident is so unfortunate and a colossal loss,” she said on Facebook.