Anglicans caught in bitter property dispute in Hyderabad, amidst Hindu Muslim riots: The Church of England Newspaper, April 9, 2010 p 8. April 17, 2010Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of South India, Property Litigation.
First published in The Church of England Newspaper.
A week of communal clashes in the Southern Indian city of Hyderabad has left two dead and over 100 injured. However, the fighting between Hindus, Christians and Muslims has not been motivated by religion, church leaders claim, but is being fueled by political rivalries.
The fighting comes as the city’s Anglicans find themselves divided over the control of St George’s Church, with lawsuits and charges of criminal trespass and fraud leveled by the rival factions.
Clashes between Hindus and Muslims that erupted on March 27 led to the imposition of martial law in the old city and a curfew, along with the banning of gatherings of more than five persons. Roman Catholic Archbishop Marampudi Joji told the UCA news agency that because of the violence he had “requested police protection to conduct Holy Week services within our churches.”
The archbishop said he believed the sectarian clashes were politically motivated. The police have detained two municipal councilors affiliated with extremist Hindu parties in connection with the riots, while Police Commission AK Khan reported that 243 people had been arrested.
The clashes came as the city’s principal Anglican Church, St George’s, split into competing factions, with lawsuits and threats of criminal complaints lodged by the Bishop of Medak against the parish council.
In a March 21 news conference, the Rt. Rev. T.S. Kanaka Prasad said he had asked the courts for an order banning members of the church’s parish council from trespassing on the property.
Church warden Paul David had been “expelled” from St. George’s “due to his illegal activities against the Church” and arrested following a complaint from the diocese. However, Mr. David had been released “on bail and is making all efforts to take over its properties with the help of some influential officers,’’ the Bishop told reporters.
The split within the 166-year old Church has led to the padlocking of the church outside of service hours, and litigation over who controls the property—the parish or the diocese.
Built on land given to the Church of England by the Nizam of Hyderabad, title to the property had traditionally rested with the parish council, rather than the Church of England in India, as Hyderabad was a princely state outside the territories of the British Raj.
At independence in 1947, the Nizam—the state’s hereditary prince—declined to join either the Union of India or the Dominion of Pakistan and declared his state’s independence. However, in 1948 the Indian government incorporated Hyderabad into the Union of India by military force, and deposed the Nizam, Osman Ali Khan.
Attorneys for the Bishop of Medak argue that in 1983 title to the property was transferred from the Calcutta Diocesan Trust to the Church of South India. However, the parish council has argued that there is no documentary evidence for this transfer, or that title had ever been held by any entity other than the parish council on behalf of the Nizam. A third possible claimant to the church could be the Union government, as it succeeded in interest to the claim of the Nizam upon the incorporation of Hyderabad into India.
In 1987 a court held that the parish council was responsible for the church administration and stated that the CSI bishop’s role would be limited to appointing pastors who would have charge of worship but would not take part in the administration of the parish.
The latest round of fighting arose after a new pastor was appointed by Bishop Prasad, who ended the traditional Church of England liturgies celebrated in the church, substituting them with CSI liturgies. The parish council responded by evicting the new pastor from his vicarage and stopping his pay. Bishop Kanaka Prasad responded by asserting his authority and claiming control over all aspects of the church’s life and governance.
The litigation is expected to last several years before a final decision is reached.