A New Cross For This Lent


The Faithful are drawn to the cross in a special way during the period of Lent. These forty days are reserved to contemplate and resolve to live life in the steps of Jesus Christ who taught us to forgive, repent, love and give unconditionally.

This Lent there is a new cross to carry and it teaches self-control, patience and commitment! The followers of this new cross responded………….

The assembly of followers was cohesive, disciplined and included brethren of various Faiths. While many small cross were raised to the heavens, the upturned faces reflected the anguish and pain at the injustice of it all……there were no answers, only questions… and questions….

It all began on the fourth Saturday of February; the day BMC offices are closed. But the BMC staff known for their tardiness, worked zealously, stealthily pasting demolition notices on many of the heritage crosses in Bandra, giving the owners 48 hours time to prove their legality. When the notices were discovered they sent shock waves through the community that had been put through the same drill once before in 2003. The painful memories of those anxious hours returned resulting in a show of unity at Chapel road……….

According to media reports, the reason for the ‘clean sweep’ was the Supreme Court directives in an interim order to the State governments on December 7, 2009 to demolish illegal shrines. The BMC states that the show-cause notices have been sent to 729 illegal shrines in Mumbai that are said to be obstructing projects like road –widening, affecting vehicular traffic or are located on public land. But if the present reality of our roads and traffic is anything to go by, the motive for the notices is much more complex if the three reasons mentioned here are placed under the scanner. And that is what the peaceful gathering of people of all Faiths in front of the H-west Ward office intended to do- expose the hypocrisy of it all, a second time!

During 2002-2003, the BMC had issued similar show-cause notices to many heritage crosses, citing the same excuse. Descendents of the persons who had built these crosses were given just hours to prove that the crosses were legal and the reasons they were on public land at present. At that time all of Bandra had joined hands to dig out old records and files of these were handed over to the BMC authorities, proving that the crosses were not only legal but also heritage structures to be protected. History repeats itself as once again the same people are subjected to the same humiliating exercise of submitting the same documents to the BMC. It raises a serious doubt whether the documents were examined at all when submitted earlier. Why then do the BMC records fail to confirm what was proved once before?

The history of crosses dotting the landscape of Bandra is deeply knit into the fabric that is the past of ancient families that have lived in villages such as Sherly, Rajan, Khar, Chimbai and Chuim. These are the descendents of the original inhabitants of the islands who were simple, hardworking folk dependent on the community for their emotional, social and cultural needs. A cross in the clearing of the village was the focal point of all life, beckoning the folk to prayer, celebration, entertainment or plain simple chit-chat. Like the candle-lighting at shrines today, cross-building was supplication, knocking on heaven’s door for divine intervention. People in gaothans trace their crosses to the 19th and early 20th centuries…..

The dirt unearthed at this peaceful gathering is sufficient to nail BMC’s double standards and its lack of accountability to the tax-payers of this city. What motivated the BMC to paste show cause notices on crosses on a Saturday/holiday knowing that the people would be caught unawares? Considering the fact that to obtain any document from the BMC’s offices is a Herculean task taking weeks if not months, how does BMC expect the people to obtain documents from this same office in 48 hours? How is the BMC granting permission to encroachments on roads and pavements, considering its zeal for removing obstructions to its projects?

The august assembly of people on this Monday morning gathered at the BMC office chose to remind the Deputy Municipal Commissioner once again of how the reason for people’s qualms can be squarely placed at BMC’s door due to its negligence and short sight. Presenting the bare facts that have placed these heritage crosses in danger zone- 

l    As roads were widened, many crosses that were previously on private properties were left stranded on public roads, neither moved nor protected by BMC. Either the owners should have retained the custody of these crosses or the BMC should shoulder the responsibility of enclosing and tending these as heritage structures.

l    The encroachments by hawkers, and commercial establishments allowed to prosper under the patronage of the same BMC are the real obstacles to vehicular traffic. Are they left untouched, to proliferate owing to money and muscle power?  ‘Remove the log before you touch the splinter….’!

l Glaring examples of setback forcibly taken during road widening is now being merrily misused by hawkers who take over the pavements meant for pedestrians, forced to use roads, thus blocking traffic. It was painful to relate how hawkers are reigning over the portion of St. Joseph’s Convent cemetery on Hill road…..

l With BMC’s poor record of clearing hawkers and encroachments, how can the people be assured that the cross is not making way for one more encroachment?

l The onus of proving the illegality of the cross should rest on BMC, since it should substantiate its claim before taking action of demolition. The people will have the right to prove BMC wrong, with the documents they possess. Why must the people suffer at the whims and fancies that seize BMC periodically?
l Does the forthcoming Civic election have anything to do with it?

l Would the same notices be sent to other wards and demolition carried out there on all illegal shrines?

Voices were raised in queries. Documents were brandished like harmless weapons. Among the many who had come prepared were Livy Fernandes of St. Ann’s parish Pali who possessed an ancient brochure-card that clearly stated that the White Cross in Rajan gaothan was erected with “Rajan Students’ Cross Fund, 4th May 1927” Both Fernandes and Adrian Pereira from Rajan gaothan are aghast at BMC callousness in serving the demolition notice to the White cross a second time. Another strong voice that seemed to speak for the dead cross- builders was that of Wilbert D’Silva and his sister Hermione of Sherly village. He not only flourished documents which had been submitted once before to prove the legality but also with his family members articulated the history of the Red Cross nearby, built by his own ancestors in 1825! 
Anand Castelino, a long-time office-bearer, present Vice-President of the Bombay Catholic Sabha and an activist in his own right  recalls the saga of the cross near St. Michael’s church, Mahim. Though proven to be a legal monument it was demolished by BMC and a court order to rebuild it was needed to bring it back into existence.  Lessons are meant to be learnt, according to activist Anand!

There were strong indications on Monday that this was just the beginning of a long struggle……Coming on the heels of the massive one lakh-strong Christian demonstration against the biased Somshekhara report in Mangalore where churches were destroyed and the Blessed Sacrament desecrated in a well-planned reign of terror by fanatics, this not-so-small gathering of Christians no less heralds the era of Christian unity against injustice of any kind! May the commander of divine forces St. Michael lead us on……..


Vera Alvares