A Portuguese colonial-era chapel in Daman, is facing threat of imminent demolition as the administration acquires the adjacent land for a football stadium.
The Capela da Nossa Senhora das Angústias (Our Lady of Remedies chapel) was built in 1607 by the Portuguese and it has great architectural, historical and cultural value and is a place of worship revered not only by the Catholic community, but also by non-Catholics in Daman continuously, for more than four centuries.
The decision to raze the chapel was taken a month ago when the Daman municipality administration put up the proposal for the expansion of the football ground situated in the Moti Daman area.
As the news spread, local Catholic community, led by Father Brian Rodrigues, Mario Lopez, a lawyer and community leader Diogo Gama met Daman Municipality President Sonal Patel and submitted a memorandum against the Municipality’s decision to demolish a 400-year-old Catholic chapel for the expansion of a football ground in the Moti Daman area.
“We have made representations to the elected leader of the Daman Municipality and are satisfied with the answers. The community people and leaders are totally against such demolition. We are ready to knock every door to save the chapel, if needed and even we are ready to fight a legal battle for it,” said Lopez.
Sonal Patel, council president, said: "This must not be done and we stand with the Christian community."
In support of the Catholic community, independent council member Pramod Rana echoed the president's sentiments.
“In order to prevent the chapel from being bulldozed in that way, we adopted a resolution stating that local Catholics must be taken into consideration before moving forward with any activity or decision," he said.
The intent to acquire Capela da Nossa Senhora das Angústias, executed under the Indian Property Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Re-Establishment Act 2013, is intended to expand the football field adjacent to the monument and “beautify” the site.
“Purchase intent is supported by a very fragile foundation. There is no legal basis for acquiring the chapel and demolishing it to expand the small football field. And you also don’t understand the argument that everything is done to make the place more beautiful. What does it mean? Are we beautifying a place by destroying a church?” said Mario Lopez, a lawyer representing the Catholic Church in the trial.
The BJP-led Central government is directly administering Daman and Diu, a federally ruled territory.
In response to the move to expand the football field, Territory administrator Praful Kodhabai Pratel, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) did not confirm or deny the decision to demolish the chapel.
But local Catholics said the administration was firm about the demolition plan.
"Once they acquire the chapel's land, they can do whatever they want, and they plan to expand the football field, which means they will flatten the chapel. We fully understand their intentions. We are not fools," a local Catholic leader, Rui Pereira said.
Pereira said that despite its architectural antiquity and unique wood carving, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has not declared the structure a heritage structure.
Due to ASI's lack of designation, authorities might raze it to the ground, Pereira said.
Father Brian Rodrigues, who provides religious services in the chapel, said, "they intend to take the case to the High Court in Mumbai."
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