Kochi: Police on Thursday made a forcible entry into a church in Piravom, caught in a controversy over its possession between two factions, and removed the resisting priests and followers of one of them before the Ernakulam district administration took control of the shrine.
The police broke open the main gates of the church and forcibly removed the protesting bishops, priests and followers of the Jacobite faction from the premises.
"The keys of the church will be given to the High Court on Friday," Ernakulam district Collector S Suhas told reporters in Piravom soon after the police took control of the church.
The resisting Jacobite Bishops and priests courted arrest after the District Collector, who reached there amid their forceful evacuation from the church, held talks with top leaders.
The Collector appealed to the Jacobite church leaders to "cooperate" during his conciliatory talks with them.
He managed to convince the Bishops that "there was no other option" as the district administration was bound to implement the court directive that those belonging to the Jacobite faction from the premises of the Church, known as Piravom Valiyapalli, be removed and submit a report today.
Meanwhile, the Kerala High Court ordered the District Collector to take the control of the Church with immediate effect.
Considering the matter again later, the High Court ordered the government to implement the Court order before noon on Friday and submit a report.
It also directed the police to ensure law and order in the area.
The state government sought time till Friday morning to remove all persons camped in the premises of Church.
An untoward incident was averted following the timely intervention of the Collector who reached the spot when the police personnel were forcefully removing the priests and followers who prevented them from entering the Church.
Sensing that the situation would turn violent, the Collector sought to pacify the agitating people and held conciliatory talks with the Bishops.
Following the talks, a senior Bishop of the Church appealed to the followers to let law take its own course.
When the Bishops yielded to the arrest, others also followed it without much resistence.
Earlier, tense situation prevailed in Piravom as Jacobite priests and followers refused to heed authorities' plea for cooperation to implement the Supreme Court order giving possession of a church here to Orthodox faction.
Several priests and faithfuls of the Jacobite faction staying inside the Church complex had threatened that they would jump into the river in front of the building, if they were removed forcefully.
The stand-off between the two factions had intensified following the Kerala High Court directive to the police on Thursday to evacuate those belonging to the Jacobite faction from the premises of the Church
The Court gave directive to the police while considering a plea filed by the Orthodox faction seeking a direction to the Collector to take over the Church and implement the apex court order.
The priests and the followers of the Jacobite church, including a large number of women, had protested, saying if the police used force to remove them, they would witness mass suicide inside the place of worship.
Top priests of the Jacobite Church including its head Baselios Thomas I were camping inside the church complex along with hundreds of followers.
The Orthodox faction reached the Church on Wednesday to take its possession after the Kerala High Court directed the police to provide protection to their priests to conduct religious services in the church.
Even though the Supreme Court had nearly two years ago allowed the Orthodox faction to offer prayers at the church, members belonging to the rival faction allegedly prevented them from entering it.
The Orthodox faction had moved the high court after the state government failed to implement the top court order.