Lawyer George Toms (left) and R.L. Francis (second left) hand over a check to Alok Kumar, working president of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, in New Delhi on Jan. 23 for construction of a Ram temple in Ayodhya. (Photo supplied)
A Christian group has donated funds for building a controversial temple in India's Ayodhya town and urged all Christians to follow their example to strengthen communal harmony.
The Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM), an inter-denominational forum that works for establishing equality among Christians, donated 21,000 rupees (US$287) for the temple.
The Ram temple construction in Ayodhya, considered the birthplace of Hindu Lord Ram, "is a reality now. We all need to make our contributions for it, however small our contribution may be," said R.L. Francis, the group's founder-leader, who mobilized the funds from Christians.
The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) or World Hindu Council is spearheading the fundraising campaign after India's Supreme Court dismissed a three-decades-long claim of Muslims over the land in November 2019, clearing the way for its construction.
The protracted issue led to riots across India in 1992 after Hindu zealots razed a mosque structure in Ayodhya, saying Mughal invader Babur built it in the 16th century after demolishing a temple there.
Hindu groups, who projected the mosque as an insult to "Hindu pride," wanted to build the temple soon after its demolition. However, court cases continued until the Supreme Court cleared the land for the temple construction.
Francis and his colleague and lawyer George Toms handed over a bank check to VHP working president Alok Kumar on Jan. 23 in New Delhi.
"We collected 100 or 200 rupees from Christians to support the temple construction," Francis told UCA News on Jan. 26.
Francis, who works with socially and economically poor Dalit and tribal people in northern India, said Christians always get Hindus' support for church constructions in "our village areas and now it is our turn to show our concerns for them."
He claimed to know of several cases of Hindus donating land, construction materials and labor to church construction. "They also join us during our important religious festivals," he added.
He wanted Christians to join and collect "as much money as possible to support the noble cause as it will surely help foster better communal harmony and peace in society."
Francis added: "It would also present an example of mutual trust, brotherhood and unity and would definitely strengthen true secularism and coordination among citizens."
Some Muslim groups and individuals have also donated money for the temple, disregarding past Hindu-Muslim violence and rivalry over the temple's construction.
VHP leader Kumar lauded Francis and his team for their support and appealed to people to donate more generously. The temple project, spread over 70 acres of land, is estimated to cost some $150 million.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Aug. 5 last year laid the foundation stone for the grand temple in Ayodhya, marking the formal launch of its construction.
The temple is part of the election promise of Modi's pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014. It also helped him woo Hindu votes in 2019, leading to his re-election.
Hindus make up more than 80 percent of India's 1.3 billion people. The minuscule Christian community constitutes 2.3 percent of the population.