The cross has been put up on a different hill, local authorities said

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Multiple Facebook and Twitter posts claim that a giant Christian cross has been erected on a hilltop sacred to Hindus in a village in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The claim was widely amplified by politicians from India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). But the claim is false: local police and a district official shared videos showing the cross being constructed on a different hill in the same village. The state government also debunked the claim on their official fact check website.

The claim was published in this Facebook post on March 2, 2021. 

“Huge illegal Cross erected at Edlapadu in Guntur, Andhra pradesh where foot prints of Sita Maa & carving of Lord Narasimhama exists,” the post reads, referring to Sita, the wife of Hindu deity Ram, and Hindu god Lord Narasimha. 

“Since many years Hindus in the region have been performing Marriages at Sita Paduka, slowly missionaries came there and begun claiming that the hill belongs to Mary. Locals are protesting but Jagan govt is not taking any action, local groups are planning to file a case. What is going on ???”

Edlapadu is a village in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. It is home to a hill sacred to Hindus where a temple of Lord Narsimha exists and according to Hindu belief, it has footprints of deity Sita carved on the hill.

The claim was widely amplified on social media by the members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party here, here and here.

BJP National spokesman Sunil Deodhar claimed in this tweet: "See huge illegal Cross in Edlapadu, AP where once foot prints of #SitaMaa existed. Carving of Lord Narasimhama exists at back. In Guntur Dist Christian mafias have created havoc. @BJP4Andhra & @friendsofrss protested but administration tacitly supported. #Encroachment4ChristInAP"

A similar claim was also shared on Facebook here and here.

The claim, however, is false. 

The local Guntur police posted a video explaining that the photos circulating on social media in fact show two different hills in the same village and that there has been “no encroachment” of the Hindu shrine. 

“Fact check: THEY ARE COMPLETELY 2 DIFFERENT HILLOCKS and there is absolutely NO encroachment of the hill where Narasimha Swami idol is there,” the Guntur police said on Twitter here on March 2, 2021.

The footage shows the Hindu shrine visible in Facebook posts, alongside the hill where the Christian cross has purportedly been erected, where there is in fact no cross visible.

Guntur police shared another video here on Twitter March 2, 2021 showing the hill where the cross genuinely stands, a short distance from the sacred Hindu hill in the village of  Edlapadu in Andhra Pradesh.

“We can see the cross at a distance which is being built on a different hill, and where we are standing the sacred Hindu hill is behind us. So there is a distance of around one mile between the two hills,” says a man narrating the video in Hindi.

At the nine-second mark, he zooms in the video to show the cross from a distance, highlighted in a screenshot below:

Guntur Collector also took to Twitter March 2, 2021, to deny the claim made by BJP politicians on social media.

“As reported by the SP Rural Guntur and Sub Collector, the allegation that the Cross was erected where Sita Maata footprints and carvings of Lord Narsimha existed is not true. The hill with Sita Maata footprints is different from the hill which has the Cross,” the tweet reads.

The government of Andhra Pradesh also debunked a similar claim published here on their official fact check website on March 3, 2021.

Contacted by AFP,  local journalist Buradagunta Venugopalarao said on March 12, 2021 that the claim about encroachment is false.

“I have also verified the claim, these are two different hilltops. The cross is being constructed on a hill where an old church exists, while the Hindu shrine is on another hilltop nearby,” he said.