Bishops in India have responded to the publication an image of Christ in a children's textbook that shows Jesus holding a beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and the word "Idol" beneath. Although "deeply offended," the bishops said they are against seeking an "anti-blasphemy law" in the country.
A statement from the Indian bishops, who holding a bishops' conference meeting in Guwahiti until March 3, was issued on Thursday. "We are deeply offended by the blasphemous image of Christ used on school books and on posters," they said in the statement published by Fides. "We feel sad and indignant for this act of sacrilege. We support the legal actions taken by the government in the states of Meghalaya and Punjab, towards the perpetrators. "
The image was originally found in textbooks in the city of Shillong, which is located in the state of Meghalaya. Protests and unrest resulted from the posting of enlarged images in the streets of several Punjabi cities. The state of Meghalaya is preparing a lawsuit against the publisher, Skyline Publications, while the state of Punjab looks to prosecute the groups responsible for the printing and distribution of posters.
In their statement the bishops took their appeal to a higher level, asking the central government to “promote, protect, and defend respect for religious symbols of all communities of believers throughout India."
An apology issued last week by the publisher claimed that the photo was included in textbooks due to "human error." The bishops acknowledged the apology and said they hope such an error would never repeat itself in any publication in India.
Commenting on the possibility of an "anti-blasphemy law” in Meghalaya, the Indian Church stated its opposition. Such an article already exists in the country's penal code which establishes penalties for those who "hurt the religious sentiments of people," they noted.
The bishops added that a new anti-blasphemy law could possibly be exploited by fundamentalists against Christians, as has occurred in neighboring Pakistan.