Image of Jesus with beer and cigarette causes conflict in northern India


Reactions to the "blasphemous" use of an image of Jesus in Indian school textbooks resulted in the damage of two churches and a number of businesses over the weekend in the northern Punjab state. In response, the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India is calling for a boycott of all books written by the textbook publisher.

An image of Christ holding a can of what looks like Schlitz beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other has raised eyebrows across India and sparked unrest last Saturday in the Punjabi city of Batala. According to the Vatican's Fides news agency, the image printed in elementary school textbooks was labeled with the word "idol."

A group of Catholic sisters in the city of Shillong in northeastern India had seen the image in print and asked that the book not be used in schools, which the state government honored. However, according to Fides and other news sources, in other places fundamentalists opted to post copies of the representation in public places, some reaction was peaceful, other was not.

A protest of the image was organized on Feb. 20 involving all the Christian denominations in the area. Unfortunately, the demonstration degenerated to the point of a motorbike being burnt.

Hindu fundamentalist groups leaders reportedly mobilized their leaders, inciting the crowd and prompting them to retaliate. The mob set fire to a church belonging to the Churches of North India. The building was destroyed and its minister and his 15-year-old son were taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds.

Four Christian youth and four Hindus were taken into police custody for creating public disorder and have since been released pending further investigation into the matter by the local judiciary.

The spokesman for the Indian Bishops' Conference, Fr. Babu Joseph, told Fides, "We asked all Catholic schools in India to withdraw the text and to boycott all the books of Skyline Publications.

"That image is unacceptable and goes against every principle of respect and dialogue," Fr. Joseph said.

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