February 24, 2010

Catholics v. publisher in India


In a controversy that brings to mind the recent contretemps in Denmark, in which the caricaturing of the prophet Muhammad led to widespread Muslim outrage, at least one-hundred deaths, and the attempted assassination of the cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has acted to proscribe a textbook featuring a caricature of Jesus Christ. Christ is believed by Catholics and rival Christian sects to be the son and incarnation of God. In a report from Indiaedunews.net, spokesman Babu Joseph states that “The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has written to all its member schools across the country to ban this publisher.” He said the bishops have asked authorities in the north-eastern state of Meghalaya (one of only three in which Christians are the majority) to “take strict action against the publisher so that it becomes a deterrent for others doing similar things.” The publisher in question is Skyline Publications in Delhi.

The BBC reports that the Meghalaya government “has taken speedy action by seizing all the copies of the textbook from schools and bookshops.”

Babu Joseph says, “Jesus Christ is central to Christian faith and Christian life. The attempt to tarnish his image is highly objectionable and goes against the spirit of religious tolerance in India.”

According to Debraj Ray, Julius Silver Professor of Economics and Director of Graduate Studies, New York University, Hindu/Muslim conflict in India resulted in “around 10,000 deaths and 30,000 injuries over 1950-1995 (and of course, continuing thereafter). Numbers may look small relative to Indian population, but don’t capture displacement, insecurity, segregation, loss of livelihood, and widespread fear.”

The offending image portrays Christ holding a cigarette and a beer. Christ is well-known to have preferred wine.

Dan O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Melville House.