Jalandhar (AsiaNews) - Authorities in Batala, a town of Punjab, have partially removed curfew after clashes broke out last February 20 between Hindu extremists and the Christian minority. To violence was sparked by the publication of a cartoon with a picture of Jesus raising a beer in one hand and holding a cigarette in the other. The chief minister of Punjab condemns the blasphemous image and promises an iron fist against anyone who "foments sectarian hatred." Bishop Anil Couto, Bishop of Jalandhar, invites the faithful "to peace and brotherhood."
The cartoon, published by a publisher in Delhi, has sparked protests from the Christian community of Batala, a town in the district of Gurdaspur in Punjab. On 20 February the city streets were the scene of violent clashes between Hindus and Christians, who wanted the closure of shops and businesses. Activists of Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Shiv Sena - Hindu extremist groups - waged a guerrilla war on the Christians, injuring to 10 people, damaging several shops and the burning of the Salvation Army Mukhi Fauj church, the city's oldest and best known.
To stem the violence, local authorities have imposed a curfew, which has been partly removed today. A police official says that they want to give people the possibility to "to leave their homes for shopping or other necessities." He also adds that "the level of alert" remains high to prevent new clashes.
Parkash Singh Badal, Chief Minister of Punjab, has condemned the offensive image and points the finger at "those who do not appreciate peace” and foment sectarian hatred. He adds that the police have recieved well-defined guidelines to "punish those guilty of sacrilege."
Mgr. Anil Couto, Bishop of Jalandhar, appeals for calm and brotherhood. The prelate calls the faithful to practice the teachings of the Gospel, promoting peace and forgiveness, but at the same time points out that too often "provocative actions or images" wound the soul and the religious feelings of Christians. He invites the faithful to "be proud" of their religion, while not forgetting the message "of peace and love brought by Jesus Christ."
Even some Hindu organizations have condemned the insulting image that portrays Jesus as he drinks and smokes. They call for the arrest of those who would hurt the sentiments of Christian community.