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Indian state confiscates 'blasphemous' Jesus textbooks

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

Controversial image of Jesus Christ with a can of beer and a cigarette
Christians say that the image is highly offensive

The government in the Indian state of Meghalaya has confiscated textbooks showing pictures of Jesus Christ holding a cigarette and a can of beer.

The book has been used for primary classes and has caused a furore in the north-eastern state, where more than 70% of the population are Christians.

State Education Minister Ampareen Lyngdoh said legal action against the publishers was being contemplated.

The company, based in Delhi, has so far not responded to the complaints.

'Insensitivity'

"We are now considering legal action against the Skyline Publications of New Delhi who published the controversial textbooks," Mr Lyngdoh said.

The controversial picture of Jesus was discovered in cursive writing exercise books being used at a private school in the state capital, Shillong.

People in Meghalaya leaving after attending a Sunday service
Many people in Meghalaya are Christian

The minister said that although private schools were not obliged to use textbooks prescribed by the Meghalaya Board of Secondary Education, his government has taken speedy action by seizing all the copies of the textbook from schools and bookshops.

"We are deeply hurt by the insensitivity of the publisher. How can one show such total disrespect for a religion?" asked Dominic Jala, the Archbishop of Shillong.

"Just think how this would impact on students at such a tender age."

The Catholic Church in India has banned all textbooks by Skyline Publications from all its schools.

"We have told all our member schools across the country to ban this publisher," said Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) spokesman Babu Joseph.

The Church has also asked the government to take strict action against the publisher and to ban any such "objectionable publications" from all schools in future, he said.

"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," Mr Joseph said.



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