A northern Indian industrial town was put under curfew today following violence over pictures caricaturing Jesus. It was lifted at 1 p.m. today [Feb. 22].
Suspected Hindu radicals reportedly attacked three churches after a general strike called by some Christians turned violent at Batala in Punjab state’s Gurdaspur district on Feb. 20.
Christians were protesting posters showing the Sacred Heart of Jesus with a beer can in one hand and a cigarette in the other that had appeared in Jalandhar, another city in Punjab, earlier in the day.
Father Michael Anikuzhikattil, parish priest of Gurdaspur, told UCA News that a general strike was in force in Gurdaspur district on Feb. 21. According to him, “the objectionable posters” hurt Christians, who form 25 percent of the district’s population.
The priest said more than 1,000 Christians attended a meeting with the district officials earlier in the day.
Father Peter Kavumpuram, the local diocesan spokesperson, said that as soon as the posters appeared, a Catholic delegation led by Bishop Anil Couto of Jalandhar met authorities to seek action against those responsible.
The government took two days to arrest the culprits. Police yesterday [Feb. 21] arrested Pritpal Singh, an Ayurveda doctor responsible for putting up the poster. His accomplices were arrested today.
Father Kavumpuram said Catholic and other established Churches, did not organize protests following the administration’s assurances. They urged people to keep calm and accept the incident as part of their Lenten penance, Father Kavumpuram added.
However, other smaller Christian sects ignored the plea and organized protest marches in various parts of Gurdaspur.
They met at a Methodist church in Batala and went to the local administration office to submit a memorandum. On their way, someone in the group shouted slogans against a Hindu radical group and that triggered violence. The Christian protesters looted shops and destroyed some motorcycles.
Police and local people beat up this group.
Then, a Hindu mob attacked two churches and burned another, all belonging to Protestant Churches. The police arrested many Christian youths.
Father Kavumpuram said as soon as the Hindu radicals retaliated, leaders of the Christians protesting fled the scene.
About 300 Christian youths from the affected areas attended a meeting the Catholic Church convened at Fatehgarh on Feb. 20 to take stock of the situation. Church leaders urged the youth to refrain from indulging in violence.