The Left government in Kerala Friday asked a state-run akademi to review its decision honouring a cartoon depicting Bishop Franco Mullakal as a rooster and alluding to the charge of rape against him.
Cultural Affairs Minister AK Balan told the state assembly that the government is of the opinion that the cartoon has "hurt" the sentiments of the Christian community.
"The government has already taken a stand that the akademi should review its decision," Mr Balan said.
The cartoon titled ''Viswasam Rakshathi'' (protection of faith) by KK Subhash of Chengalam and selected by the Kerala Lalithakala Akademi for this year's award, had appeared in a Malayalam magazine last year after Franco Mullakal was accused of rape by a nun.
Showing Mullakal as a rooster, it also has pink-coloured lingerie in the crosier (staff) carried by a bishop as a symbol of the pastoral office, while a group of nuns is shown running away.
Replying to a submission by opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala seeking review of the award, Mr Balan said "Akademi is an autonomous cultural organisation under the state government. But the government does not interfere in its internal matters such as the awards and all. However, this cartoon has hurt the sentiments of a section of believers."
He said the cartoon was intended against Bishop Mullakal and not against the community.
"The cartoon includes certain religious symbols. We welcome the stand and suggestions of the opposition. The secular fabric of the country cannot be destroyed in the name of freedom of expression," Mr Balan said.
He also said the government does not question the cartoonist's right to choose the case involving the bishop as his theme but cannot allow anyone to malign the beliefs of any religion.
Mr Chennithala said the decision to honour a cartoon, which had depicted a religious symbol in a condemnable manner, was deplorable.
"Freedom of expression must be protected at any cost. But we cannot accept the manner in which the cartoon hurts the religious sentiments of believers," Mr Chennithala said.
The Kerala Catholic Bishop Council had slammed the LDF government and said it was targeting the Christians after reaching a conclusion that the minority community did not stand with the CPI(M) during the recent Lok Sabha election, in which the Left front won only one of the 20 seats.
Mr Balan, however, rebutted this in the assembly and said the government never intends to target any community and the Akademi works independently.
"Last year's winner Gopikrishnan drew a cartoon criticising Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. We gave him the award," Mr Balan said.
Meanwhile, BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai said in a statement that both the Left and the Congress lack sincerity in the matter.
The Church has urged the government to withdraw the award given to the "vulgar cartoon" and also sought an apology by the akademi officials.
Mulakkal, then Bishop of Jalandhar, was arrested by the Kerala police in September last year amid public outrage after a nun alleged she was repeatedly raped by him in a convent in Kottaym district between 2014 and 2016. He is out on bail.
Kerala Cartoon Academy, an organisation of cartoonists in the state, has expressed anguish over the controversy, saying the award was determined by a committee comprising eminent cartoonists.
The award carries a cash prize of Rs 50,000, a memento and certificate.