MUMBAI, India (ChurchMilitant.com) - Celebrities are apologizing to the president of India's bishops for insulting the holy word "Hallelujah."
Bollywood filmmaker Farah Khan, actress Raveena Tandon and stand-up comedian Bharti Singh triggered outrage among Indian Christians after mocking the Hebrew word for "Praise the Lord" on Christmas day in the YouTube comedy show Backbenchers.
After a flash protest by Christians from the state of Punjab that day near the city of Amritsar, police registered a case under section 295-A of the Indian Penal Code charging the three celebs with "deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs." The crime is punishable with a four-year prison sentence or fine, or both.
Protests by Catholics and Christians of other denominations soon spread to other parts of the country.
In the comedy act, the actors were pretending to be part of a spelling contest and were given points for correctly spelling "Hallelujah" in 45 seconds. While Tandon spelt it correctly and was awarded 10 points, Singh spelt it "Heleluya," claiming that this was the way it was spelt in the Punjab region.
When asked to elaborate, Singh said "Heleluya" was a "filthy swear word" on which she couldn't say much because families were watching the show. She went on to say the word was used by newly married couples, specifically by the husband when he wanted to ask his wife to have sex.
The audience erupted with laughter as the three actors punned on a similar-sounding word in Hindi that means "shake" and has sexual undertones.
On Monday, Khan and Tandon met Bombay's Abp. Oswald Gracias and tendered an unconditional apology. Singh, who was out of the country, sent a recorded message to the meeting expressing her regret.
"I ask for forgiveness from you, the community and the Lord God," Tandon wrote in a hand-written letter.
Accepting their apology, Gracias said that although people make mistakes, Jesus still loves them and chooses to forgive rather than condemn. He prayed for them and blessed them.
In a press statement, Gracias, also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops' Conferences (FABC), said:
As already reported in the media, director-choreographer Farah Khan and actor Raveena Tandon met me to convey their apologies over the Backbencher web show. They expressed their unqualified apologies for hurting the sentiments of the Christian community. Comedian Bharti Singh, who is out of the country, sent an apology on an audio clip. They also handed me a written apology.
He continued: "It is regrettable that a prayer of praise was treated so disrespectfully. I was told this was due to ignorance. I accepted their sincere apologies and prayed with them. I was assured that they will be very careful in future."
"The Christmas season is one of joy, peace and reconciliation," he added. "With these sentiments, I closed the matter."
"His Eminence Cdl. Oswald Gracias met us," said Khan. "We apologized and asked him to forgive our mistake and he very graciously accepted our apology. He also issued a statement on our behalf to end this matter."
"To err is human, to forgive divine. Thank you, Your Eminence Cdl. Oswald Gracias, for meeting us and accepting our heartfelt apologies and putting this unfortunate matter to rest," she added.
Father Jose T.J. from the archdiocese of Delhi told Church Militant the public outcry had calmed down considerably. "However, there are groups of Protestants, particularly in Punjab, who are not willing to accept the apology," he noted.
"They don't regard saying sorry to a Catholic cardinal as sufficient to appease the entire Christian community," he said. "It is likely that the matter of the police complaint will continue to rumble on for some time, unless the Protestants who first filed the complaint forgive the celebrities and withdraw the complaint."
Dr. Abraham Mathai, president of Indian Christian Voice, said the Christian community accepted the apology tendered by Khan, Tandon and Singh: "We appreciate Flipkart video and Walmart CEO for taking the episode off air. The Christian community expresses appreciation to Flipkart video and Mr. Doug McMillon, the global CEO of Walmart, for having considered our demands and sentiments."
From the bottom of my heart I would like to say Sorry to my Christian brothers and sisters for hurting their sentiments.Thank you YOUR EMINENCE CARDINAL OSWALD for personally hearing my apology in the voice note(as I’m not in the country)& forgiving me.����— Bharti singh (@bharti_lalli) December 30, 2019
Yours Truly,Bharti Singh
"This evening Farah Khan and Raveena Tandon went in person to His Eminence Cardinal Oswald Gracias to tender a written and unconditional apology, which the Cardinal graciously accepted. I appeal to the Christian community in this nation who have been enraged by this whole episode to accept their apology in the true spirit of Christ," Mathai said in a statement.
But Melwyn Fernandes, secretary of the Association of Concerned Catholics said: "We have not accepted any apology, we are still angry with the celebrities. We will fight legally in court."
Earlier, Khan apologized on Twitter on behalf of her co-hosts: "I'm extremely saddened that some sentiments have been inadvertently hurt by a recent episode of my show. I respect all religions, and it would never be my intention to disrespect any. On behalf of the entire team, Raveena Tandon, Bharti Singh and myself, we do sincerely apologize."
"From the bottom of my heart, I would like to say sorry to my Christian brothers and sisters for hurting their sentiments. Thank you, Your Eminence Cdl. Oswald, for personally hearing my apology in the voice note (as I'm not in the country) and forgiving me," Singh tweeted.
After Christians filed a police complaint, Tandon also clarified that it was not her intention to insult anyone. The actress shared the original clip of the show on Twitter: "Please do watch this link," she urged viewers. "I haven't said a word that can be interpreted as an insult to any religion. The three of us — Farah Khan, Bharti Singh and I — never intended to offend anyone, but in case we did, my most sincere apologies to those who were hurt."
The offending clips have since been deleted.