Bigotry of Italians

In Rome, Durga is not welcome

Kanchan Gupta

What does it mean to celebrate Durga Puja in Rome? It means to be humiliated, harassed and hounded by city officials who happen to be pious Christians. Alright, I could be utterly wrong in presuming they are pious since I have no independent confirmation of their piety or otherwise. But let’s get back to the question with which I began. Late Thursday night I was at the park near my house where the local Bengalis organise Durga Puja every year. It’s a raucous celebration of faith and culture. The food stalls are invariably hugely popular and there I was with my nine-year-old daughter, standing in a queue for kathi rolls. After what seemed like an interminable wait, it was our turn to be served. Just then my BlackBerry beeped. Balancing the piping hot rolls, dripping oil, tomato ketchup, green chilli sauce and lemon juice, in one hand, I tried to read the e-mail on my handset.

No luck. I got shoved around, nearly dropped both rolls and my phone, and decided to let the e-mail wait. Later, away from the crowd, I checked the e-mail and it was a fascinating story. Since the identity of the person who had sent the mail is not really relevant, let me reproduce the text: “The Municipal Police authorities of Rome have today withdrawn permission, granted three weeks ago, to celebrate Durga Puja in Rome. The cancellation came a few hours before the Ambassador of India was scheduled to inaugurate the Puja at 8 pm local time. No acceptable explanation has been given. This has caused the local Indian community the loss of thousands of Euros spent in preparatory arrangements. The same thing was done in the same manner in 2008 also. Please monitor developments.”

Now that’s awful, I told myself, here I am having kathi rolls and there they can’t even celebrate their own festival. On Friday, I called a friend in Rome who provided me with the latest details. Our Ambassador, Mr Arif Shahid Khan, a feisty man who has in the past taken up the issue of Sikhs being forced to take off their turbans at Italian airports, campaigned throughout the day, calling up officials, including the Mayor of Rome, and contacting members of the ‘Friends of India’ group in the Italian Parliament, arguing with them why permission for the Puja should be restored. By evening, the authorities had reversed their order and permission was granted to celebrate Durga Puja, which will now begin on Saturday, Ashtami — a full 48 hours behind schedule. Provided, of course, there is no last minute cancellation, as it happened on Thursday. Mr Khan will inaugurate the Puja, an honour he richly deserves.

The story behind the cancellation needs to be told, if only to point out that Christian countries in the West, whose Governments so blithely criticise the ‘lack’ of ‘religious freedom’ in India, have no compunctions about trampling on Hindu sentiments at home. After last year’s experience, when permission for celebrating Durga Puja in Rome was abruptly withdrawn by officials who cited specious reasons to justify their grossly unfair decision, the organisers, led by Mr Rajesh Sahani, a Sindhi from Kolkata who speaks flawless Bengali, took ample precautions this year. They were given permission to organise the Puja at Parko Centocelle, a public park on Via Cailina, Torpignattara. Three weeks ago, permission was granted for the Puja at the park and necessary formalities were completed.

Early this past week, the Puja organisers were told they could not use the park as a crime had been committed there and the location posed security-related problems. The organisers agreed to change the venue. Another park was selected, permission was given to celebrate Durga Puja there, and the preparations began all over again in right earnest. Then, like a bolt from the blue, at 4 pm on Thursday came the withdrawal of permission by the Municipal Police. The organisers were bluntly told to pack up and leave hours before Durga Puja was scheduled to begin with Akal Bodhon in the evening. Why? No reason was proffered.

Some officials are believed to have told the organisers that the cancellation of permission at the eleventh hour, both last year and this year, was meant to be “retaliatory action against the persecution of Christians in India”. It may be recalled that the President of Italy, Mr Giorgio Napoletano, has been vociferous in demanding that Europe should do more in support of Christians in India and to help them ‘affirm their right to religious freedom’. The Government of Italy has in the past summoned the Ambassador of India to convey to him that it has “deep concern and sensitivity for the ongoing inter-religious violence… that has caused the death of many Christians.” The Pope has been no less harsh in denouncing India.

There could be another reason, apart from its “deep concern” about the welfare of Christians in India, for Italy’s callous disregard of the sentiments of Hindus in that country. Although the Italian Constitution guarantees religious freedom, under the Lateran Treaty with the Vatican, Italy recognises only the three religions of Semitic origin — Christianity, Judaism and Islam. All other religions are no more than paganism and are to be shamed and shunned. The Vatican would not countenance any open breach of the Lateran Treaty; Italy would not want to be seen as recognising Hinduism.

“It’s only natural that Italy should have a surfeit of churches. But it’s the rejection of any other faith than Christianity, Judaism and Islam that explains why there are so many mosques but virtually no temples in Italy although this country has a large Hindu expatriate population,” my friend told me while regretting the attitude of the Government and the local authorities. According to him, there are only three temples in Italy: One in a garage in Venice; another at Frescolo and the third at Reggio Emilia. These survive at the mercy of local zoning officials.

But for Mr Arif Shahid Khan’s pro-active involvement — most Ambassadors tend to stay aloof from community affairs — this year too there would have been no Durga Puja in Rome. Indians in Italy owe him a debt of gratitude. So do Bangladeshis who are equal participants in this annual celebration of dharma’s victory over adharma, of the triumph of good over evil. Cultural and linguistic affinities unite Bengalis, irrespective of whether they are from the west or east of Padma, during this autumnal festival celebrated around the world.

Meanwhile, let’s not get carried away by the West’s bilious and bogus criticism of ‘lack of’ religious freedom in India and indulge in self-flagellation. Let the West look at its own ugly, septic warts. If Christians can celebrate Christmas in New Delhi, Hindus have the right to celebrate Durga Puja in Rome. This is non-negotiable.

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8 Comments

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8 responses to “Bigotry of Italians

  1. kamal

    You said it all. They were retaliating because of persecution of christians in India. What took place first?

    You are completely ignorant about the Christian faith. No one can force anyone to believe. Moreover, it takes great faith and humility to publicly achnowledge one’s christian faith in India. You are treated like you are a second grade individual when people know you are christian.

    People become christian because of what Christ has done for them. I’m unable to convert my mother and father and my brothers to become christians. You think its easy to convert total strangers?

    The only reason you wont become a christian is because it is insulting to you. You don’t want to lose your social circle. All of us who converted, were once like you. But Christ’s love bought us eventually.

    Your post is totally understandable. That is exactly what I would expect from you, after reading other posts on your blog.

    • Bhakti

      kamal I thought Christians were all about forgiveness, in which case why should there be vengeance for the alleged persecution of Christians in India against Hindus in Italy. What happened to “Christ’s love”, is it just a slick marketing campaign?

      FYI, your claim of victimisation must surely be exaggerated because I am aware of nationalist Christians who are pro-RSS.

      And the main reason people do not become Christian is because Christianity is not real. It is made up. Simple as that.

    • VoP

      > You are treated like you are a second grade individual when people know you are christian.

      Not 2nd grade, 3rd Grade may be!

      “When I read the Upanishads, I found a profundity of world view that made my Christianity seem like third grade.” ~ Huston Smith

      If you really knew Christianity and it’s bloody history you will able to grade it better. See 2000 YEARS of HELL on EARTH
      http://freetruth.50webs.org/A4a.htm

  2. sanjaychoudhry

    All “faiths” whose central claim is “our god is true, your god is false” belong in the garbage bin.

  3. sanjaychoudhry

    And don’t get me started on this “Christian persecution” business and the collection plate in churches.

    Whenever Hindus refuse to become Christians, you people feel persecuted. This is what this persecution thing is all about and collecting money from the faithful.

    Shame on you for buying into this violent and Satanic White man’s cult and spitting on everything that arose from your own country. Truly a slave.

  4. satbir

    kamal, persecution and prejudice is not the sole preserve of christians only. The christians have persecuted native faiths of India for centuries, now xtians should be ready for counter persecution since the shoe is changing feet. You want your own prejudices (racist bible) and persecution (past and present crusades) to thrive and flourish but don’t want others to pay you back with added interest. Kyun bhayi hamme ch*tya samjha hai kya? What you are doing is cowardly yet understandable, nobody wants his a$$ to be kicked but you have to go to the root causes to know why your a$$ is on the line.
    Xtianity is white mans religion brother and you, a brown f*ck will always be a doorman or a coolie for the white man. Come back to your ancestors original faith (Sanatan Dharma) and honour them rather than living like a toiletpaper for a whiteman to wash his cr*p. Sad at your pitiful state now but will always be of help if you wish to revert to Sanatan Dharma. Let me know.

  5. Anonymous

    Roman Catholic Church’s hypocrisy shown here. In India Roman Catholics and Xtians are free to worship in their Church but in Italy, a Hindu cannot worship his God. I don’t think all Catholics are like this, only the hypocrites do it.

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