The city of Rome did not allow a puja to be held there

Dear Editor,

I read a report in which the municipal government of the city of Rome cancelled a permit for Hindus to hold a puja on one of the most auspicious days of the Hindu calendar, Durga Ashtmee, or the birthday of Goddess Durga which was celebrated last Thursday. The Hindus felt humiliated, harassed and hounded by city officials and accused the officials of not wanting a Hindu function to be observed in the city.

According to the report, a permit for the celebration was allowed last year but was withdrawn for some specious reasons causing the loss of thousands of euros. This year, the organizers made sure they fulfilled all the criteria for getting a permit, but for some unknown reason the officials withdrew the permit just a few hours before the celebration was to commence.

Early this past week, the puja organisers were told they could not use a park already approved.  The officials said a crime had been committed there and the location posed security-related problems. The organisers agreed to change the venue. As reported, “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.”

Durga Puja is a raucous celebration of faith and culture. But not much praying goes into the celebration.  In fact, it is a secular event with food stalls and music being the central elements of the celebration.  Also, a Muslim, Arif Shahid Khan, the Ambassador of India, was the chief guest who was slated to inaugurate the celebration.  The Ambassador lobbied national politicians to intervene to allow the event.  Feeling embarrassed, the municipal police restored the permit but the day had passed and the event was held two days later, denying Hindus the right to celebrate one of their holiest days – not different from when Catholics celebrate their holy days in Italy and around the globe.

Incidentally, thousands of Italians showed up for the celebrations on Thursday night and went home disappointed. They returned for Saturday’s celebrations and had a wonderful time sampling Indian foods and sweets.

People should be allowed to celebrate their religious festivals regardless of faith.

Christian countries like to lambaste and criticize Islamic countries and India for lack of religious freedom and failure to accept other faiths but they themselves do not want non-Christians in their environment.  As one person wrote, they have no moral compunction in trampling on Hindu sentiments.  In fact, it was not long ago that the Italian government refused to allow Sikhs to travel with their turbans which is required by their scriptures. And Muslims are harassed all the time in Italy and in the West.

If Christians can celebrate Christmas in New Delhi and Ankara, Muslims should have the right to observe Eid in Italy and Hindus the right to celebrate Durga Puja in Rome. This is religious freedom.  The Italians should take a page out of Guyana’s book which allows full religious freedom and recognizes all faiths.

Yours faithfully,
Vishnu Bisram

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