Indian Ambassador, Mr Arif Shahid Khan, 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.
After last year’s experience, when permission for celebrating Durga Puja in Rome was abruptly withdrawn by officials who cited specious reasons to justify their grossly unfair decision, the organisers, led by Mr Rajesh Sahani, a Sindhi from Kolkata who speaks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.
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 Italys 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.
Christian countries in the West, whose Governments criticise the lack of religious freedom in India, have no compunctions about trampling on Hindu sentiments at home. West’s criticism of lack of religious freedom in India is bogus. If Christians can celebrate Christmas in New Delhi, Hindus have the right to celebrate Durga Puja in Rome. This is non-negotiable.