Police Heavy-handedness Shows No Understanding of Hinduism
Until this year, celebrations have been organized by local communities and various religious groups but it has come to light that for this year next week's Ram Naumi celebration is only allowed if these groups register with the orthodox Hindu organization, the Sanatan Dharma Pratinidhi Sabha of Fiji (SDPS) is an unprecedented action inFiji's history!
It is quite a remarkable turn of events. Not all Hindus belong to the Sanatan denomination. Many Fiji Hindus belong to other denominations such as Arya Samaj, the Sai Baba movement, Kabir Panthis, and numerous other groups. Hindu Indo-Fijians also belong to cultural groups such as Gujerati and South Indian organizations which do not necessarily regard the Sanatan organisation as their lead organization.
To draw a parallel with Christian denominations, the changed requirement for 2011, would mean that all Christian denominations will need to register with the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma to celebrate a Christian festival (Easter or Christmas).
Interfaith Search Fiji (the ecumenical organization that seeks to promote religions dialogue and understanding) has strongly and correctly objected to this change as interference in the freedom to worship.
The attempt to privilege the Sanatan organization over all other denominations is political interference in Hindu religious practice in Fiji.
This is absolutely unacceptable.
Ed. Comment. The term 'denomination' does not quite fit. SDPS is an umbrella organization, not a church. This link to their website explains all. Hindus, unlike Christians, may, and often do, simultaneously follow the teachings of several paths to God, and non-Hindus in Fiji have never been able to fully understand this. Thus, at the 1996 census over one-fifth of Hindus were classified as Other Hindu, compared with a mere 4% of Other Christians. The high figure was due partly to people following several teachings, and also because many census enumerators were insufficiently informed to classify them otherwise. (See my Fiji: An Encyclopaedic Atlas, section 11 on Fiji's Religions.)
The police —and by extension the Government— is similarly insufficiently informed. The police requirement is unacceptable not only because it impacts on religious freedom; it also displays a level of ignorance, intolerance and heavy-handedness that runs counter to the spirit of government's stated intentions for a better Fiji. Government needs a broader and more representative group of advisers.
One last point: The Public Emergency Regulations need to be applied with good sense. Since when have Hindus been a threat to law and order in Fiji?