AMSTELVEEN, NETHERLANDS (BosNewsLife)– Citizens in the Dutch town of Amstelveen have condemned plans by local authorities to support a controversial Hindu festival that would involve praying to a Hindu goddess from India, in the heart of the town.
The nearby Dutch capital Amsterdam and Amstelveen-based KPMG, one of the world’s largest professional services providers, also finance the October 10 festival on Amstelveen’s ‘Stadsplein’ (Town Square).
Local officials said the ‘India Diwali Festival’, or ‘Festival of Lights’, is part of a policy to accommodate the Indian community in Amstelveen, a European gateway for international companies due to its location near Schiphol Airport and key highways.
Goddess Lakshmi is a key attraction during the festival, which symbolizes the victory over evil, according to organizers.
Young visitors can receive Hindu make-up and dresses, and also paint their own small clay lamp, while the event will also feature Hindu tattoos, music, dancing, and hundreds of small lights, reported the influential Amstelveen-based news website amstelveen.blog.nl.
Several Amstelveen citizens, including Christians, have expressed shock about the event and demanded that the local Christian party ChristianUnie (ChristianUnion) protests the planned festival in the local council.
“This seems idolatry. Why is the ChristenUnie not asking questions about [this],” wrote Hans van der Liet in a reaction on amstelveen.blog.nl. “It is strange that the municipality sponsors [these] religious activities. When can my Roman Catholic parish pick up a bag of money?”
Questions have been raised whether financially troubled Amstelveen, which lost 15 million euro ($22 million) due to investments in Iceland’s collapsed banking sector, should spend money on the Hindu event at a time of budget cuts elsewhere.
The ChristenUnie’s Amstelveen representative, Jacqueline Koops–Scheele, did not reply to BosNewsLife’s requests for clarification whether her party would protest the event.
The founder of Christian online news agency BosNewsLife Stefan J. Bos, who lived in Amstelveen before moving to Budapest, Hungary, said authorities were overlooking “credible reports that minority Christians in India have no right to openly pray to their God.”
“While Amstelveen wants to honour a Hindu goddess, Indian Christians are jailed, tortured, and even murdered for honoring their God and Lord Jesus Christ,” said Bos, who also participated in the expanding forum discussions on the Amstelveen news Website.
Organizers defended the festival saying Indians are “one of the fastest growing communities in the region” and that they wanted to encourage non-Indians “to learn about the culture of their neighbors.”
That prompted someone to write that Amstelveen is using the festival as another way “to attract Indians with their big wallets.” Other writers disagreed, describing the festival as “harmless”and a “cultural event.”
The controversy in the strategic town comes amid concerns among some Christian and political leaders in the Netherlands about what they regard as the growing influence of Muslims, Hindus and other groups in the predominantly Catholic and Protestant nation.
Far-right politicians have criticized what they view as the attack on the Netherlands’ Christian-Jewish traditions. Last month the controversial politician Geert Wilders of the Freedom Party (PVV) proposed in parliament to tax the Muslim headscarf.
Any Muslim woman who wants to wear a headscarf – which he described as a ‘head-rag’ – would have to apply for a licence, and pay one thousand euros (about $1,500) for the privilege. Wilders said the money raised would go toward women’s emancipation programmes.
However other politicians questioned the plan, saying it would also impact for instance nuns and elderly ladies wearing a headscarf for weather reasons. (With reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos).