By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent BosNewsLife with BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Johan Th. Bos reporting from Amstelveen
AMSTELVEEN, NETHERLANDS (BosNewsLife)– A small Christian party which made world headlines with protests against local government support for a Hindu religious festival has been re-elected in the municipal council of Amstelveen, a strategic town near the Dutch capital Amsterdam, according to local election results.
In a political skirmish picked up by on-line news agency BosNewsLife and other English language media, ChristianUnie (ChristianUnion) recently asked Amstelveen’s governing coalition why it financed a Hindu festival honoring a Hindu goddess from India, in the heart of this town of roughly 80,000 people.
Local officials said the ‘India Diwali Festival’, or ‘Festival of Lights’, was part of a policy to accommodate the Indian business community in Amstelveen, where several international companies have their global headquarters due to its location near Schiphol Airport and key highways.
Goddess Lakshmi was the main attraction at the October 10 festival, which symbolized the victory over evil, according to organizers.
But ChristianUnion chairwoman Jacqueline Koops-Scheele told BosNewsLife she was upset that the event had been sponsored by Dutch authorities at a time when many Christians living in India don’t have the same freedom as Hindus in Amstelveen to observe their faith.
Over 100 people were killed in anti-Christian violence sparked by Hindu militants in India’s state of Orissa last year, and there have also been Christians murdered or injured in other regions of the predominantly Hindu nation, according to church groups and rights organizations.
Many of the victims apparently refused to pray to Hindu gods or were targeted for converting from Hinduism to Christianity or mission activities. Several Christians have been detained by Indian authorities on “fraudulent conversion” charges.
Koops-Scheele said she was also “concerned about reports that millions of ‘Dalits'”, the ‘lowest caste’ in India’s ancient system of Hinduism, “face discrimination and poverty”. “They can not be touched under strict interpretation of Hinduism,” she added.
Additionally Koops-Scheele, a practicing attorney, wondered whether the 13,000 euros ($17,706) invested by Amstelveen in the Hindu festival violates Dutch rules on separation of church and state.
“The orange posters with pictures of the godess Lakshmi were distributed everywhere. Part of the opening was a prayer followed by a dance for the godess Lakshmi,” said her ChristianUnion, which maintained its one seat in the 37-seat Amstelveen council.
“Will the municipality now organize festivals for minority Indian Muslims and Christians?”
The discussion comes at a time when Dutch far right politicians have expressed concern about what they view as a “threat” to the Netherlands’ “Christian-Jewish traditions” because of “massive immigration” of people with different religious backgrounds.
Results of municipal elections Wednesday, March 3 and opinion polls suggested that anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders could become the next Dutch prime minister after making major gains.
His Freedom Party (PVV), which has campaigned against the “Islamization of the Netherlands”, received first place in Almere, a town near Amsterdam, and second in The Hague, one the country’s largest cities and the seat of the Dutch government.
If repeated in national elections on June 9, the Freedom Party could win 27 out of 150 seats, becoming the largest single party and putting him in line to become prime minister and form a new government, according to one opinion poll. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife Asia Correspondent Santosh Digal).