Papua New Guinea Police Commissioner David Manning, who is also the nation’s designated Pandemic Controller, has denied permission to the nation’s Hindus from holding Durga Puja prayers.
The reason for withholding permission is as bigoted as it gets.
“Your request has been considered and we note that this is a form of idol worshipping which is morally inappropriate and against our Christian values. As such, APPROVAL IS NOT GRANTED to host this event,” the letter addressed to Mr. Puspendu Maity, President of Port Moresby Durga Puja Committee, says.
The letter signed by Manning was shared by Benn Packham, Foreign affairs and defence correspondent of The Australian. After receiving criticism, Manning has now back-tracked and issued an apology letter, saying the previous statement was “a grave and unfortunate error”.
Even though Manning clearly signed the original letter, he now claims he was not the author and he respects religious freedoms. “I humbly seek your forgiveness for this unfortunate matter,” he says. Manning has asked Hindus to send further details of the proposed Durga Puja event so he can “personally make another assessment”. He also claims to have ‘disciplined’ the author of the original letter.
Last month, Manning had banned all flights from Bharat, accusing the Bharatiya government of “deliberately” participating in “deception” that compromised the island nation’s safety and security. The Bharatiya embassy in Papua New Guinea (PNG) denied his claims that it helped unauthorised passengers, including four people who were infected with Covid-19, arrive in the Pacific nations capital, Port Moresby.
PNG is an island nation adjacent to Indonesia and just to the north of Australia. It won independence from Australia in 1975, but continues to be a member of the colonially-inspired British ‘Commonwealth of nations’ (like Bharat). Its population is around 9 million, of which 98% are Christian (mostly Protestant, including some ultra-aggressive groups like Pentecostals etc). Hindus number just a few thousands, if that.
Although it does not have a state religion, the preamble to the PNG constitution pledges “to guard and pass on to those who come after us our noble traditions and the Christian principles that are ours now”.
Parliament sessions and most official government functions open and close with Christian prayer. Since 2016, the government has pursued programs to increase the partnership between churches and the state, including subsidies to churches and the establishment of church councils to assist in local governance
So such bigotry towards Hindus should not come as a surprise. Similar anti-Hindu bigotry can be found in Fiji, another Christian-majority island nation in the Asia-Pacific region. A spate of temple vandalisms with racial slurs in 2017 had renewed fears among Fijian Hindus, who are all descendants of indentured laborers brought by British colonials.
Hindu population of Fiji has been steadily decreasing with some choosing to emigrate due to discrimination and insecurity. The Methodist Church in Fiji want to remove legal guarantees for practice of Hindu Dharma; their rationale remains the same as what was quoted in the letter by PNG authorities: “It was clearly stated in the 10 Commandments that God gave to Moses that Christians were not allowed to worship any other gods and not to worship idols.”