Hindu group opposes Christian president of Marathi literature festival
Veteran poet N D Mahanor on January 9 opened All India Marathi Literature Festival amid tight security in view of threats from right-wing Hindu organizations.
The groups had warned Mahanor, a Padma Shri and Sahitya Academy awardee—not to inaugurate the festival as a Christian priest, Father Francis D’Britto, presided over the festival. The priest is a Marathi writer.
The literature festival was held January 10-12 in Osmanabad in Maharashtra, some 410 km southeast of Mumbai, the state capital.
“I have been getting calls since January 1 asking me not to attend the festival as a Christian man is the president. Akhil Bharatiya Brahman Mahasabha had sent a letter asking me not to inaugurate the event, as they would be protesting at the venue. But there was no question for me not to inaugurate the festival.” Mahanor told NewsClick,
Anand Dave, secretary of All India Brahman Mahasabha (grand council of Brahman), said his organization did not threaten the 78-year-old litterateur. “We requested him not to inaugurate the festival that is presided by a Christian priest. We did not want him to witness our protests at the venue,” he said.
However, Mahanor’s close aides have said that repeated calls and “requests” in harsh words constitute a threat to a septuagenarian.
Mahasabha and other right-wing organizations have been opposing selection of Father D’Britto as the president, even as he has been selected following a democratic process. Members of the Marathi Sahitya Parishad, which holds the festival every year, vote for contestant writers to select the president.
Father D’Britto, a recipient of Sahitya Academy Award in 2014, was born and brought up in Vasai near Mumbai. He did his schooling in Marathi medium and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1972. He has written several books in Marathi including Mother Teresa, In Search of Oasis.
Through Vasai Green Protection Committee, he launched a movement to save the environment of Vasai. He has been raising his voice against criminalization of politics and criminals in politics in Vasai for years.
Dave said, “A senior writer who has written several classic books is generally selected to head the literature festival. But Father D’Britto, who is a Christian priest, supports religious conversion. Most of his books are translations of Christian religious books into Marathi. He advocates integration of all religions. Then why has he not translated any Hindu religious book into English?”
Dave also asked, “Will you allow Shankaracharya to preside over the literature festival? No. Then why is he being allowed to do so?”
Mahanor said, “Festival is place to communicate and not level accusations against each other. D’Britto has been selected as the president in a democratic manner. You can criticize in democratic manner, but not like this.”
There are speculations that the festival will see statements about Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and protests across India.
Father D’Britto has already criticized Citizenship (Amendment) Act, saying that this country belongs to people from all religions. He has criticized attack on students of Jawaharlal Nehru University and mob lynching of Muslims by cow vigilantes.
Meanwhile, Osmanabad police have deployed tight security at the venue and have provided personnel security to Father D’Britto and Mahanor.