How Hinduism has found its place in a land that holds the highest seat of Christianity



By Edoardo Lisi

Rome, despite being the highest seat of Christianity, is a centre of confluence between several cultures and religions. Walking around the streets one can admire an impressive variety of nationalities. While some are tourists, others are emigrants who migrated from their respective countries for different reasons.

In this huge “melting pot” religions do not represent an exception.

Especially in Rome people from different faiths including Christians, Muslims, Hindus have learned to live in harmony. Hinduism, thanks to its essence, is the religion that better adapts to this (inevitable) coexistence. According to the latest regional statistics, around seven thousand Indians live in the Italian capital with a regular permission.

The question, however, is: How do Indians feel about the privations that they are subjected to as a foreign faith while trying to “find a place” in a land so strongly influenced by Christianity?

What is their approach towards this new reality?”

The “Temple of Kalimandir”, one of the most important sacred places dedicated to the celebration of Shiva and Kali, is a perfect starting point to decipher crucial answers for these questions. Located in the middle of district Casal Lumbroso and surrounded by an amusing green garden, the temple stands out as an authentic meeting point for pilgrims from different religions.

The temple was constructed by  Yogi Krishnanath, an Italian academic specialized in Hinduism who was moved by the passion for this ancient religion, and subsequently dedicated his life to a humanitarian mission.

Around the temple, the devotees of different religions can aggregate and share a common place while spending a good time between delectable dishes and pleasing songs, and learn to live together in harmony. The temple is open to believers in every kind of God. Indians of all ages are happy to share stories about their everyday life in a country characterized by the predominance of  the Christian religion.

“Episodes of religious intolerance or discrimination against Indians perpetrated by Christians are rare. There is a mutual respect between us. Unfortunately, I can not say the same about Muslims.” a smiling middle aged man called Vir said.

In fact, some times the coexistence between Muslims and Hindus becomes so complicated, motivated mainly by historical reasons and fueled by alcohol related abuse and mockeries, that fights break out in the streets.

A young Indian woman called Amita opened my eyes to the main problems that emigrants face while trying to find their place in a country as diverse as Italy.

“I would love to turn my illegal-immigrant status into a regular one, in order to obtain the same rights and perform the same duties as other citizens. I work as maid in an Italian family, but do not have a regular contract”, Amita said.

In this context, the Italian bureaucracy demonstrates an abysmal gap. The process to obtain the residency permit is hard and long, consisting of  “Hellish” procedures to comply with and countless documents to fill in. The consequence is that, while honest Italians try to obtain regular permission for their workers, often without succeeding, the Italian criminals take advantage of the situation.

Newspapers abound with stories of “Mafiosi groups” or “individuals” (I am not brave enough to define them, but in essence they use their privileged position against a desperate human being asking for help) who try to rent illegal hovels or sell fake residency permits.

The last documented episode dates back to March last year when three Italian brothers built a rent-racket which guaranteed six hundred euros a month for every decadent and narrow hovel that they possessed. Charges were made against the criminal association by some Indians who were being oppressed by criminals.

Two years ago, the Roman police arrested a middle-aged Italian crook for swindling an Indian woman for seven thousand euros. The man was offering fake work certification which is required to obtain a regular permit, in return for the money.

According to the latest regional statistics, around seven thousand Indians possess a residency permit in the city of Rome. Most of them work in the restaurant industry preparing mouth-watering dishes which are highly appreciated in Italy.

On a fine sunny day, I had the opportunity to report one among the thousand testimonies of peaceful coexistence between Christians and Hindus.

“We are neighbors in the quarter “Esquilino”, one of the most intercultural zones in the capital, but first of all we are friends”, reported a refined Italian lady arm-in-arm with a smiling Indian woman.

“I am Christian and she is Hindu, but the differences should not present reasons for hate and discrimination. On the contrary we should approach “the other”  person with an open mind and a healthy attitude”, she exclaimed.

I learned a lot about Indian culture and religion from Leela’s words. I cannot explain with better words the essence of the word “cohabitation”. While some Italian politics, based on cliché and stereotypes, confound ignorant people in order to foment “hate” towards the other nationality, such instances demonstrate the complete irrationality of debates which end with the exaltation of discrimination.

Stories like these demonstrate the propensity of mankind to embrace and respect  “strangers”.  In some cases the embrace flows into a mutual exchange of knowledge.

A complete and peaceful coexistence can materialize by blending different cultures with the Italian way of life.