The 93rd Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan is going to be held in Maharashtra’s Osmanabad on the 10th, 11th and 12th of January this year.
This literary meet has a glorious history. The first Sammelan was organised in Pune in 1878 and was presided by the great Justice Mahadev Govind Ranade. The Sammelan in its yesteryears has been presided over by literary stalwarts like Vi.Sa.Khandekar, Durga Bhagwat, Pu.La.Deshpande and many more. But since the last few years, the presidentship of this Sahitya Sammelan has become a topic of controversies. This year’s Sammelan is no exception to this. For this year’s Sammelan, Father Francis D’britto has been unanimously elected to preside over the 3-day event.
Father Francis D’britto is a Christian priest recognised by the Roman Catholic church. He has been working towards propagating the Christian religious ideas amongst people for most of his life. Based in Vasai near Mumbai, Fr. D’britto will be the first priest to preside over the Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan.
Many readers and intellectuals have expressed apprehensions over a religious priest being given such an opportunity. Most of Fr. D’britto’s works are based on Christian religious history and philosophy. His well-known works include ‘Subodh Bible’, which is an easy-to-understand translation of the Bible, ‘Pope Dusre John Paul’, which is a biography of Pope John Paul II and ‘Sangharshyaatra Khristabhumichi’.
Fr. D’britto has received severe criticism from the likes of philosopher M.P Rege for suppressing the evils of the church and defending the church while criticising the so-called “evil practices” in Hinduism through his writings. Anand Hardikar, a well known Marathi writer has written an open letter to Fr.D’britto in which he exposes Father’s hypocrisy and asks some pointed questions to him. Hardikar has asked Fr. D’britto if he believes in the ten commandments by Moses, one of which talks of lynching people for idolatry.
Since Fr. D’britto has referred to Moses as ‘Rashtrapurush’ in one of his books, Hardikar asks D’britto if he supports such lynchings on the basis of a person’s way of worship. These questions seem pertinent as Fr.D’britto often talks of the constitution and the values of secularism and tolerance.
Maharashtra has always been hailed as a modern, liberal state. Marathi literature and the literary movement has played a significant role in inculcating modern, liberal ideas and promoting social reforms.
Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan is a platform that has represented the voices of prudence and reason. Father D’britto while reaching Marathi-loving people all over the globe from this platform, will have to give answers. He will have to answer whether while talking of constitutionalism, on one hand, he supports forced and fraudulent conversions by the Christian missionaries.
He will have to answer if he believes in science and in adopting scientific temper or does he believe in the miracles mentioned in the Christian religious texts. He will have to explain what is his stand on homosexuality which is decriminalised in India but condemned by the church. He will have to answer whether he accepts that there are more than one ways for reaching to the ultimate truth.
Father D’britto is not the only one liable to answer. The ‘liberal- intellectuals’ will also have to explain how are they okay with a priest presiding over this Sammelan. Had some Hindu priest been elected president, these so-called ‘liberal-intellectuals’ would have returned awards and would have boycotted the Sammelan by now. But expecting this woke gang to be fair and prudent will lead us to great disappointment and nothing else.
So, it is going to be interesting to see if we get our answers from Father D’britto since he has always spoken of tolerance, freedom and constitution.