Hindus make last bid to save ‘Gita’; Indian lawmakers miffed

New Delhi: Hindus in Russia on Monday made a last ditch effort to save the Bhagavad Gita from a ban by a Siberian court. The issue rocked the Indian parliament, with MPs cutting across party lines Monday condemning the ‘insult’ to the holiest of Hindu scriptures for facing the prospect of being branded ‘extremist’.

Following last-minute plea by Hindus in Russia, represented by their advocate Mikhail Fralov, the court in Tomsk city in Siberia has told the Russian human rights panel Monday to come with its deposition before the verdict, scheduled Dec 28.

Fralov pleaded with the court to hear the Russian Human Rights Committee for its views on Bhagavad Gita and on the religious minorities’ rights, before pronouncing its verdict.

Following the plea, the last of legal options that the Hindus had, the court agreed to hear out the human rights panel, according to Sadhu Priya Das, a Moscow-based Hindu and a devotee of a 40-year-old Krishna temple in the Russian capital.

The issue found strong echo in the Indian parliament, when an MP in the Lok Sabha raised the issue of possible banning of the Bhagavad Gita and its teachings in Russia. This led to other members across the political spectrum joining him in urging the government to ensure that the religious rights of the Hindus are protected in Russia.

They also sought an explanation from Moscow over the issue. External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna then assured the Lok Sabha he would speak on the issue in the house Tuesday.

Angry MPs forced two adjournments of the Lok Sabha till 2 p.m., after Biju Janata Dal leader Bhartruhari Mahtab raised the issue during Zero Hour in the house and asked the government to intervene immediately because it had threatened the religious freedom of Hindus in Russia.

Peace returned to the house after a short discussion was allowed in the Lok Sabha. At least eight MPs spoke on the matter.

Mahtab raising the issue said a court in Siberia’s Tomsk city was hearing a case filed by state prosecutors when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was on an official visit to Moscow.

The case, which has been going on since June, seeks a ban on a Russian translation of the “Bhagavad Gita As It Is” written by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon).

It also wants the Hindu religious text banned in Russia, declared it as literature spreading ‘social discord’, and its distribution rendered illegal in Russia.

Indians in Moscow, numbering about 15,000, and followers of the Iskcon religious movement in Russia have appealed to the Indian government to intervene diplomatically to resolve the issue.

Shouting the slogan ‘Bolo Krishna Bhagwan ki jai’, Lalu Prasad of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RLD) said “any insult to Gita is an insult to Lord Krishna”.

“This will stir anger among millions of Krishna devotees in the world. Let this parliament pass a resolution and send a protest note to Russia against this insult,” Lalu Prasad said.

BJP MP Hukumdeo Narayan Yadav said India should lodge a protest with the Russian authorities and the case in the Siberian city was an “insult to the entire humanity because Gita is not a religion-specific book and it concerns all human beings”.

Arun Kumar Vundavalli of the Congress also condemned the incident but he seized the moment to drive home the point that MPs need to learn from the Gita, be disciplined and not create disruptions in parliament.

Winding up the short discussion, Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal assured the house that S.M. Krishna will be speaking Tuesday after he gets the full details of the case. “We are all united over the issue and I respect the sentiments of the house.”