Moscow: Bhagvad Gita, one of the most sacred Hindu religious texts, is facing a legal ban and the prospect of being branded as ‘an extremist’ literature across Russia, with a court in Siberia’s Tomsk city all set to deliver its final verdict on Monday in a case filed by state prosecutors.
The final pronouncement in the case will come just two days after Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was here for a bilateral summit meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev from December 15 to 17.
The case, which has been going on in Tomsk court since June this year, seeks to get a Russian translation of ‘Bhagvad Gita As It Is’ written by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), on the Hindu religious text banned in Russia and declaring it as a literature spreading ‘social discord’, apart from rendering its distribution on Russian soil illegal.
In view of the case, Indians settled in Moscow, numbering about 15,000, and followers of the ISKCON religious movement here have appealed to Manmohan Singh and his government to intervene diplomatically to resolve the issue in favour of the Hindu religious text, an important part of Indian epic ‘Mahabharat’ written by Sage Ved Vyasa.
The ISKCON followers of Russia have also written a letter to the Indian Prime Minister’s Office in New Delhi seeking immediate intervention, lest the religious freedom of Hindus living here be compromised.
“The case is coming up for a final verdict on Monday in Tomsk court. We want all efforts from Indian government to protect the religious right of Hindus in Russia,” Sadhu Priya Das of ISKCON and a devotee of a 40-year-old Krishna temple in central Moscow, said.
The court, which took up the case filed by the state prosecutors, had referred the book to the Tomsk State University for ‘an expert’ examination on October 25 this year. But Hindu groups in Russia, particular followers of the ISKCON, say the university was not qualified, as it lacked Indologists.
The Hindus had pleaded with the court that the case was inspired by religious bias and intolerance `from a majority religious group in Russia, and have sought that their rights to practice their religious beliefs be upheld. The prosecutor’s case also seeks to ban the preaching of Prabhupada and ISKCON’s religious beliefs, claiming these were ‘extremist’ in nature and preached ‘hatred’ of other religious beliefs.
“They have not just tried to get the Bhagvad Gita banned, but also brand our religious beliefs and preachings as extremist,” Das said.
In fact, the ISKCON devotees have taken up the matter with the Indian embassy in Moscow too, apart from writing to the Prime Minister’s Office in New Delhi, for an early diplomatic intervention, before things get worse and the court passes an adverse verdict banning the ‘Bhagvad Gita’ and Krishna consciousness teachings.
In the November 1 letter, addressed to Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister Pulok Chatterji, ISKCON’s New Delhi branch Governing Body Commissioner Gopal Krishna Goswami, said the prosecutor’s affidavit claims Lord Krishna “is evil and not conforming to Christian religious view”.
Goswami also urged Singh to accord priority to the matter during his Moscow stay and to take it up with the Russian authorities.
Indian diplomatic corps officials at the embassy here, who were unwilling to be named, said that they have been following up the case since the time it was brought to their notice earlier this year and that they had also taken up the matter at the appropriate levels in the Russian government to get the case either withdrawn or get the defence to fight the case to obtain a favourable verdict.
Officials at the Indian Prime Minister’s office, who are part of the Indian delegation accompanying Singh, confirmed the case and the letter they received from ISKCON in this regard.
“This matter is receiving the highest attention and the Indian embassy officials in Moscow have been instructed to follow up the case with the Russian authorities,” they said.