“According to International Religious Freedom Report 2006 and the CIA Fact Book, there are only 60,792 Hindus in Russia — constituting 0.043 per cent of the population. Curiosity often engenders faith. By banning the Gita, the Russian Church may achieve the exact opposite of what it wants —a Hindu samizdat read by Russians. As Lord Krishna says in the Gita, ‘I am justice: clear, impartial, favouring no one, hating no one. But in those who have cured themselves of selfishness, I shine with brilliance.'” – Ravi Shankar
Books can be scary. They can threaten politicians, governments and religions. The call to ban the Bhagavad Gita in Russia exemplifies this ancient fear psychosis. After 69 years of state persecution under the Communists, it is ironic that the Russian Orthodox Church is emulating its former persecutors. Its agent Victor Fyodotov, the public prosecutor of Tomsk, is the kind of apparatchik Lenin and Stalin used to suppress Christianity and its clerics.
Fyodotov is only borrowing from the pages of his country’s history. The Russian Orthodox Church is insecure, fearing Hinduism would make inroads into its base. The confusion is compounded whether it is the Gita it wants to banish or only the Russian translation written by Swami Prabhupada, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness founder. Fear has always ruled Russian history, in which religion has played an integral role: Peter the Great declared all church property as state property and overthrew the centralized patriarchate; Lenin, Stalin and Khrushchev murdered priests and believers en masse.
In 1917, USSR’s Marxist-Leninist ideology declared atheism as official national doctrine. The first target of Soviet Russia’s red rulers was the Russian Orthodox Church, to be followed by other religions. Lenin ordered all churches, temples and mosques to be destroyed and the buildings be declared state property. To achieve his means, he set up the People’s Commissariat for Enlightenment in 1917. Under its aegis, all academic curricula was purged of religious instruction. The church was stripped of legal status and the right to own property. “The teaching of religious doctrines in all the state and public, as well as private educational institutions where general subjects are taught shall not be permitted,” Lenin’s decree stated. The Red Army launched violent anti-religious pogroms, killing priests and vandalising places of worship. According to Lenin’s biographer Christopher Read, 322 bishops and priests were murdered in 1916. The bloodbath wiped out 102 priests, 154 deacons, and 94 monks and nuns. Between 1916 and 1921, 28 Russian Orthodox bishops and over 1,200 Russian Orthodox priests were killed. Romanian historian Adrian Cioroianu notes execution, torture of believers and priests were official policy; many were sent to lunatic asylums or Gulag labour camps like Svirlag and Solovki. Between 1927 and 1940, the number of churches in Russia had declined to less than 500 from 29,584. It was a gruesome irony that freedom to believe was part of the Soviet Constitution. Religion went underground: according to post-glasnot official Soviet figures, one-third of urban and two-thirds of rural Russia continued to be religious in private in spite of the repression. The persecution unleashed by the Soviet state gave birth to samizdat — the first underground dissident literature in Russia — and believers distributed religious canons in secret.
This is Russia’s legacy of faith, one from which the church and Fyodotov seemingly draw inspiration from. As Marx said, ideas and personalities, as it were, occur twice in history: first as tragedy and the second as farce. According to International Religious Freedom Report 2006 and the CIA Fact Book, there are only 60,792 Hindus in Russia — constituting 0.043 per cent of the population. Curiosity often engenders faith. By banning the Gita, the Russian church may achieve the exact opposite of what it wants —a Hindu samizdat read by Russians. As Lord Krishna says in the Gita, “I am justice: clear, impartial, favouring no one, hating no one.But in those who have cured themselves of selfishness, I shine with brilliance.”
The word of god has many languages, but it has only one meaning. – The New Indian Express, Chennai, Dec. 25, 2011
» Ravi Shankar is a columnist. He may be contacted at email@example.com
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