Bhagavad Gita Ban: Russian Church has not learned its lesson from history – Ravi Shankar

Ravi Shankar Etteth“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 

Cross of the Russian Orthodox ChurchBooks 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.

Authentic Samizdat PublicationIn 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 Bagavad Gitacontinued 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 ravi@newindianexpress.com

4 Responses

  1. Krishna discusses Bhagavad Gita row with Russian ambassador – TOI, New Delhi, Dec 27, 2011

    NEW DELHI, External affairs minister S M Krishna today conveyed to Russian Ambassador Alexander Kadakin the country’s concern over the “sensitive” issue of a Siberain court hearing a petition seeking a ban on Bhagavad Gita.

    Ahead of the court hearing tomorrow, Krishna called Kadakin and told him that the Russian government should provide all possible help to resolve the issue.

    Taking up the issue, which has created a uproar in India, strongly with the Russian Ambassador, Krishna conveyed the sensitivities involved in the issue of seeking a ban on the religious scripture, sources said.

    During the meeting at Hyderabad House, Kadakin assured Krishna that the Russian government will do all it can within its powers.

    “The external affairs minister conveyed the concerns of the Parliament of India and the people of India on the issue. The Russian side has been saying that it is a judicial process and that it will take all steps it can within its power (to resolve the issue),” a source said.

    The Siberian court in Tomsk city will hear tomorrow petition from a group connected to the Christian Orthodox Church, seeking to declare the Gita an “extremist text.”

    This is the second time in four days that the Russian envoy has been called by the Ministry of External Affairs to convey the country’s concerns on the issue. Foreign secretary Ranjan Mathai had met Kadakin last week in this regard.

    After the meeting, the Russian envoy told reporters that the Russian government will do everything it can within in the realm of its powers.

    “You understand that it is a court case but the Russian government can do one thing. It can ask the people to express our love and admiration for the Gita. That (assurance) you can get from anyone in Russia,” he said.

    Kadakin said that he had himself read Gita and that any human being can have only one opinion on the scripture — Gita is a great scripture and it is a scripture of the world.

    The Russian ambassador said his attitude on the issue remains the same that “no holy scripture, whether it is Bible, Quran or Gita cannot be brought to a court.”

    “I am of the opinion that no religious scripture can be judged in a court,” the envoy said.

    During the meeting, Krishna and Kadakan also discussed the recent visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Russia and other issues.

    On the delivery of Nerpa nuclear submarine to India, Kadakin said it is on its way.

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