Russian scholars call on Medvedev and Putin to defend Bhagavad Gita

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

Twenty leading Russian scholars urged Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister, President-elect Vladimir Putin to step in and take the ongoing Bhagavad Gita trial in the Siberian city of Tomsk under "personal control", saying it "discredits Russia's cultural and democratic credentials in the eyes of the civilized world".

Last December, the Tomsk court rejected state prosecutor's indictment of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, a commented translation of the ancient Hindu classic by the Hare Krishna founder Bhaktivedanta Swami, as an extremist text. However, in January the Tomsk prosecutor's office filed an appeal, arguing the commentaries incite "social hatred" and "violence against non-believers" and must be banned as "extremist". Tomsk region prosecutor Alexander Buksman publicly supported the appeal, saying that the proposed ban on the commentaries rather than on the Hindu text itself was justified, as "it's important to discern gems form the chatter in this very case". The appeal is scheduled for hearing on March 20.

In an open letter to the top Russian leaders, the group of eminent Russian scholars of philosophy, philology, and oriental studies strongly denounced the prosecutor's attempt to dismiss Bhaktivedanta Swami's commentaries as an extremist distortion of Bhagavad Gita itself, saying that these charges are "untrue and contrary to the traditions of Hinduism".

"The book does not contain any signs of extremism and does not incite hatred on ethnic, religious or any other grounds. On the contrary, the book written in the commentary tradition of Bengali Vaishnavism, one of the most popular branches of Hinduism, is considered sacred by a section of believers", the scholars emphasized, warning that the continued trial of the Hindu scripture in Russia is "driving a wedge in Russian-Indian relations." Similar concerns were voiced earlier at an all-Russian conference at Tomsk State University titled Bhagavad Gita in history and modern society, where scholars expressed perplexity at the prosecutor's move to declare a translation of the Hindu scripture extremist. Speaking at the conference, Irina Glushkova, chief researcher of the Indian Research Center at the Oriental Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, stressed that "Bhagavad Gita As It Is has the right to exist as any other commentary or scripture. It is a fundamental principle of Hinduism and there is no any other Hinduism".

The controversial court case on the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient text regarded sacred by millions of Hindus, had already caused political and societal turmoil in India, with the Indian Parliament stalled over the proposed ban and Hindu activists burning Russian flags. The trial also evoked strong criticism from the Russian, Indian, and international media.


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