Russia has rejected as misplaced India’s complaints about the trial in the Siberian city of Tomsk against a translation of the Bhagavad Gita.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it was not the Bhagavad Gita as such that was on trial but some comments contained in a 20th-century Russian translation of the scripture.
Russian prosecutors are seeking a court ban on the book, which they claim is extremist and insulting to non-believers.
“I would like to emphasise that this is not about ‘Bhagavad Gita,’ a religious philosophical poem, which forms part of the great Indian epic Mahabharata and is one of the most famous pieces of the ancient Hindu literature. In Russia, the book was first published in Russian in 1788 and then went through many editions in different years and in various translations,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich.
“The Tomsk court case is about classifying as extremist material the Russian-language edition of the ‘Bhagavad Gita. As It Is,’ written in 1968 by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness,” Mr. Lukashevich said in reply to a request from The Hindu to clarify the Russian official position on the Tomsk trial.
The statement came a day after India upped the ante in the controversy. “The Russian authorities have been approached at high levels to appropriately resolve this matter,” said Indian Ambassador to Russia Ajai Malhotra.
“The Bhagavad Gita is perhaps the most important and respected scripture in the world. First translated into Russian in 1788, it is not merely a religious text, but one of the defining treatises of Indian thought,” Mr. Malhotra said in a statement.
“The Bhagavad Gita has circulated freely across the world for centuries and there is not a single instance of it having encouraged extremism. So, the case before the Honourable Court in Tomsk is indeed absurd, bordering on the bizarre,” the Indian envoy added.
However, the Russian Foreign Ministry stressed that the Tomsk court was not trying the Bhagavad Gita.
“As evident from the testimony, the complaints of law enforcement authorities relate, not so much to the text of the book as such, even though its double translation contains some distortions, but rather to the author’s commentaries, which are considered to fall under Article 13 of the Federal Law ‘On Counteracting Extremist Activity’,” Mr. Lukashevich said.
On Monday the Tomsk court adjourned the case till December 28 as it agreed to hear testimony from the Russian Ombudsman on Human Rights and Russian Indologist, who favour dismissal of the charges.
According to some media reports, the public prosecutor of Tomsk, Russia, has filed a case in a local court seeking a ban on the Bhagvad Gita, As It Is, with commentaries by Swami Prabhupada. The prosecutor claims that the book is "extremist literature" and it may foster social discord and discrimination in the country.
This claim by the prosecutor is strange, to say the least. The fact is that the first Russian translation of the Gita was published in Russia way back in 1788. It means that the Gita in Russian has been available for more than 200 years. During this long period, there has been no report to suggest the book ever created any problem anywhere in Russian society. Moreover, the prosecutor has failed to refer to any new development that suggests the book could become a danger to Russia today.
Even cursory reading of the book by someone will show that the Gita is a book of wisdom. Mahatma Gandhi always used to say that the Gita was his intellectual mother, and that he had derived his ideology of peace from it. And Mahatma Gandhi not only made this claim, but also gave a demonstration of its truth by running Indian politics on the principles of peace and non-violence.
If some people disagree that the Gita is a book of peace, they have every right to. But in an age of freedom, every publisher also has the right to take out the Gita in any language.
Then there is the question of an internationally-accepted principle - that all religious books are holy books and no court has the right to issue an order to ban them. It is beyond the jurisdiction of any court. I hope that the Russian court is aware of this fact and will dismiss the petition.
The Gita is an ancient book which Indians have been reading for a very long time, and it has never promoted intolerance in the country, so it is impossible to say that it's a book of intolerance. In fact, those who have asked for the banning of the Gita are the ones who are intolerant.
Demanding that 'this' or 'that' book should be banned is not a healthy trend. Every book is a source of learning, and to promote learning and understanding, we should encourage the reading of the Gita rather than trying to banish it. Of course, it is naive to believe that a ban can bring to an end to the circulation of any book. We all don't have to agree on everything. But we don't have the option to eliminate differences. What we can do is try to manage the differences.
Well, Gorbachev gave powers to the republics and the RSFSR, then led by Yeltsin, banned the Communist Party. I know this is funny, but that's what they did. Well, the entire collapse of the USSR was illegal anyways, but it happened by the connivance of Yeltsin and two Presidents from Ukrainian SSR and Belorussian SSR and not by popular referendum. This is called giving too much leeway to the republics/states/provinces and the republics/states/provinces going out of control. Perestroika in a nutshell!