December 20th, 2011
11:53 PM ET
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) – For Hindus it's the Song of God, but prosecutors in the Russian city of Tomsk want the Bhagavad Gita banned, calling it an extremist book that sows social discord.
A court was supposed to have rendered a decision Monday on the proposed ban, but adjourned until December 28 to hear more academic opinion on the matter.
Hindus around the world have expressed outrage at the treatment of one of the most important texts of Hinduism. The 700-verse scripture, written as a message from God taught by Lord Krishna, is a part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata.
The Indian ambassador to Russia, which guarantees religious freedom, objected to the Tomsk prosecutor's charges. And the Indian parliament erupted in harsh words for Russia. Angry lawmakers in the lower house demanded to know what action the Indian government planned to take.
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON, said it was first notified of a complaint filed by the public prosecutor's office that objected to the third Russian edition of the Gita with commentary by ISCKON founder Swami Prabhupada. The complaint called portions of the book "objectionable" and "extremist."
After initial court proceedings in August, the district court appointed a three-member academic panel to submit a report within three months, according to ISKCON. The final hearing is now rescheduled for next week.
The Hindu American Foundation in the United States said prosecutors have taken words from the Gita out of context.
"We urge the Russian judiciary and government to uphold the basic rights of their Hindu citizens," said Jay Kansara, the foundation's associate director. "Any court ruling or law that would prohibit the Bhagavad Gita or any other Hindu religious literature would be considered a direct attack on the civil liberties of Russia's Hindu community and an affront to Hindus throughout the world."
The foundation raised its concerns in a letter to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in Washington. It said more than 1 billion Hindus around the world consider the Gita sacred.
The text, the foundation said, "is in no way a threat to Russian national security or to the degeneration of Christian values. On the contrary, the Bhagavad Gita is a millennia-old classical spiritual text that has inspired countless people of all faiths, and been studied and imbibed by some of the greatest scholars in the world, including Leo Tolstoy.
The Russian ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin, blamed "madmen" in Tomsk for the latest row and said the Russian government has nothing to apologize for.
"Nothing has been committed by the Russian government," Kadakin told CNN's sister network CNN-IBN. "It is not the Russian government that started the case. These are some petty people in the far away though very beautiful city of Tomsk who did it. The government has nothing to apologize for, the government can only testify and reiterate the love and affection and highest esteem our nation has for Bhagavad Gita."
Kadakin said, however, India's reaction has been proper.
"Like Russia, India is also a democratic, secular and multi-confessional country and our two governments should not allow such things to happen," he said. "The Bhagavad Gita is a source of wisdom and inspiration not only for the people of India but for Russia as well and the world."
But the potential ban on the Hindu text is part of a disturbing trend in Russia, according to religious leaders in the United States who penned a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to raise the issue of escalating threats to religious freedom during meetings with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at the White House last June.
"Russian authorities are using the 2002 Extremism Law to combat 'religious extremism' and, coming against an established pattern of local government obstruction of non-Russian Orthodox religious communities, this has led to a crackdown on religions that has been termed ... as the new 'Inquisition,'" said the letter signed by more than a dozen religious and human rights leaders.
The crackdown, it said, has affected a host of religious believers from Baptists to Jews to Hindus.
ISCKON has had a presence in Russia for decades. It said it has "faced periodic problems with respect to its properties and functioning in Moscow and elsewhere."
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