India's diplomatic efforts to resolve a controversy relating to Russian state prosecutors' bid to get a Russian interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita banned and branded extremist literature will be put to test again with a high court in the Siberian city of Tomsk set to deliver its final verdict on Tuesday.
Anxiety and frustration has gripped Hindus in Russia as they feel there was a state-sponsored effort to proscribe "Bhagavad Gita As It Is", written by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Prosecutors have gone in appeal against a Tomsk lower court's dismissal of their plea December 28 last.
Indo-Asian News Service(IANS) had brought the case to global notice in December when Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was in Moscow for a summit meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, resulting in an uproar back home in India. Parliament was rocked for two days over the Russian prosecutors' attack on their supreme religious text and philosophical treatise.
This led to External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna making a statement in parliament on the Tomsk city case that was filed in June 2011 and the Indian government mounting a diplomatic effort at the "highest levels" with the Russian government to get the matter resolved.
"Anxiety is mounting. The appeal by the state prosecutors is coming up for a final hearing on March 20 at the higher court in Tomsk," Bhakti Vijnana Goswami, the international chief of ISKCON, told IANS over the phone. He is currently on international tour and was somewhere in West Asia.
"This is the final hearing in the state prosecutors' appeal beginning on Tuesday. The verdict in the case may be pronounced either on Tuesday or Wednesday," ISKCON devotee Sadhu Priya Das told IANS from Moscow.
The appeal came up for hearing March 6 and, after hearing the prosecutors, the court fixed March 20 to hear the Hindus on their defence before the verdict is delivered.
Tomsk region prosecutor general Vasily Voikin, in his appeal, demanded that a Russian interpretation included in 'Bhagavad Gita As It Is' be banned.
"The prosecutor has demanded that a Russian translation of a comment in this book, earlier published in English, be banned as extremist, not the canonical text of the scripture," Tomsk region deputy prosecutor general Ivan Semchishin argued.
"The bid to ban the Russian translation of the Bhagavad Gita has been misunderstood," Tomsk region prosecutor general Alexander Buksman said.
"It's important to discern gems from the chatter in this very case; the society's perception of this issue is that prosecutors are standing against the concepts of this religion (Hinduism). However, the problem is that the Russian translation has paragraphs that could be seen as promoting extremism; prosecutors started the case for that reason," Buksman said.
"The prosecutor (Voikin) is now maintaining his claims in an appeal court for that very reason," Semchishin added.
However, Hindus have dismissed the prosecutors' claim, saying these were "twists" being given for public consumption.
"The prosecutors have based their appeal on the lines of the same arguments they placed before the lower court -- that the book is extremist and spread hatred against non-believers," Mikhail Frolov, the advocate for Hindus in the case, told IANS from Moscow. He pointed out to Semchischin's remarks that the prosecutor is maintaining his claims on Bhagavad Gita in the appeal too.
"In reality, the prosecutors are seeking a ban on Bhagavad Gita. They do not want to see the tradition related to commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita," Mr Goswami said.
Interestingly, Krishna devotees in Russia held a conference on Bhagavad Gita in Tomsk on March 1, ahead of the appeal in the case coming up before the higher court. Scholars, a majority of them Russian, came out strongly in support on 'Bhagavad Gita As It Is' and condemned the prosecutors' attempts to ban it.
In another effort to drum up support, a group of 20 Russian scholars on India wrote an open letter to Kremlim duo, Dmitry Medvedev and president-to-be Vladimir Putin, to take personal interest relating to the controversy and get the prosecutors' attempts to get Bhagavad Gita ban dropped.
"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 said.
The scholars warned that the trial "discredits Russia's cultural and democratic credentials in the eyes of the civilised world and is driving a wedge in Russian-Indian relations."