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March 17, 2012

Russian scholars call on Medvedev and Putin to defend Bhagavad Gita

Russian scholars call on Medvedev and Putin to defend Bhagavad Gita

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Saturday, March 17, 2012

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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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December 29, 2011

Russian court rejects move to ban Hindu scripture

Russian court rejects move to ban Hindu scripture

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

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Hare Krishnas protesting against the ban of their scripture outside the Russian Consulate in Kolkata, India. December 19, 2011.
Image: Cinosaur.

A judge in Tomsk, Russia drew a round of applause from the court room as she dismissed charges of extremism against the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, a Russian commented translation of the Bhagavad Gita published by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. This decision put an end to the six-month-long trial of the book accused by the state prosecutors of fostering “social discord” and “incitement to religious hatred”.

The Indian Foreign Ministry, which had been urging Moscow to avert the possible ban they termed as “absurd”, welcomed the verdict calling it “a sensible resolution of a sensitive issue” which “demonstrates yet again that the people of India and Russia have a deep understanding of each other’s cultures and will always reject any attempt to belittle our common civilizational values” and thanked the Russian government for their support. Indian Ambassador to Russia Ajai Mahotra also stated that the court decision “deserves to be applauded”.

The controversial court case on the Bhagavad Gita, an ancient text regarded sacred by millions of Hindus, had threatened to become a stumbling block in traditionally strong Indo-Russian relations as it 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 international media.



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December 20, 2011

Indian Parliament irate as Russia poised to ban Bhagavad Gita

Indian Parliament irate as Russia poised to ban Bhagavad Gita

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

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Members of the Indian Parliament across party lines urged the Indian government to protect the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most sacred Hindu texts, from a legal ban in Russia.

Hindu followers rallied in front of the Kolkata Russian consulate protesting the ban. Thousands signed an on-line petition to stop the trial, and the hashtag #Gita surged to a leading trend in Indian cyberspace. Accused of fostering extremism and “social discord” by the Tomsk, Siberia state prosecutors office, Bhagavad Gita As It Is, a translation of the ancient poem admired by Leo Tolstoy and Albert Einstein, now faces the prospect of ending up on Russia’s Federal List of Extremist Materials – along with Hitler’s Mein Kampf – and being banned from distribution.

Reporting to the Parliament on the issue, External Affairs Minister S. M. Krishna Tuesday denounced the trial as a “patently absurd” action of “some ignorant and misdirected or motivated individuals” and assured the House that his Ministry has taken up the issue with senior Russian authorities, hoping for an appropriate resolution. S. M. Krishna also referred to the Gita as “one of the defining treatises of Indian thought” saying that it “describes the very soul of our great civilization”.

On a similar note, Russian Ambassador to India Alexandr Kadakin condemned the court case as “categorically inadmissible” and called its instigators “madmen”.

The court’s ruling on the matter is expected on December 28.



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January 22, 2010

Russian journalist beaten by police officer dies

Russian journalist beaten by police officer dies

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Friday, January 22, 2010

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A middle-aged Russian journalist in Tomsk, Siberia, died Wednesday. He succumbed to injuries suffered when a young police officer allegedly beat him into a coma earlier in the month while in a holding cell reserved for the drunk and disorderly. The injuries included severe damage to many of his internal organs.

Authorities identified this little-known reporter who specialized in economics as Konstantin Popov. Popov was one of the cofounders of a small regional newspaper publisher and a local magazine called Tema. In a country where police brutality and corruption—especially against journalists—is not uncommon, the editor-in-chief of Tema, Konstantin Karpachyov, said it was unlikely Popov’s murder was in any way related to his work.

Russian police vehicle. (Circa 2005)

However, Karpachyov went on to say that, “This could happen to absolutely anyone. It demonstrates the police terror is aimed against everybody.”

“The only thing different about this case is that he happened to be a journalist, so it became a high-profile public case. But the same thing happens every day,” said Svetlana Gannushkina, of Russia’s Civic Assistance committee. “Usually the cases are just closed down because there’s no evidence, nobody testifies, and it’s impossible to get to the bottom of it.”

Upon learning Popov’s identity, numerous members of the state-controlled media strongly criticized the police for their passive response to the actions allegedly committed by one of their own. Following which, news conferences were called, and before long Popov’s case began to draw national attention.

This resulted in the holding cell where Popov’s beating occurred being closed down. In addition, the deputy police chief resigned as well as supervisor of the precinct in question. The Tomsk police chief apologized. The suspected officer, Alexei Mitayev, was dismissed from the force, arrested, and is said to have since confessed to this crime. Mitayev cited that “stress due to family problems” is what led to his actions against Popov.

The chairman of the Tomsk branch of the Union of Journalists of Russia said that a source close to the investigation told him that Popov was not only beaten but was also “tortured” and “violated” with a foreign object.

“Hands off journalists!” the journalist union said in a statement on its website. According to the United States-based Committee to Protect Journalists, as far as they know, “since 2000, at least seventeen Russian journalists have been killed due to their work, and the killers have been convicted in only one case.”

President Dmitry Medvedev said that such police misconduct was not only angering the Russian public, but was also undermining the state’s authority. He called for comprehensive reform and ordered the Interior Ministry to cut its staff by one-fifth by 2012.


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August 11, 2005

Scientists warn thawing Siberia may trigger global meltdown

Scientists warn thawing Siberia may trigger global meltdown

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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Russian researchers warn that Western Siberia has begun to thaw as a result of global warming. The frozen peat bogs in this region may hold billions of tons of methane gas, which may be released into the atmosphere. Methane is a greenhouse gas 22 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

Sergei Kirpotin, of Tomsk State University warned New Scientist that the event is an “ecological landslide that is probably irreversible and is undoubtedly connected to climatic warming”.

David Viner, of the University of East Anglia told The Guardian: “When you start messing around with these natural systems, you can end up in situations where it’s unstoppable”. He also warns that this event was not considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

In May, scientists from the University of Alaska found methane “hotspots” in eastern Siberia where the gas bubbles out from thawing permafrost bogs at a rate that prevents the surface from freezing.

The permafrost has been intact for 11,000 years and started melting 3 to 4 years ago, according to Kirpotin.

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