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White, Slav And a Steadfast Hindu

by Rashmee Roshan Lall, Times of India

Posted January 2, 2006

LONDON: Thirty-five years after a fateful clandestine meeting in Moscow between ISKCON founder Swami Prabhupada and a young white Russian who was to receive the dangerously secret gift of a banned Bhagvad Gita, take the name Ananda Shanti Das, and build from scratch a 100,000-strong community of native Krishna bhakts, the Slavonic Hindu may be emerging as the 21st century's most potent symbol of too-successfully spreading the word beyond Indian shores.

A gathering campaign by British parliamentarians is set to tell an astonished world that Russia's Hindus - white, Slav and steadfast in their faith - are living symbols of state oppression in a country counted as one of the world's eight most advanced and industrialised economies.

The campaign in the British parliament, led by UK Indian Labour Party MP Ashok Kumar and spearheaded by the umbrella Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB), will claim that Russian Hindus continue to be denied the right to build a temple and have been left without electricity, heating and water in their freezing makeshift Moscow temple. The campaign is set to unveil a devastating saga spanning nearly four decades in which Russian Hindus are alleged to have been variously vilified by the Soviet state, the Russian Orthodox church, Russian Islamist and Jewish leaders and far-right nationalist politicians such as Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

The British campaign is to be kickstarted when Yuri Luzhkov, mayor of Moscowand allegedly Slavic Hinduism's most implacable foe, arrives in London early next month.

So far, there has been no official response to the allegations from Luzhkov's office or President Vladimir Putin's government.

But the new campaign, which aims to harness the collective might of British and European political, press and public opinion to recall Moscow to a sense of its human rights obligations, is thought to be dangerously poised to undo Russia's attempts to gain global legitimacy even as it controversially takes over presidency of the G8.

The British campaign, which is bolstered by European and Australian Hindu organisations, comes exactly 25 years after the then deputy KGB chief Semen Tsvigun first exhorted the Soviet Union to recognise and stamp on the three greatest threats to the state - "Western culture, rock and roll and Krishna".

Commentators and academics, including Edwin Bacon of Birmingham University's Centre for Russian and East European Studies, say the Russian campaign against the indigenous spread of Hinduism is part of a " broad line taken by the state certainly since the mid-1990s ... of encouraging 'traditional' religions, especially Russian Orthodoxy, whilst putting in place restrictions on other groups deemed non-traditional".

So great was the Russian sense of threat that a 1994 council of Russian Orthodox bishops warned that "the teachings of the Bhagvad Gita are a false religion" and that "neo-pagan, pseudo-Christian, occultist faiths (such as Hinduism) are a threat to the unity of national consciousness and cultural identity of Russia".

Accordingly, Slavic Hindus were remorselessly persecuted, the HFB's Ramesh Kallidai (Romapada Dasa) told TOI on Friday, and the victimisation included incarceration in prison, forced labour in Siberia, mafia violence, prevention of temple construction, abuse of Lord Krishna as "wicked and malicious" and the Hindu faith as "a satanic obscenity...idolatorous".

The Russian Hindus' only offence, claimed Kallidai, was that they worshipped in the Hindu way, did not eat meat, observed Hindu religious festivals and went to the temple. "The persecution continues today", claimed Kallidai, "and it is time Britain, India and the world does something to stop it".

But still, Russian Hinduism continues stubbornly to grow and flourish, claim community leaders, with 97 registered charities, 22 registered monasteries, 250 so-called 'home groups' that conduct satsang and an astonishing 20,000 free meals served every day in Russia's estimated 100 embattled temples.

If anything, says Kallidai, Slavonic Hinduism may be the new template for a turbo-charged globalised Hinduism with an hitherto-unremarked reach.

Click Here for the Times of India article.