Krishna’s legal rights: What India needs to tell Russia

An open letter to Russia ombudsman Vladimir Lukin on what the Federation is committed to do; hoping our PM’s busybodies read this too!

manojkumarhs

Manoj Kumar | December 20, 2011


The book in question, Bhagvad Gita As It Is by Iskcon founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
The book in question, Bhagvad Gita As It Is by Iskcon founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Dear Ombudsman,
My compliments for your sagacity in so expeditiously impleading yourself in the court proceedings against the Bhagvad Gita. A kangaroo’s court, driven by “madmen”, needs your sagacious intervention.

Your ambassador to India, HE Alexander M Kadakin, is facing the music for this madness. He deserves compliments for his very clear statement that he felt less ‘Indian’ and sad over the whole development and that “it seems that even the lovely city of Tomsk has its own neighbourhood madmen”. Was his despair an indication of your government’s loosing grip over its backyard? In the context of international law, his observations speak volumes.

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Here’s what you might want to appraise the Tomsk court:

The present Russian Federation built on the remnants of the erstwhile USSR seems to be standing on thin ice, so much so that your federal constituents are openly playing volley with sensitive issues like religious tolerance in their kitchen garden unmindful of the brief of the Federation to the international community.

The 1945 United Nations Charter (Articles 1, 13, 55) provides for nations to work towards “respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”.

The subsequent 1965 International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination once again provided for all member nations to work towards the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (Art.5).

Again in 1981, the international community passed the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief to reinforce and carry forward the objectives of the UN Charter towards eradication intolerance and discrimination based on religious belief. For the purposes of the 1981 Declaration, the expression "intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief" means any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on religion or belief and having as its purpose or as its effect nullification or impairment of the recognition, enjoyment or exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms on an equal basis. The 1981 Declaration further provides that any discrimination between human being on the grounds of religion or belief constitutes an affront to human dignity and a disavowal of the principles of the UN Charter, and shall be condemned as a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enunciated in detail in the International Covenants on Human Rights, and as an obstacle to friendly and peaceful relations between nations. The 1981 Declaration mandated all member nations to:

-    take effective measures to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief in the recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms in all fields of civil, economic, political, social and cultural life.

-    make all efforts to enact or rescind legislation where necessary to prohibit any such discrimination, and to take all appropriate measures to combat intolerance on the grounds of religion or other beliefs in this matter.

The 1981 Declaration therefore mandated the rights and freedoms set forth in the 1981 Declaration to be accorded into national legislation in such a manner that everyone shall be able to avail himself of such rights and freedoms in practice.

Russia has a 1997 law on freedom of conscience and religious associations providing all individuals the right to believe individually or with others, right to spread religious convictions and the right to act in accordance with such religious convictions. However, anyone violating this law would only be punished to the full extent possible. The said law actually fails to provide any pre-specified punishment.

In addition to the 1997 law, Russia has also formulated laws to restrict what it calls extremist groups who may at times have religious overtones. The right balance in guaranteeing freedom of religious belief and expression and reasonable regulation of the same is still some miles away in the prevailing legal architecture in Russia and the weakening of the Federation’s oversight over the actions of its constituent states is only increasing the gap.

The ill effects of religious intolerance driven conflicts have manifested itself to the whole world, be it 9/11 in NYC, 26/11 in Mumbai, Subway attacks in London, Blasts in Bali or parliament attack in New Delhi apart from numerous other deserving incidents we would want to forget as a nightmare, if we had a choice.

Declaring religious books to be extremist is not a new phenomenon in Russia, but lessons can surely be had from the past. On an earlier occasion, in September 2010, a court in Kransnoyarsk gave a finding that a Said Nursi book was extremist and again in October 2010, a Kemerovsky court declared six books of Jehovah to be extremist. This decision was overturned by an appeal court which held five of the six books as not extremist.

When the Russian Federation merely expresses sadness at the failure to abide by the UN Charter, what does the court functioning under one of its errant constituents do, it seeks the opinion of the Russian ombudsman and ‘experts’ of Indology from Moscow and St. Petersburg, possibly to counsel the court what is the scope and mandate of the UN Charter.

This leaves the international community with too little to choose from. Do we sympathise with the helplessness of your Federation or do we agonise of a court of law handing over the brief to religious leaders for their opinion – without any inkling that the aforesaid UN Charter and Declarations contain an obligation and promise held out by your Federation to the rest of the world, of which Siberia is a constituent?

As a student of international law, I clearly see your Federation’s actions or the lack of it hugely worrisome and worthy of a note by the international bodies including the UN.

India, a very old friend of Russia, with a very deep social and cultural relationship going back many decades, has a more serious work at hand – to work with a friend and deal with this very serious issue having major international consequences and even greater regional consequences. The dispensation in New Delhi should not allow your worthy ambassador in New Delhi to feel any bit Indian when the Federation itself is feeling helpless to reign in its constituents while dealing with such an important issue.

That said, it is high time the prime minister’s men and the envoy to Moscow apprise themselves of Lord Krishna’s legal rights. I concede that!

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