Farida Khanum | The Times of India | Dec 25, 2011
According to some media reports, the public prosecutor of Tomsk, Russia, has filed a case in a local court seeking a ban on the Bhagvad Gita, As It Is, with commentaries by Swami Prabhupada. The prosecutor claims that the book is "extremist literature" and it may foster social discord and discrimination in the country.
This claim by the prosecutor is strange, to say the least. The fact is that the first Russian translation of the Gita was published in Russia way back in 1788. It means that the Gita in Russian has been available for more than 200 years. During this long period, there has been no report to suggest the book ever created any problem anywhere in Russian society. Moreover, the prosecutor has failed to refer to any new development that suggests the book could become a danger to Russia today.
Even cursory reading of the book by someone will show that the Gita is a book of wisdom. Mahatma Gandhi always used to say that the Gita was his intellectual mother, and that he had derived his ideology of peace from it. And Mahatma Gandhi not only made this claim, but also gave a demonstration of its truth by running Indian politics on the principles of peace and non-violence.
If some people disagree that the Gita is a book of peace, they have every right to. But in an age of freedom, every publisher also has the right to take out the Gita in any language.
Then there is the question of an internationally-accepted principle — that all religious books are holy books and no court has the right to issue an order to ban them. It is beyond the jurisdiction of any court. I hope that the Russian court is aware of this fact and will dismiss the petition.
The Gita is an ancient book which Indians have been reading for a very long time, and it has never promoted intolerance in the country, so it is impossible to say that it's a book of intolerance. In fact, those who have asked for the banning of the Gita are the ones who are intolerant.
Demanding that 'this' or 'that' book should be banned is not a healthy trend. Every book is a source of learning, and to promote learning and understanding, we should encourage the reading of the Gita rather than trying to banish it. Of course, it is naive to believe that a ban can bring to an end to the circulation of any book. We all don't have to agree on everything. But we don't have the option to eliminate differences. What we can do is try to manage the differences.
I am a practicing Muslim, and in my personal library there are three editions of the Gita — in Urdu, Hindi and English. These do not pose any threat to me.
Khanum is associate professor at Jamia Millia Islamia's Department of Islamic studies and chairperson of Centre for Peace and Spirituality.