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"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Livingstone speaks to Moscow Mayor about harassment of Russian Hindus

Hindu Forum UK

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone handed over letters expressing concern about the alleged harassment of Russian Hindus by the Moscow Government and the Russian Orthodox Church to the visiting Mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov in London on 14th January, even as British Parliamentarians led by Ashok Kumar MP, Lord Dholakia and Baroness Flather got ready to host the launch of the Defend Russian Hindus campaign at the House of Commons on 18th January.

“The Mayor of London has successfully led social integration and community cohesion in London which is one of the most diverse and cosmopolitan cities in the world,” said Ramesh Kallidai, secretary general of the Hindu Forum of Britain. “When we asked him to hand over our letters of concern to the Mayor of Moscow who was attending the Russian Winter Festival at Trafalgar Square, Mr Livingstone immediately agreed in keeping with the traditions of justice and freedom that London continues to stand for.”

Following the meeting between the two Mayors, British Parliamentarians and members of the Hindu, Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities will adopt a resolution at the Defend Russian Hindus launch at the House of Commons, urging the Moscow Government to stop harassment of minority religions in Russia. Parliamentarians from all three parties will later hand a copy of this resolution to the Russian Ambassador in London.

In January 2004, the Mayor of Moscow Yuri Luzhkov signed a decree allocating land in northwest Moscow for construction of a new temple in place of an older Hindu temple which had been demolished for construction of a commercial venture. This was followed by mass protests orchestrated by the Russian Orthodox Church against the building of the temple in the newly allocated land. In October 2005 the Mayor repealed the decree and cancelled the allocation of land and further ordered the removal of a temporary Hindu shrine that devotees had erected from the newly allocated land. During this time, miscreants who had heard of Orthodox opposition to Russian Hindus entered a Hindu temple and beat 30 people including women and children with iron rods, who were hospitalised with fractured skulls.

“The only Hindu temple in Moscow had been demolished last year, leaving some 15,000 Indians and 10,000 Russian followers of Hinduism without a place of worship,” said Ramesh Kallidai, secretary general of the Hindu Forum of Britain, one of the organisations hosting the meeting. “Now the Mayor of Moscow and the Russian Orthodox Church are together trying to stop Hindus from having a place of their own.”

Earlier, Archbishop Nikon of the Russian Orthodox Church had described Lord Krishna as an “evil demon” and the “personified power of hell opposing God” in a letter to the Mayor of Moscow urging him to stop the construction of a Hindu temple in Moscow.

“It is unbelievable that in a country as industrialised and modern as Russia, we are seeing religious intolerance of a level reminiscent of medieval times,” continued Ramesh Kallidai. “We urge people of all faith traditions to intervene and stop this kind of outrageous behaviour against the peace-loving Hindus of Russia. The international communities continue to monitor the situation closely.”

Other Parliamentarians attending the Defend Russian Hindus reception hosted by Ashok Kumar MP include Lord Dholakia, Baroness Shreela Flather, Dr Phyllis Starkey MP, John Grogan MP, Angela Watkinson MP, John McDonnell MP, Shailesh Vara MP, Piara Khabra MP, Jim Dobbin MP and Mark Lazarowicz MP . Parliamentarians from all three parties are expected to join members of the Hindu, Jewish and Christian communities on a visit to Russia later this year to express their concerns on the treatment of minority faith communities.

For more details contact Ramesh Kallidai on 07915 383 103 or 07867 837 241 or ramesh.kallidai@hinduforum.org

Editor’s Notes

The Defend Russian Hindus Campaign launched in London has the support of leading organisations including the Hindu Forum of Britain, National Council of Hindu Temples UK, Hindu Council UK, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad UK, Hindu American Foundation, Hindu Council of Australia and Hindu Council of Africa.

For more details visit www.hinduforum.org




Text of Letter handed by Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone to the Mayor of London, Yuri Luzhkov

The Mayor of London handed over separate letters written by the Hindu Forum of Britain, the Hindu Council of UK, International Society for Krishna Consciousness and BAPS Swaminarayan Hindu Mission. Reproduced below is the text of the letter written by the Hindu Forum of Britain.

Mr Yuri Luzhkov
Mayor of Moscow
Moscow

Dear Mr Luzhkov

We are writing this letter on behalf of 270 Hindu organisations that are affiliated formally as members of the Hindu Forum of Britain, the representative body of the Hindu community in UK.

There are over 100,000 Hindus in Russia. In Moscow alone, there are 5000 Hindus of Indian origin and over 10,000 Hindus of Russian origin. However, this peaceful community is being denied a simple right to have a place of worship where they can pray, counsel and celebrate their faith.

We learnt that two years ago the Moscow Government asked Hindus to vacate their only temple in Moscow in exchange for a piece of land on which they could build a bigger temple. After the land was allocated to the Hindu temple, the original temple was demolished.

After learning of the allocation of land to the Hindu temple, some members of the Russian Orthodox Church orchestrated mass protests and started a misinformation campaign against Hindus in the Russian media. Many Hindus were victimised, threatened, bullied, and even beaten and subject to violence in different regions of Russia.

The Hindu community in the UK and other parts of the world were very unhappy to learn that in October 2005, the Moscow Government cancelled the land order and took away the piece of land given for the construction of the Hindu temple citing a small technical detail that could easily have been rectified. Now, the 15,000 Hindus in Moscow have no place to worship. The consecrated Deities of Radha and Krishna will have no home. The pattern of events suggests a planned and orchestrated scheme to subjugate the freedom of worship of Russian Hindus and to deny them a basic place where they can congregate peacefully and pray.

To add to this, around the time of Indian Prime Minister’s state visit to Moscow to meet Russian President Putin, Archbishop Nikon, a leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, called the Hindu God, Lord Krishna an ‘evil demon, the personified power of hell opposing God”, and “a livid lascivious youth”. The Archbishop further requested the Mayor to ban construction of a proposed Hindu temple in Moscow saying it would otherwise become “an idolatrous disgrace erected for the glory of wicked and malicious ‘god’ Krishna”.

Hindus all over the world have reacted with outrage and shock at these comments of the Archbishop, and disbelief to note that a great country like Russia has subject religious minorities to this treatment. As a result, The Defend Russian Hindus Campaign, launched by the Hindu Forum of Britain, Hindu Council UK, National Council of Hindu Temples UK, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Vishwa Hindu Parishad UK, Hindu Council of Australia, Hindu American Foundation and many other worldwide Hindu organisations, will be launching its first awareness event from the House of Commons on 18th January 2006.

The event aims to build awareness about the harassment and discrimination against Russian Hindus by sections of the Russian Orthodox Church and the actions of the Moscow Government with regard to the cancellation of the land order, despite support from the Central Government. We note that the Moscow Government has gone so far as to cut off gas, electricity and water to the make-shift temple on the new land, in violation of all known human rights legislation in Europe.

In addition to the event at the House of Commons, the Defend Russian Hindus campaign will be launching a three-pronged plan to communicate the situation of Russian Hindus through media, community and political networks. We are also planning a Parliamentary delegation to visit Russia in the Spring of 2006. We will be contacting the heads of the G8 countries to take note of the treatment of religious minorities in Russia, which is poised to take over the Presidency of the G8 later this year.

We would be most grateful if you could kindly look at this matter in favourable light. Hinduism is one of the world’s oldest faith traditions and has always remained peaceful and non-violent. The universal world view of the Hindu tradition, which accepts the whole world as one family and all other faith communities as different ways to the same Truth have been appreciated by world leaders. Therefore, at a time when the world is moving towards an era of tolerance, respect and understanding, it seems rather odd that the Moscow Government chooses to ignore the human rights and freedom of worship for one of the most peaceful faith traditions in the world.

We look forward to hearing back from you after you in this matter.

With best wishes for a happy 2006,

Yours sincerely,

Ramesh Kallidai

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