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Church in India for a Temple in Moscow?

ISKCON expecting Modi to help build a temple in Moscow

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Radha and Krishna in an ISKCON temple
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Moscow, May 1 : Somewhat like the story of Lord Krishna, whose address at birth was said to be a gloomy dungeon in ancient Mathura, the address to Moscow’s only Krishna temple is in a basement in a rented building.

And quite like the story of persecution of Lord Krishna’s parents Devaki and Vasudev, the temple run by ISKCON’s Moscow chapter dedicated to the Hindu god, has had to be shifted to the makeshift subterranean abode, due to what is being perceived as sustained non-cooperation by the authorities as well as conservative religious groups, which have in the past, thwarted attempts to construct a temple on land officially allotted to the New York-founded society.

But for Sadhu Priya Das, who has been pursuing the issue for ISKCON in Moscow, the arrival of Narendra Modi as the Indian prime minister, who has already visited Russia twice since assuming office in 2014, could well be a catalyst in ensuring that a temple for Krishna comes alive in the land of the Kremlin.

“We are very hopeful that in the current tenure of Mr. Modi our temple will be built,” Das told this visiting IANS correspondent.

The history of the Hare Krishna movement’s efforts to build the temple appears as chequered as it seems mystifying.

The Hare Krishna movement was first legalized in the then Soviet Union 1988, after an initial spell of suspicion in the government establishment about the cult on account of its American lineage as well as unique methods of worship.

The real trouble however began in 2004, when its first and only temple located on the Begovaya avenue was demolished by the civic authorities on account of an urban development project. The Society was then awarded an alternative plot of land on the tony Leningradsky Prospekt, a move which saw strong protests from the conservative Russian Orthodox Church and was eventually stalled.An offer of another patch of land in the suburbs of Moscow was also withdrawn by the government just as construction of the temple was about to get under way.

“We have gone through a very long procedure for constructing the temple and finally the land was taken back by the government. Almost five years ago, we were promised another piece of land for the temple construction, but so far nothing has happened. The temple is currently located in a rented building in a basement,” Das said.

The Krishna temple, according to ISKCON, would not just facilitate the religious needs of the 15,000-strong population of Indians and more than 25,000 ISKCON followers living in the Russian capital but also serve as a social and cultural centre for South Asians in general.

Apart from the Modi-led National Democratic Alliance government being at the helm in India, what has given a fresh lease of hope for ISKCON Moscow followers is the permission granted by the authorities in India to build the country’s first Russian Orthodox Church in the national capital New Delhi last year, following requests by the Russian embassy.

Related: Sushma off to Moscow to co-chair intergovernmental panel

Many like Das are perhaps hoping that the Indian government is able to calibrate a diplomatic swap between a church for Christ in Delhi and a temple for Krishna in Moscow.

“If the government of India has approved the construction of the (Russian) Orthodox Church in India that is very good sign of our friendship and a good gesture. I am sure that a Hindu temple in Russia by ISKCON will soon be a reality,” Das said.(IANS)

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Across Asia’s Borders, Survivors Of Human Trafficking, Dial in for Justice

The trial has been ongoing since 2013

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Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India.
Tara Khokon Miya is seen in her village home in Shipur, Bangladesh, Feb. 26, 2018. She is helping to prepare her 27-year-old daughter to testify via videoconferencing technology against the men who trafficked her to India. VOA

When Neha Maldar testified against the traffickers who enslaved her as a sex worker in India, she spoke from the safety of her own country, Bangladesh, via videoconferencing, a technology that could revolutionize the pursuit of justice in such cases.

The men in the western city of Mumbai appeared via video link more than 2,000 km (1,243 miles) west of Maldar as she sat in a government office in Jessore, a major regional hub for sex trafficking, 50 km from Bangladesh’s border with India.

“I saw the people who had trafficked me on the screen and I wasn’t scared to identify them,” Maldar, who now runs a beauty parlor from her home near Jessore, told Reuters. “I was determined to see them behind bars.”

“I told them how I was beaten for refusing to work in the brothel in the beginning and how the money I made was taken away,” she said, adding that she had lied to Indian authorities about her situation after being rescued, out of fear.

Thousands of people from Bangladesh and Nepal — mainly poor, rural women

and children — are lured to India each year by traffickers who promise good jobs but sell them into prostitution or domestic servitude, anti-slavery activists say.

Activists hope the safe, convenient technology could boost convictions. A Bangladeshi sex trafficker was jailed for the first time in 2016 on the strength of a victim’s testimony to a court in Mumbai via video link from Dhaka, Bangladesh’s capital.

Convictions for cross-border trafficking in the region are rare as most victims choose not to pursue cases that have traditionally required them to testify in Indian courts, which meant staying in a shelter for the duration of the trial.

“They have always wanted to go back home, to their families,” said Shiny Padiyara, a legal counsel at the Indian charity Rescue Foundation that has facilitated videoconferencing cases and runs shelters for trafficking victims. “And most never return to testify.”

But videoconferencing is making it easier to pursue justice. Survivors have given statements, identified their traffickers, and been cross examined in at least 10 other ongoing international cases in Bangladesh, advocates said.

“Enabling victims to testify via video conference will lead to a possible decrease in acquittal rates for want of prime witnesses,” said Adrian Phillips of Justice and Care, a charity that supports the use of video testimony to help secure justice.

Even then, it is tough. During Maldar’s three-hour deposition, she withstood a tough cross-examination, showed identity documents to prove her age and countered allegations by the defense lawyer that she was lying about her identity.

Students Combat Human Trafficking
Students Combat Human Trafficking, flickr

‘Unpardonable’

Tara Khokon Miya is preparing her 27-year-old daughter to testify against the men who trafficked her to India from Dhaka, where she had been working in a garment factory.

“I almost lost my daughter forever,” she said, sitting in her home in Magura, less than 50 km from Jessore, describing how she disappeared after work and was taken to a brothel in India, and raped and beaten for almost a year before being rescued.

“What the traffickers did to my daughter was unpardonable,” Miya said, wiping her tears. “We seek justice. I nurtured her in my womb and can’t describe what it felt like to not know about her whereabouts.”

The trial has been ongoing since 2013 when the young woman, who declined to be named, was repatriated. The charity Rights Jessore is helping the family through the process, by providing counseling and rehearsing cross-examination.

“The best thing is her father will be by her side when she talks in court,” Miya said, finally breaking into a smile.

India signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in 2015 to ensure faster trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and with Nepal in 2017, and laid down basic procedures to encourage the use of videoconferencing in court proceedings.

“The procedure is very transparent,” said judge K M Mamun Uzzaman at Jessore courthouse, which often converts its conference hall into a courtroom for videoconferencing cases to protect survivors’ privacy.

“I’m usually present and victims are able to testify confidently … it is easy and cost effective for us,” he said. “But the biggest beneficiaries are the survivors.”

Silencing Victims
Silencing Victims, pixabay

The future

Videoconferencing in Bangladesh has been plagued by technical glitches such as power cuts and poor connections.

“Sometimes the internet connection is weak or it gets disconnected during the testimony,” said Binoy Krishna Mallick head of Rights Jessore, a pioneer in using this technology to encourage trafficking survivors to pursue justice. “But these are just teething troubles.”

The bigger challenge, activists say, is to ensure survivors remain committed to the trial despite delays caused by a backlog of cases and witnesses’ failure to appear to testify.

Swati Chauhan, one of the first judges to experiment with video testimony in 2010, is convinced that technology can eliminate many of these hurdles.

Also read: Imagining Panun Kashmir: Dissent And Detente in South Asia

“Victims go through a lot of trauma, so it is natural that they don’t want to confront their trafficker in a court — but that doesn’t mean they don’t want the trafficker to be punished,” she said. “A videoconference requires meticulous planning and it is not easy coordinating between departments and countries. But it is the future for many seeking justice.” (VOA)