Siberia is contemplating banning the Bhagavad Gita in Siberia on the grounds that it is ‘extremist literature’.
Fact – Siberian Court is to take a decision of banning the book – “Bhagavad Gita – As It Is”, distributed by ISKCON, however, this might lead to the banning of all/any versions of Bhagavad Gita in general.
Reason – it advocates war and this is ‘extremist literature’.
Well I guess the Gita is extremist in the sense that it is radical, it is different, and it is revolutionary. Yes, it is all this, but not extremist in the current sense of its meaning i.e. it is not terrorist material!
Yes, Gita does advocate a war. The recitation of the Gita takes place in the epic Mahabharata, on the battle field of Kurukshetra, when Arjuna declines from fighting the battle since all the ‘enemies’ were his relatives. It is then that Lord Krishna recites the Gita and gets him to fight the battle. Yes, Krishna did encourage Arjuna to fight the battle. So is it not promoting war?
Herein lies the difference in the war of Kurukshetra and any other war.
The war of Kurukshetra was not just a war for a piece of land. When seen in context, it was a war for the establishment of justice. All norms of civilised behaviour had been broken, all diplomatic efforts had been explored and every possible effort to avoid the war had been resorted to. This war itself was a consequence of immense greed and selfishness and a series of misdeeds towards mankind in general. The war was the last option and there was no going back to the discussion table (as per the corporate jargon). The only choice one had was to have a just-war then or have an evil-war later on. With so much at stake, it was just right on the part of Lord Krishna to instil in Arjuna a sense of duty that simply dictates that there must not be any slackness in the actions performed in anticipation of the results.
To see Gita as a treatise on war and peace only is missing the basic point. The basic principle of Gita recommends a war only for the protection of dharma in pursuit of karma (duty) of the addressee, and that too as a last option. The dharma, which encompasses more than the term ‘religion’, is primarily about karma or duty. The true implication of what Krishna told Arjuna in Gita was that the war was a quest for justice and the ultimate objective of the war, was preservation of mankind. Krishna did not support an un-equal battle, a war which was not a Dharmayuddha - or righteous war (as against a ‘religious’ war), without allocating the burden of karma (duty).
Gita is not just a book, but a song of philosophy. If one reads it and understands it (both are two different activities), then one doesn’t have to know much else. Many read it as a ritual, but few understand the essence of it. Reading Gita is self-actualization – better known as ‘swadhyay’, but how many people can understand the simple meaning of this word and the work in general?
Should we be worried about Siberia banning the book?
My answer is why should we? Will banning the book by an obscure court of a Siberian town undermine the might of the book? Is the banning of the book not an act of utter illiteracy on the part of that Society? Isn’t it their loss, that they are keeping a section of the world population away from such a profound work of philosophy?
But not raising a voice might be misconstrued as a weakness of the nation?
Will it? Doesn’t the nation have priorities within rather than outside? Why allow some selfish politician to make the profound work of literature his dice to play with? Who are the people complaining – the ones who know nothing more than the spelling of the word ‘Gita’? Aren’t these the same people who themselves seek ban on books every now and then? Aren’t these the same people who wouldn’t hesitate to burn any other work of literature, when it would suit them?
Will it not hurt our national pride?
Will it? Where does our national pride go when the world sees our parliamentarians hurling missiles at each other in the august parliament of ours? Where does our national pride go when we see state-sponsored-hooliganism unleashed on our national heritage like museums and other artefacts? Where does our national pride go when the world observes our abysmal state of preparation for international events and the level of service standards?
So should we let go and not protest and raise our voices?
Yes we should protest and raise our voice. But raise it for the right reason. Raise your voice against the fundamentals – banning any work of literature. Protest against the ban which does not allow debate and discourse. Protest against the ban which does not allow a different cultural view point to coexist with the local. Protest against the ban which does not allow others to read a class of literature just because some parochial viewpoint has been given precedence against a more culturally inclusive thought process.
To conclude, I would like to quote Jesus Christ, from the Bible “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34). I guess that comes to me naturally because I have been brought up on the tenets of Gita which is a philosophy which the Siberians will be denied by their own courts of law!
Many have said that in the epic Mahabharat, use of weapons of mass destruction has been promoted. We will see that next.