You know, we hate to disillusion Nursultan Nazarbayev, but his authoritarian state really doesn’t need Borat to give it a bad name. ISCKON is the “Hare Krishna” movement, rather than mainstream Hindus, but that doesn’t make this episode smell much better. Neither does the fact that (as Press Trust of India notes) India’s reactionary BJP is predictably exploiting the issue. From the Indo-Asian News Service, Nov. 22:
In a surprise move, 11 homes owned by members of ISCKON, a religious minority group in Kazakhstan, have been demolished by the local police, leaving the families homeless in freezing temperatures and winter snow, the organisation has alleged.
Incidentally, the bulldozing began even while a state special commission – appointed to investigate allegations of religious harassment against Hindus in Kazakhstan – had promised that no government action would be taken until the commission made its findings public.
The dispute began a few months ago when ISCKON members stared developing a cultural center on a piece of land owned by them on the outskirts of the capital Almaty.
The governor of the region however, wanted the court to evict the members from the site, according to reports appearing in the ISCKON website.
At a recent meeting held in Almaty and chaired by A.M. Muhkashov, the deputy director of the Kazakh government Religion Committee, the ISKCON delegation was clearly told that Hindus do not have a place in Kazakhstan.
The demolition Tuesday has been labelled as land grabbing by the local government by many human rights organizations. The incident has already evoked outrage from the Hindu community across the world, according to an ISCKON press release.
‘National Hindu organizations from the UK, United States, Canada, Australia, and other countries condemn this injustice, and call upon the Kazakhstan government to immediately stop the persecution of Hindus,’ said Ramesh Kallidai, secretary general of the Hindu Forum of Britain.
‘I have no words to describe what I have seen,’ said Ninel Fokina, head of the Almaty Helsinki Committee, an international human rights organization, monitoring the police action. ‘They have no right to put people out of their homes in winter.’
Kazakhstan, the largest republic in Central Asia with a population of over 15 million, comprises over 130 ethnic groups who practice 40 religions. Ethnic Russians, who typically are traditionally members of the Russian Orthodox Church, constitute around a third of the population while ethnic Kazakhs, who are Sunni Muslims, make up half.
ISKCON became a legally registered organization under the laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan in 1992, according to ISCKON’s website.
According to the US State Department’s 2005 International Religious Freedom report, the Kazakhstan government maintained a list of 73 minority religious groups, which are protected under the constitution.
According to the same report, several of these groups, including ISKCON, reported being vilified as a threat to society and national security by media agencies including government-controlled agencies in Kazakhstan.
‘Today the homes of innocent people of faith have been destroyed, and women and children put out into the snow, at the hands of a government that claims to value religious freedom,’ said Anuttama Dasa, spokesperson for ISKCON, North America.
‘Such aggression against innocent people, coupled with blatant governmental hypocrisy, should not be tolerated by the international community,’ he added.