Russian church blacklists eight India-based organizations

India Abroad News Service/May 12, 2001
By Arun Mohanty

The Russian Orthodox Church, which is playing an increasingly important role in post- Soviet Russia, has blacklisted eight India-based religious organizations, including ISKCON and the Brahma Kumaris who have a strong presence in this country.

The Russian Orthodox Church, the dominant religious institution in multi-religious Russia, has for the first time publicly released a list of organizations -- based in this country and abroad -- that it considers "harmful sects". The list was released at a conference, titled "Totalitarian sects: Danger of the 21st century", held in the Russian city of Nizhni-Novgorod under the patronage of the church.

According to the Moscow weekly journal Profile, the blacklisted India-based groups are the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the Ananda Marg, the organizations associated with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Sahaja Yoga, the sect of Shri Chinmoy, Brahma Kumari, the sect of Satya Sai Baba and Osho Rajneesh's organization. While ISKCON and Brahma Kumari appear to have a relatively strong following in Russia, the other organizations in the list have a marginal presence in this country.

Two India-related religious organizations that have escaped the axe of the Orthodox Church are the Ramakrishna Mission, which at one point of time had trouble in getting registration, and the Moscow Gurdwara Committee, possibly because they do not resort to conversion.

While a representative of ISKCON told IANS that it was a registered organization and had no legal problems in functioning in Russia, experts on religious affairs say official support to the outfit is waning fast, perhaps under pressure from the powerful local church.

The inclusion of these organizations in the list of "socially dangerous sects" means the Russian Orthodox Church would not like its followers to maintain relations with representatives of these groups, a church spokesman told IANS. Those who wish to come back from "totalitarian sects" to the fold of orthodox Christianity must go through special re-conversion rituals in the church, the spokesman said. The Orthodox Church has a rehabilitation center for the victims of the "harmful sects", the spokesman added.

Though state and religion, under the secular Russian Constitution, are separated from each other, Russia's powerful orthodox church enjoys massive support from the state and exercises strong influence over the political establishment of the country.

Worried by the rapid penetration of "dangerous sects" into Russian society in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse leading to "spiritual degeneration" of the Russian people, the Orthodox Church has been exerting pressure on the political elite to limit such organizations' activities.

The law on religion, adopted by the Duma, the lower house of Russian Parliament, includes provisions for limiting and even banning activities of pseudo-religious organizations considered harmful to Russian society.

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