With inputs from Almaty and New York
On the 22nd of November, outside Almaty, local authorities demoished, 11 homes in 48 acres owned by members of ISCKON, a Hindu religious minority group in Kazakhstan. It left the families homeless in freezing temperatures and winter snow, the organisation has alleged.
A telecast on Khabar news few months ago showed the police investigating the commune and neighbors complaining that they keep buying up land, that none of the Krishnas have jobs and no one knows what they go, they don’t farm the land, in general, they are weirdos who need to go.
ISKCON or the International Society for Krishna Consciousness which was founded in 1966 by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and adheres to ancient Hindu beliefs, has come under controversy before. There is a popular belief in the US that the free diners they sponsor are drugged in order to brainwash and indoctrinate attendees. More seriously, there were reports that children in Krishna schools in Asia were being drugged, beaten, and molested. ISKCON itself published these reports and has moved to prevent these sorts of things happening. There also have been accusations of money laundering and racketeering by management.
It is not the first time this has happened, on the 25th April five cottages were destroyed by order of the regional court on the 29th of March. At that time, there were protests that the court did not give the prescribed 5 days warning, but the regional officials claimed everything was done by proper procedure, and announced that five more cottages were up for confiscation and demolition. The regional court also decided that the commune not be compensated.
The move is being decried by Hindu and human rights groups.
Hare Krishnas began buying land to form a commune in 1999 and have been in dispute with the authorities and neighbors. According to the World Wide Religious News article, there have been claims that they do not properly own the cottages or the land. In April, the claim was an accusation of forgery, allegedly committed by the former owners – not the current Hare Krishna owners – when the land was bought by the community in 1999.
The state alleges that the former owners changed the registered use recorded in the sale contract from ‘peasant farm’ to ’subsidiary farm’. Under Kazakh law, only the district administration head (akim) has the right to change the registered use of land. The 47.7 hectare [118 acre] farm is the only Hare Krishna commune in the former Soviet Union, and has long been the target of state attempts to close it down.
In April, there was apparently interview on Channel 31 in which a regional official said that
Hare Krishnas were “not accepted as a religion,” and that they were dangerous for the country, despite the fact that Hare Krishnas are registered in Kazakhstan as a religion. Hare Krishna members told Forum 18 that local officials had described the group as a “terrorist” organization that aims to create a situation similar to Chechnya. ISKCON became a legally registered organization under the laws of the Republic of Kazakhstan in 1992, according to ISCKON's website. The Krishnas claim that this is religious persecution, or corruption, disguised by bureaucratic regulations:
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.
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. The Kazakh government discourages independent political activity, and freedom of association and assembly is hindered by state regulations. Freedom of the press, in theory assured by the constitution, is not protected, and security services such as the KNB (Committee for National Security) routinely commit human rights abuses. The government permits some peaceful demonstration, but opposition leaders have been frequently harassed and imprisoned. The Kazakh government’s recent crackdown on independent media outlets has reinforced these claims.
Kazakhstan, the largest republic in Central Asia with a population of over 15 million and a strong ally of American war against Terrorism. It comprises over 130 ethnic groups who practice 40 religions including Jews. 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.
For the most part, religious activity is not restricted against minorities, and the government often invites the national leaders of the two largest Kazakh religions – Islam and Russian Orthodoxy – to participate jointly in state events. On many occasion, the government has acted against Islamic groups by claiming extremism.
Kazakhstan enjoys good relations with Israel. Diplomatic ties were established in 1992, and both countries have reciprocal embassies. Israel’s Center for International Cooperation, MASHAV, has partnered with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to develop Kazakh agriculture and microenterprise. The current MASHAV/USAID five-year Aral Sea project supplements MASHAV’s three agribusiness training centers in Kazakhstan. in Kazakhstan.
Numerous Israeli companies are involved in projects in Kazakhstan, and by early 2001 Israeli investments exceeded $270 million.