(The following article was posted in the "Meditations" column of the Hindustan Times, one of India's largest English language daily newspapers, on 16 February 2004.)
RUSSIA HAS corroborated its ability to evolve from a pre-glasnost nation with many single-minded legislators to one that allows religions other than its 'big four' - Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism - the right to, practice openly.
On November 10, 2003, this newspaper published an AFP release in which Sanjeev Jha, president of the Indian Association of Russia, talked about plans for a proposed building in Moscow.
All the hand-wringing happened because of a proposed Vedic centre in Moscow. Some locals had opposed a replacement centre for one that's soon to be demolished. In their disapproval, the protestors had dismissed exuberant Hindus, especially its bhaktas, as unrealistic extremists.
This small herd of independent minds, which included some Duma members, was described by news services as 'ultra-nationalist lawmakers'. It came up with an awesome application of the preIlX 'neo-': it was the term 'neo-religious'. This invented phrase applied to Vedic religion.
The new location, officially approved on January 20 by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, won't house one of the four 'traditional religions' of the region, although the global populations of Buddhists and Jews fall into fIfth and twelfth places respectively.
To a small but literate pack of protestors, Vedic had become 'neo', a 'novel religion'. Never mind that nearly a billion Hindus populate the globe, making their faith rank third in the world, after Christianity and Islam.
President Vladimir Putin's government has accepted even those primitive, bright-faced believers - the dancing, shaven-headed set. Maybe they're not so out of step. Luzhkov's signing the new land grant in city centre reaffirms that religion, which is often a traditional, sober, singular and private affair, can be different as well as public.
(The writer is emeritus member oj ISKCON governing body commission)