ISKCON Vṛndāvan Gurukula Child Abuse – 2011 Part Two tagged:

ISKCON Vṛndāvan Gurukula Child Abuse – 2011 Part Two

Posted by in Devotional Community, Vrindavan

Sanaka Ṛṣi Dāsa – India: As promised I am now submitting the second part to “ISKCON Vṛndāvan Gurukula Child Abuse – 2011. I took heart from the huge response that my first article had, that something needed to be done to make sure that the children of our society are being properly protected.

After sending the first email I shared in part one, within 5 hours, I received a stern response from Champakalata, stating her concern, and that an investigation to ascertain these serious allegations needed to be started at once. The following day, I sent her my second email which I share below.

The email was sent to: Bhakta Rupa Dāsa, Champakalata Devī Dāsī, Ananda Vṛndāvan Devī Dāsī, Pragosha Dāsa and Brajaboomi Devī Dāsī.

To date this second email remains unanswered.

The reason why I decided to make this issue public is that it appears that as soon as the CPO began to understand the seriousness of the incident, their immediate response was to stop any form of written communication. This, in my opinion, undermines the credibility and transparency of the CPO. It has also been my experience that when the institution puts up a wall of silence it means that it is seeking to cover up the incident to protect what it believes is its best interest, which is usually at the expense of the truth and the victims.

In the interest of protecting and giving voice to the child, I found the only course of action open to me is to proceed to go public as the international devotional community deserves to know the truth of what is happening with regards to children under our care and protection in our schools and communities.

As this incident occurred in our ISKCON Vṛndāvan Temple which has a bad reputation for not protecting their children and concealing their abuse, it is very important that this matter is dealt with properly and as soon as possible.

Dear Champakalata Mataji,

Please accept my respectful obeisance; All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

I am very concerned by the more recent developments of the case in the Vrindavana Gurukula.

I have been informed from reliable sources that Vrajabhumi’s report
has been forwarded to Lila Purusottam prabhu, the school’s principal.
Although she has not been called back to the school since the
incident, he claims that it is not true that the school has discharged
her.

I have also been informed that one of the former students asserts that
the last incident of corporal punishment (about a year old) was not
adequately investigated or addressed by the school management.

Gopal Krishna Maharaj called Vrajabhumi mataji at 5 am to tell her
that Tejasvini mataji is a very nice devotee. He also told Vrajabhumi
that he contributed 20 lack rupees (about 40.000 us$) to save the
school from bankruptcy. She asked maharaj why she had been dismissed
for reporting incidents of abuse and he replied that her discharge was
not a primary concern.

I have been told from reliable sources that Pancagauda prabhu has
appointed Braja Bihari prabhu (an Indian devotee) to conduct an
“internal” investigation of the incident. I wish to know if this has
been cleared by the CPO, or if it was a local initiative as an attempt
at “damage control”.

Braja Bihari das, is the temple accountant, very competent in his
service I`m told, however, he lacks the experience and training in
child protection necessary to adequately conduct the investigation.
The other problem is that being employed by the temple, the
reliability of his findings will be open to doubt.

Braja Bihari prabhu is in possession of Vrajabhumi’s report. I am
concerned that whoever gave him a copy may not have removed the names
of the children from the same. This would be a very serious blunder.

To avoid conflicts of interests, the investigator needs to be a senior
devotee of outstanding integrity, with experience in child protection
protocols, who enjoys the trust and support of the community and who
is visibly independent from the Gurukula, the temple and Gopal Krishna
Maharaj.

I spoke with Nirguna Mataji (the former Vrindavana CPT), she has
expressed that besides her health issues another reason that
discouraged her from continuing CPO service is that the school’s
current management is not interested to hear what she has to say.

She feels that they are under the impression they know how the school
is best run and are not particularly open to hearing her or anybody
else’s views. (Even though they received hardly any training, and seem
to be mostly unaware of the history of the Vrindavana Gurukula)

The present management of the school has been operating without
consulting the CPO for two years, seemingly unaware that in Vrindavana
there had been no CPO representatives since Nirguna resigned at the
beginning of their tenure. It also appears that they did not know that
they are required to report regularly to the CPO.

The above substantiates Nirguna’s impression that they are not
particularly interested in receiving feedback and suggestions. It also
shows that they were handed the management of the Gurukula without the
necessary training.

Nirguna Mataji confirmed that the teachers and managers of the school
are quite new as devotees; they are running the Gurukula like an old
school bhakta program. In her words, the only experience they have to
draw from is their own, and how they were introduced to Krsna
consciousness. They figure, it worked for us; it will work for the
kids as well. Their approach to giving Krsna Consciousness to the
children is forceful.

Although she has not expressed this, I suspect that one of the factors
that contributed to her decision to withdraw from her CPT services has
been the total lack of support and concern she has experienced on the
part of the CPO.

I am not sure who decided it was a good idea to share the report with
the school. I wish to express my disappointment in this regard. I am
disturbed that anyone thought this to be advisable; it is an
irresponsible breach of confidentiality. This was a bad idea on many
levels.

Because Vrajabhumi was dismissed over the phone, and there is nothing
in writing, it is easy for the school to now back track and claim that
it is not true.

This brings several potential advantages for the school. They can
attempt to save face by claiming that they have not done something as
unacceptable as firing a teacher for reporting irregularities in the
school. At the same time this brings into question the credibility of
mother Vrajabhumi’s word thus it undermines her whole report.

The first problem created by this breach of confidentiality is that
now we are faced with an awkward situation where we have her word
against Radhakanta’s.

I have inquired from devotees who have known mother Vrajabhumi for
most of her devotional life; she is known to be a dedicated and
truthful vaisnavi.

But this is the least of my concerns, by far, the greater concern, is
the potential harm that may come to the children in the school. For
starters the school authorities are now aware of the identity of the
children who spoke up.

One of the golden rules in child protection states that “As long as
the accused has access to potential victims, they are not to be
informed that reports of their alleged abuse have been made to the
authorities, until the investigation starts”. This is so as to limit
their ability to tamper with any evidence or potential witnesses; it
to protect the best interest of the children.

I mentioned the necessity not to inform the school until the
investigation was ready to start in my first mail where I submitted
Vrajabhumi’s report. I am curious to know why and by whom this was
disregarded?

In the context of child protection, confidentiality is extremely
important. It is essential however to understand that it must serve
the higher purpose of protecting the children.

The moment maintaining confidentiality becomes harmful to the children
it must be disregarded. When Radhakanta requested Vrajabhumi not to
report the incident to the CPO, her “breaching of confidentiality” was
appropriate and commendable. On the other hand, I am unable to see any
advantages for the protection of the children or the investigation
that justified this serious breach of confidentiality.

In the off chance that the devotees running the school are indeed ill
intentioned, this gives them all the time in the world to ensure the
investigators will have an extremely difficult if not impossible task.
They can cover up, tamper with and dispose of any evidence that may
have otherwise been available. Should they choose to go to such
lengths; they will also be able to intimidate the children to prevent
them from speaking freely.

If you think this is too farfetched from the reality of the situation,
I ask you to think again. This would not be the first such instance in
the history of the Vrindavana Gurukula.

For an investigator, the task of getting the children to speak about
the abuse they have suffered is extremely arduous as it is.

The children had a relationship with Vrajabhumi mataji and they felt
comfortable enough with her to share their pain. Now they see that she
is gone. If they have been intimidated in any way and/or warned not to
speak, chances are the investigators will come and go without
uncovering what may have taken place. This will perpetuate the abuse.

I find it sadly ironic to see the similarities between this incident
and the first investigation that was carried out for Gauri in 1995. I
find it unsettling to witness how little has changed in regards to our
society’s awareness on child protection, and how little we have
learned from our past mistakes.

For argument’s sake, it is possible that Vrajabhumi’s allegations are
unfounded. It is also possible that the devotees running the school
are very nice and sincere individuals that would never hurt a fly. My
point is that even if this is the case, it is irrelevant.

What should be of serious concern is that the CPO’s ability of conduct
the best possible investigation to ascertain the facts has been
undermined for no good reason. This is a highly unprofessional
conduct.

The allegations contained both in Vrajabhumi’s report and the ones
pertaining the recent incident of corporal punishment in the
Vrindavana Gurukula, are clear indicators that the school may not be
playing clean.

I suspect, the school authorities are repeating the same mistake that
has been responsible for the vast majority of the abuse that plagued
ISKCON’s attempts in the field of child protection and education over
the years.

It appears that the devotees in the school see the interests of the
school and the interests of the children as being separate and
conflicting; they seem to be under the impression that protecting the
reputation of the school takes precedence over ensuring the safety of
the children.

It is commonplace amongst unqualified individuals that take on
responsibilities of managing schools or other institutions to fall
into the trap of identifying with their establishment. Effectively the
organization they work for becomes an extension of their ego; instead
of viewing criticisms made to their institution as opportunities to
improve the service offered, they come to see them as personal
attacks.

When such individuals have come to value their personal image and the
reputation of the institution more than the essence, in this case more
than the stated intention of the school, then inevitably the quality
of the service offered deteriorates and the result is that children
suffer and pay the price.

Srila Prabhupada established Gurukulas to raise Krsna Conscious
children. The sign outside of the Bhaktivedanta Swami Gurukula in
Vrindavana reads, “Bhaktivedanta Swami International School, Now
Teaching Fine Arts”. There is no mention that if you enroll your
children in this school they will become Krsna conscious.

Looking at ISKCON’s history and Mother Vrajabhumi’s recent
allegations, chances are we are destroying these children’s faith in
Krsna instead. I get the sense that this school has lost track of its
mission statement and/or its purpose.

What is the benefit to ISKCON and to society for us to be making a
poor job at running yet another boarding school where the children are
abused and leave with a bad impression of ISKCON, the Vaisnavas and
Krsna?

The ISKCON authorities have offered support to the school. Gopal
Krishna Maharaj (the Vrindavana GBC) called Vrajabhumi implying (I am
not sure on what grounds) that her assessment of Tejasvini was
inaccurate. He told Vrajabhumi that Tejasvini and the other devotees
running the school are very qualified individuals because they are all
graduates of IIT in Kanpur (one of the most prestigious universities
in India). As if a degree in and of itself is sufficient qualification
to teach Krsna Consciousness to children and offer them the necessary,
love, support and protection. Note that in the conversation, he did
not express any concern for the well being of the children, nor did he
take the trouble to visit the children to reassure them when he was in
Vrindavana.

Has anybody bothered to inquire on the wellbeing of the children, to
reassure them, or look up Vrajabhumi and congratulate her for her
courage in speaking up in an environment where this is clearly
discouraged, or to find out how she is feeling?

This attitude is reminiscent of the old institutional unconsciousness
that idolizes the institution at any cost and above all – even the
safety of small children – .

This behaviour will discourage teachers and children alike from
speaking up in the future. It seems that little has changed or has
been learned from the 30 years or so of ISKCON’s incredibly expensive
educational mistakes.

The report is only a few days old, but it already bears the hallmarks
of a despicable cover-up, deny, troubleshoot and whitewash policy.
This has turned the whole issue into a circus; needless to say that
the ones who stand to lose the most are as always the innocent
children.

These circumstances indicates that one or more of the recipients of
this mail may have been more interested in safeguarding the image of
the school than in facilitating an impartial investigation to
ascertain the truth to best protect the children.

I have just been informed that Pancagauda prabhu, the Vrindavana
Temple president, now that the investigation has not yet begun, has
said that it has already been decided that Tejasvini, the accused,
will be reinstated in the school after the investigation is completed.
I am speechless.

I am appalled and deeply concerned by these developments. I dread to
think how things would have turned out if somehow Krsna had not
decided to involve me in this ridiculous mess.

I suggest that Kurmarupa prabhu is encouraged to be a part of the
investigation team. Though I suspect he may not be willing to get involved,
I regard him to be by far one of the best men, with the necessary integrity
for the job. If he is unwilling, we need to find a devotee of similar character.

If we observe the actions of the GBC and senior devotees involved in
this incident and see how little concern and importance they have
afforded to the protection of the children, and on the other hand how
much emphasis has been given to money and protecting the image of the
establishment, it is no wonder that the new devotees running the
Gurukula have little regard for child protection. We can hardly blame
them.