From The Archive: ISKCON Child Protection Office – Role Questioned

Posted by in Devotional Community

Kṛṣṇacandra Dāsa – Śrī Vṛndāvan Dham: It is now common knowledge for any devotee that the Vṛndāvan Gurukula has been the site of some of the worst child abuse in the history of our movement. ISKCON itself suffered through the Turley Law Suit that threatened to rend our society asunder with loss of assets and funds all because the GBC steadfastly protected and supported the Principals of the schools who were either abusers themselves or who turned a blind eye to the abuse in their respective schools at the expense of the children.

It is claimed that the failure to act by the ISKCON institution itself to properly care for and protect children was due to ignorance of the fact that child abuse was occurring in their schools and that they as leaders could not work out what child abuse was and so they could not work out what they should do about it in their schools.

Such ignorance or neglect or lack of awareness of what is right and what is wrong when a child is being raped, molested, beaten or tortured has never and will never be an acceptable excuse from any person with a shred of common decency in their hearts. What human culture has ever been confused about the sexual or physical abuse of children?

In the 90’s Śrī Rama Dāsa, who was a main player and spokesman for the ministry of education in ISKCON, stated:

“When we first uncovered evidence of child abuse in gurukula, no one knew what to think or do. Most devotees never even heard of such things before. Why? Because hardly anyone outside of ISKCON knew much more than we did.“

This of course is a preposterous lie as the Principals of the various Gurukulas and their respective GBC would have been not only aware of the abuse in their schools but many times were the perpetrators of the abuse. The most infamous case would be Danurdhara Swami who violently abused boys in his care as the Principal of the Vṛndāvan Gurukula. Then there is the case of Gauri Dāsa who was the Ashram Director whose violent abuse of children in his care is well documented.

The second glaring error or misconception postulated by Śrī Rama Dāsa is that ‘hardly anyone outside of ISKCON knew much more than we did.’ This excuse is so preposterously pathetic that it is an insult to the reader’s intelligence what to speak of the thousands of Legislators, Prosecutors, Lawyers, Police officers, Healthcare professionals, Child Abuse Counselors etc that have been working in the field of Child Abuse for decades. The US Public Law Act 93-247 of 1974 was specifically designed to provide federal funding to States in support of prevention, assessment, investigation, prosecution, and treatment activities which clearly demonstrates that the US federal government was well aware of the necessity to fund such awareness programs in the early 70s yet the ISKCON educators would have us believe that hardly anyone knew about issues related to the abuse of children in the 90s.

Full awareness and understanding of child abuse in ISKCON in general came many years after the leaders in education first knew of the problem and promoted change. Of course, the story goes further than the early 1990s, and much more needed to be done. Even now, we can still improve our system for educating and protecting our most valuable and vulnerable members. [Chakra 2005 – Urmila Devī Dāsī]

Here we can again see that as late as 2005 the very same rationale espoused where the ISKCON educators are still claiming that they only knew of the problem as late as the 90s.

The fact is that the GBC and the Principals of the schools knew full well what was happening in the ISKCON Gurukulas and if they did not then they were so disconnected from the society in which they lived that they are grossly unqualified to lead in any capacity. However not only did they turn a blind eye towards it, they actively set about setting up departments to institutionally support the abusive teachers and principals and to officially thwart, suppress and ignore any complaint from the children, parents and concerned devotees of ISKCON.

The International Child Protection Office and ISKCON Resolve was established by the then Principals of the Schools and Members of the ISKCON Ministry of Education and was never intended to protect the child but to protect the institution itself.

The one clarifying factor in the ineffectiveness of the CPO to meet the needs of its manifesto which is allegedly for the protection of the children of ISKCON is that most of the cases adjudicated by the CPT units of the various Yatras around the world have not initially involved the local police whose statutory duty is to investigate any report of child abuse in the community.

The fact that the ISKCON Principals thought to establish their own investigative and judiciary body for the protection of our children demonstrates that their intention is not to deal with our children’s protection but to engage in damage control and cover-up of any reported abuse of our children.

They know full well that since ISKCON possesses an official reporting, investigation and judicial system that devotees will choose to deal with this matter internally and not seek police intervention which would prove hugely problematic for the Institution should adults and children begin reporting incidents to the proper authorities to investigate.

The pressure placed on a devotee to use the system as established by the institution to report / investigate and adjudicate any incident of child abuse is immense. Peer and institutional pressure is naturally exerted on the devotee to not go to the police, especially in 2nd and 3rd world countries where the police force may be problematic.

In India and in particular Vṛndāvan the local authorities usually do not act due to financial incentives from organizations and individuals who criminally interfere with an investigation by bribing the police officials to prevent victims from officially reporting the incident. In Vrndavan victims are not able to document their case by filling out a First Information Report [FIR] as this makes the report official and it is then mandatory that the Police take action on the report. If this is not filled out the incident is shelved. The local Temple authorities and GBC of ISKCON are very well aware of this service provided by the local law enforcement…

However it must be noted that it is mandatory by the law of the land to report any incident of child abuse to the local Police or other such statutory Child Protection Authority such as Welfare Departments etc and failure to do so is a criminal offence in most countries.

The CPO or any Child Protection Team has no legal authority or professional capacity to investigate and adjudicate on criminal matters such as child abuse. The fact that a case has been investigated and adjudicated by the institution itself should not be cause for the belief in a devotee that they have taken all necessary action to make sure there has been no travesty of justice.

Devotees should view the reporting of an incidence of child abuse to ISKCON authorities without first reporting this abuse to the local police or authorities as being a morally irresponsible act and should know that to only report the incident internally without also reporting it to the police is not only illegal but irresponsible.

Yet what a shock would it be to see Police or Welfare officers who have the mandate, duty and authority to enter into our schools or communities to conduct a thorough investigation. We must not see this as a failure on our part or a traitorous act, but this is the most beneficial and proper procedure in cases of child abuse within our society.

If we observed another religious organization also fail to report to the local police or welfare when their children are being abused we would see this as amoral and an irresponsible act yet we appear to see that it is also amoral and irresponsible or a form of betrayal to report any abuse, fraud, theft, assault or murder in our society to the appropriate public authorities.

It is irrelevant whether or not the CPO is good or bad for our society; it has no legal or moral right to take the place of the law of the land and offer investigative and judiciary procedures on such vital issues as the protection of our children.

It also sets a dangerous precedent on other forms of law – will the institution choose to take on as its duty – fraud / murder / theft / embezzlement or misappropriation of funds as being within the realm of their jurisdiction to officially investigate and adjudicate when all of these are criminal offenses punishable by law?

Actually most of the above mentioned crimes have in fact been dealt with internally and to all extents and purposes covered up. Had the perpetrators been reported, investigated, adjudicated and punished by the criminal justice system our society would be a much healthier and Kṛṣṇa conscious society.

Having said that, the following clearly demonstrates that the institution’s answer to Child Protection is mere whitewash for in the aftermath of the Turley Law Suit one would think that the GBC and the Gurus of ISKCON would diligently act to make sure that we as a worldwide devotional community would act appropriately with regards to the atrocities committed by abusive teachers, Principals and other staff upon their child wards, however this is apparently not the case.

In ISKCON the victim should feel fully supported by the GBC and Temple authorities to go to the police in cases of child abuse or reporting criminal activity, in fact they should represent the victim in such cases. Yet the victim fears the ISKCON institution who has always sided with the criminal and vilifies and alienates the victim or reporter of the crime.

Coming to light by the article by Sanaka Rsi Prabhu it is now obvious that the GBC have not learned a thing or perhaps they simply don’t care anymore to even bother to lift a finger to protect children under their care.

Furthermore how is it possible that in this stage in the development of our Vaiṣṇava society that the International Child Protection Office be so negligent as to allow the most prominent Yatra in our movement to be nearly two years without a Child Protection Team??? The responsibility of such a body would be to make sure all our communities have fully staffed well, trained and supervised CPT Officers at the very least and yet they irresponsibly overlooked such a vital Yatra?

How did this oversight occur if not due to gross negligence?

This incident should have been reported to the local police however, the teacher involved and others coming to her aid chose not to report this matter to the police but due to the acculturation inherent in our society they chose to keep such matters inside the confines of the ‘family’ by choosing to follow the procedure prescribed by the institution.

This “keeping it inside the family” mentality is simply the breeding ground for child abuse and neglect. It must be acculturated into our Vaiṣṇava society that it is not amoral to report a criminal offence to the local authorities and that it is in fact illegal if one doesn’t. It is actually amoral to keep such things inside the family for this particular family is a criminal / abusive / dysfunctional family that relentlessly and shamelessly seeks to protect the wrongdoers instead of punishing them.

The GBC of Śrī Vṛndāvan Dham and the Temple President have been grossly negligent in their duty to protect and care for the children of their community by allowing the Yatra to be without a CPT unit so they have no idea whether or not children are being abused in the Gurukula or local community. It must be noted that the Gurukula and Temple authorities irresponsibly not having a CPT unit in their community cannot prove conclusively that abuse did or did not go on in their community or the Gurukula. So what value is any investigation that they may conduct????

In an institution like our FISKCON society or any institution where criminal activity takes place any delay in reporting an incident leaves the institution with the ability to do damage control such as destruction of evidence or intimidation of witnesses etc. Not having a CPT unit in place or an official Police report made and investigated, as the first step in any child abuse claim; makes any belayed investigation by the CPO’s evidence inadmissible as the evidence may have been subjected to interference by the institution.

Due to their ignorance and negligence, the GBC and Temple President of ISKCON Vṛndāvan have failed to consider that the Vṛndāvan Gurukula Authorities have historically been more interested in making children fit into their plans rather than serving the children with love, care and compassion by not only appointing unqualified morally indecent teachers and staff, but also they have had Principals and Ashram Directors who are violent child abusers themselves and so have yet to prove that they are capable of properly protecting the children under their care.

The GBC and in particular Gopal Kṛṣṇa Mahārāja have never demonstrated any interest, aptitude or responsibility towards the children of the Vṛndāvan Gurukula and have knowingly left the administrators to do whatever they like, which in hindsight has been to create nothing but a breeding ground for the abuse of children.

One may point the finger at this present administration as being hugely problematic and unqualified by spiritual standard to properly care for children however the preceding administration under Braja Bihārī and his wife Ananda Vṛndāvan Mataji were, as far as we know, guilty of many times more wrongdoing and cover-ups with regards to the care and protection of children under their administration than has been disclosed in these recent exposes.

Since the beginning of the furor regarding child abuse exposure in ISKCON Braja Bihārī spearheaded the formation of the CPO and irresponsibly established an unprofessional internal CPT unit within the school during the years of the Turley Law Suit and its aftermath, which speaks volumes of his lack of professionalism and self interests in the concealment of any abuse in the gurukula.

I myself was a member of the internal Vṛndāvan Gurukula CPT until I left the Gurukula in disgust and established an external CPT unit with the help of Amekala Devī Dāsī to cater for the children of the Vṛndāvan Community. However, once leaving the Gurukula we were not allowed access to the children, or they to us, so to all extents and purposes this unit was impotent to receive or investigate any complaints from within the school.

The school on the other hand claims that all sexual abuse that went on with their students were based on sexual exploration and experimentation amongst the children themselves which they believed were natural consequences of adolescence which is the very same claim that the Gurukulas in Māyāpura under Bhaktividya Purna Swami claimed when questioned on the child abuse that was going on in their schools.

Due to the Gurukulas acculturating a insular/isolationist ‘code of silence’ within their schools for their staff and children none of the incidents were made public within our devotional community and none, it seems, were properly reported to CPO – yet many of us long term residents knew of incidents but for want of proper investigative procedures or evidence were not able to act to protect the children.

The children and parents on the other hand were either too embarrassed or fearful of repercussions by the Gurulkula Administration to go on record as is the case in any impersonal and/or criminal organization where the members fear retaliation from the authorities. The isolationist culture promoted by the Gurukula leadership in ISKCON is a breeding ground for abuse for what better social milieu is needed than a social system that encourages secrecy and deceit by the children and staff which severs any link with the outside community?

The most disturbing of all the aspects of the abuse in the history of our Vaiṣṇava society is that the institution without fail seeks to avoid being held accountable and therefore responsible for child neglect and abuse. This cover up and denial mentality is now systemic within our society and so long as this is not stopped we will continue to ruin the lives of our children. This is exactly why the protection of our children cannot be placed in the hands of the institution as is the case within our ISKCON society.

It is symptomatic of a severely dysfunctional leadership when after four decades of child abuse in our schools not one single leader has stepped forward and taken a leadership role in the protection of our children. But alas our leaders seem to be more interested in what they can take from any community as opposed to what they can give to the community. So long as no ISKCON leader makes a stand to openly protect the children of our society then we have to accept the fact that our children will be abused.

Apart from that, what will it take for our society to wake up and do something as a society to stop the low class, uncouth and outright criminal behavior of our leaders?

If one reads what has happened in ISKCON Vṛndāvan over the last six months one would clearly see that we are a community in turmoil which is being led by unscrupulous men who have done their damnedest to drag our glorious Vaiṣṇava society through the open sewers of India and we stand powerless to stop them. No amount of exposure of their heinous activities will deter them in their avaricious greedy grab for whatever they can get their hands on. They are so thick skinned that any accusations fall from their hides like water off a ducks back and they march on their way full of self righteousness born from the fact that the institution will always protect their own at the expense of the truth and its members.

How can we call ourselves exponents of Bhāgavata Dharma? A Religious society based on the absolute truth when our leaders are such abject liars, cheats and frauds??

The very fact that the Gurukula authorities / the so called ISKCON Ministry for Educational Development and the International Child Protection Office are bedfellows means we will never be able to properly care for and protect our children.

This Vṛndāvan Gurukula has been an insult and smear on our Vaiṣṇava society for as long as it has been in the hands of the unscrupulous GBC and its various apologist departments. The only way to practically care for children is to close such a school down until we have the appropriately qualified leadership in our society to make sure that children in our care can be cared for and protected.

The Gurukula system that Śrīla Prabhupāda envisioned and taught us to establish has never been attempted because the GBC has never been interested in following Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions from the get go. They have deviously and relentlessly made our children’s and their parents lives a living hell and have stolen their devotional futures by corrupting the Gurukula system to the point that it is now no more than a poorly run secular schooling system.

What in a real sense is the use of the CPO and Ministry for Educational Development or the ISKCON Resolve Department when they are severely dysfunctional? They serve no real or productive purpose within our Vaiṣṇava society apart from protecting the interests of the leadership and so are to all extents and purposes defunct.

Parents are better off homeschooling their children or if this is not possible then to send their children to karmi schools: until we, as a society, mature to the point that we can reject the present grossly unqualified leaders and appoint properly qualified leaders. It is only then that we can even hope to develop an educational system for our children and adults that is based on Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions and the Śrīmad Bhāgavatam / Bhagavad Gītā / Caitanya Caritamrta etc.

For this to be ‘real’ it will also require a complete and utter overhaul of the present Ministry of Educational Development/ International Child Protection Office and ISKCON Resolve to weed out the nepotistic old guard FISKCON educationalists and their apologists.

We as a society have to develop an ethos and value system that abhors the old guard corrupt system that the FISKCON leadership has acculturated into our ISKCON society if we are to have a chance to grow and develop our Vaiṣṇava society under the tenets and auspices established by Śrīla Prabhupāda and the paramparā.

If we don’t then the present so called leaders of our society will continue to corrupt and debase our members and our Vaiṣṇava society and we will be no different to the multitude of cheating religions around the world.

Originally Published: 3rd December 2011