Sanaka Ṛṣi – ITALY: After publishing my recent article on Bhaktividya Pūrṇa Swami a number devotes asked me to officially request the CPO to have Maharaj’s case reviewed.
Over the last few years I have interacted with the CPO in two different capacities, unfortunately my experiences bring me to believe that any effort to have the CPO address Maharaj’s situation adequately and satisfactorily would be time consuming, frustrating and most likely ineffective.
There are several reasons that have led me to this conclusion. One of the more prominent is my recent experience working on the revision of the CPO manual. The current, ineffective version is several years old and badly in need of a comprehensive update.
Early in 2010 the GBC requested me to help with its revision. Anuttamā prabhu and Tamohara prabhu are the GBC members that were appointed to oversee its ratification process; unfortunately as Praghoṣa Prabhu suggested in correspondence with me; it is important for me to understand that they do not have as much time as they wish they had to dedicate to the revision of the CPO Manual. I apologize, but I do not understand. As it turned out, they were too busy to complete the task. My personal opinion is that a more likely cause for their failure to honour their commitment is that child protection does not fare very high on their personal priority list and that of the GBC as a whole.
As a consequence to this, the proposed amendments to the CPO manual were not presented at the last GBC meetings for approval, as per the original agreement, and their implementation is currently postponed indefinitely. Their lack of participation leaves me wondering why these two devotees accepted to take on the task in the first place.
In these two articles (N.1 and N.2) I describe the frustrations and disappointments I encountered working on the revision of the CPO Manual and in attempting to obtain some semblance of appropriate justice from the CPO on a specific case.
In my opinion the GBC exercises an unduly strong, unhealthy, and bias influence over the CPO. So while officially Tamohara prabhu has resigned as the director of the CPO, we find both him and Anuttamā prabhu, two GBC members, appointed to supposedly oversee the revision of the CPO Manual. In my understanding, the nutshell of the problem is that the primary purpose the GBC sees in the CPO (and the main reason for its creation) is not, and never was, the protection of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s children.
My experience tells me that the GBC differentiates between what they consider to be the best interests of the institution, and its ruling class, and the best interests of its rank and file members (including the children). The primary purpose of the CPO was and is the protection of what, the GBC regard to be the best interest of the institution and its elite. In my experience, when, what the GBC regards as being the best interest of the institution conflicts with the appropriate protection and best interests of one or more children, whenever the GBC can get away with it, the interests of the children are consistently neglected.
It is unfortunate that the GBC does not seem to have the foresight to understand that the best interests of the children and the best long-term interests of ISKCON are one and the same, that they are inseparable; and that without its children ISKCON has no real future. This emergency based, and short-sighted approach to management is counterproductive, for it only allows a very limited perspective; it is directly responsible for the abuse of countless children and adults within ISKCON.
The very structure of the present CPO supports my concerns. Over the years the GBC have strongly resisted any and all attempts to create an accountable, independent and authoritative CPO body; unconcerned with the fact that a CPO body that is subordinate to the GBC is ineffective, lacks authority and credibility.
The CPO office is in Alachua while the CPO director, Champakalata prabhu, lives is in South Africa where she works two jobs, because the GBC recently decided that the annual CPO budget would be better spent elsewhere, this means that she can only dedicate a limited amount of her time to her CPO work; which in and of itself is a very demanding, full time occupation.
Champakalata prabhu, lacks influence and authority; I am of the opinion that this is intentional and that it was a determining factor in her selection. This makes me wonder, who are the individuals responsible for her appointment, and leaves me questioning their motives.
If a situation arises where a new bhakta, or a devotee who does not hold a senior management position molests some children, she can and will be very effective. However, if the perpetrator is a senior and influential individual, or somebody who enjoys the protection of the elite, there is little she can and will do.
Here is a recent example that perfectly illustrates this point; a devotee from Mauritius named Nathabara moved to the devotee community in North Carolina, after being expelled from the Alachua temple over sexual misconducts of some sort.
When I was growing up in Villa Vrindavana, I clearly remember Nathabara coming to stay for a while in Italy, with his wife and daughter. Already back then he was notorious for taking advantage of women, disregarding his and their marital status.
Prior to moving to North Carolina, on more than one occasion, this man had also sexually molested an 8 year old girl in Mauritius. When his victim (by then grown up) came to know that Nathabar was living in North Carolina, she filed a detailed report of the shocking incident with the CPO.
A copy of this report was given to Bhir Krishna Maharaj, the local GBC, Krishna Priya dāsī, the local temple president at the time, Goloka dāsī, the local CPO representative at the time and to Nathabara and his wife. Bhir Krishna Maharaj ordered, I quote; “Let’s keep this to ourselves”.
For 13 years, nobody else was informed that the local GBC and temple authorities had knowingly exposed the children in the community to the attacks of a known paedophile, by giving Nathabara shelter and unrestricted access to the kids. These facts only came to light in recent times, when it was discovered that Nathabara had sexually abused a 2 year old girl in the community in North Carolina.
When the father of the victim and other devotees from the community confronted Bhir Krishna Maharaj, he claimed ignorance, stating that he had no recollection of the above mentioned report about Nathabara’s history of abuse in Mauritius.
The parents of the victim then filed an official complaint with Champakalata Prabhu, the current CPO director. Champakalata proved unprofessional and completely unsupportive to the parents, she shared their private correspondence with Bhir Krishna Maharaj, and refused to keep them updated on the progress of the case, claiming that doing so would compromise Bhir Krishna Maharaj’s position. After evaluating the evidence, Champakalata concluded that, given the circumstances, Bhir Krishna Maharaj had done everything he could have.
The conclusion of this case is that this year, at the annual Māyāpur GBC meeting Champakalata was reprimanded and Bhir Krishna Maharaj was given censure; which means that he was forced to apologize to the parents and to the community. It was felt that his apology lacked in substance and authenticity, coming more from a necessity to fulfil an obligation rather than a genuine sense of remorse.
Many like to dismiss their personal responsibility in regard to child protection by hiding behind the illusion that child abuse is a problem of the past. When they think of child abuse they like to relegate it to the Dallas Gurukula of the 1970s, or the Gurukulas in Lake Huntington, Vrindavana and Māyāpur in 1980s. The truth, as this case and many others shows, is that child abuse is still very much a dark reality within ISKCON. Today!
Looking at this specific case, who is more responsible? Nathabara, a man who is clearly in need of professional help, Bhir Krishna Maharaj, who knowingly and recklessly ensured that the children in his community were exposed to the attacks of a known sexual predator, Champakalata, whom as the director of the Child Protection Office, decided to afford her protection to Maharaj instead of the victim, or the GBC that in taking these matters so lightly are, yet again, setting a precedent of an ISKCON that is soft, and turns a blind eye on child abuse. This sends out a welcome message to paedophiles in and out of ISKCON to come and abuse our children, it shows that a perpetrator has a good chance of getting away, or if there will be any consequences, they are not likely to be serious.
Personally, I feel that the very least the GBC and Champakalata prabhu ought to do at this point is to offer their sincere, public apologies for their unjustifiable performance. Not only to the parents of this recent victim, but to all the victims that have suffered, and to those that are still suffering due to the gross institutional negligence and lack of concern; and make a commitment before the devotee community that such unacceptable superficiality and serious transgressions in regards to child protection will never again be tolerated or repeated.
What is perhaps the biggest part of the problem is that Bhir Krishna Maharaj is not an isolated case…far from it. The list of ISKCON leaders who have directly or indirectly protected, covered for or simply turned a blind eye on child abuse (without even going into other forms of abuse of power) is long, and includes some of the most respected and prestigious names amongst the ISKCON elite. The reasons that have prompted such criminal behaviour are as numerous as they are varied, they range from convenience (He is too high profile and it would damage the image of ISKCON or he is doing so much service) to salaries (I might lose my paycheque), to covering for friends (we joined together in 1969 and he helped me in the past), to cowardice, to fear of getting bad press, to blackmail to callous insensitivity (it’s not my service prabhu) etc…
So Bhir Krishna Maharaj and Bhaktividya Pūrṇa Swami are in good company. The current CPO just won’t do, because it simply does not have the authority, but more importantly the desire, to adequately address these situations; if there is to be any hope to obtain some appropriate justice, it will be necessary to climb higher up the food-chain.
Bhaktividya Pūrṇa Maharaj’s 2001 CPO report states:
Bhakti Vidyā Pūrṇa Mahārāja won’t serve in any capacity that is directly connected with children until January 1, 2002. After that time he may serve in a non-managerial and non-administrative capacity connected with children if the ISKCON Education Ministry agrees that he may do so. Bhakti Vidyā Pūrṇa Mahārāja may not at any time assume a managerial or administrative role in ISKCON, and especially not in connection with children…
I am curious to know what is the role of the Ministry for Educational Development M.E.D. in the decision making processes of the C.P.O and the implementation of its resolutions.
I looked up the above mentioned M.E.D. hoping for some answers, and found that it is composed of Śeṣa Prabhu, Laxmimoni Prabhu, Śaunaka Rishi Prabhu (from Ireland and who currently lives in Oxford, UK), Rādhikā Raman Prabhu and Yadunandana Swami. Taking into account that mother Laxmimoni is another individual with a long history of child abuse, I am doubtful that she will be the best person to approach for help with this matter.
Again, the fact that one of the senior ministers for Education Development is an individual known to have abused children is just another confirmation, if one was needed, on ISKCON’s stance and lack of concern when it comes to child protection. If this wasn’t so close to home, in a dark way, I might even find this sadly humorous.
Given that Śeṣa Prabhu is a GBC, as well as the minister for education and the minister of justice, hopefully he will be able to offer some real answers. I wish to ask him to please help me understand why ISKCON finds it perfectly acceptable that a man with a history of child abuse the likes Bhaktividya Pūrṇa Swami is still running (via-proxy, if you like) two schools in Māyāpur. And why Laxmimoni Prabhu is deemed fit to be a member of the Ministry for Education in ISKCON and the Dean of the Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh?
I will be most appreciative if he can take the time to properly clarify whether at any point after the expiry of the restrictions the CPO imposed on Bhaktividya Pūrṇa Swami the Education Ministry did sanction Maharaj’s current involvement in the Māyāpur Gurukulas. If his involvement is sanctioned, I wish to ask if Śeṣa Prabhu could kindly share with the devotee community the names of the individuals involved in this decision and their justifications supporting it; and finally if Maharaj was not authorized by the Education Ministry, then I am curious to know why he is allowed to interact with children, in breach of the CPO sanction.
Another reason why I am reluctant to attempt to pursue Bhaktividya Pūrṇa Swami with the CPO is because, as I have already mentioned in the past, I regard maharaj’s situation as a mere symptom of a bigger problem that deeply permeates the hierarchical structure of ISKCON; down to its very core. I strongly suspect that the number of incidents that are inappropriately handled by GBC and the CPO are significantly greater than the few that somehow slip through and become public knowledge, the ones we come to know about are probably just the tip of the iceberg; and it is ugly.
My personal experience tells me that if I was in a position to apply sufficient pressure (financial, political, press etc.) the CPO and the GBC would end up doing the “right” thing. I am confident that they would even do something as difficult and unpleasant (for some) as removing Bhaktividya Pūrṇa Swami, Laxmimoni and/or impose adequate sanctions on Bhir Krishna Maharaj and Champakalata.
Even if I could do so much, it would not solve the problem; because these are but symptoms of a greater problem, and addressing symptoms never cured a disease. The task of achieving a lasting and holistic solution is far more difficult. It is likely that it will require a radical change to the values and ethos of ISKCON as a whole; of its leadership, but also its “general” members.
I believe that the personal changes required, of each and every one of us, would be of such magnitude that for most, these changes would be too painful to entertain. For this reason, in an attempt to avoid our personal responsibility, at one time or another, many of us, have made the individual and/or collective choice to hide behind a vast range of excuses. Our silence will certainly hinder our spiritual progress. In a way it makes us accomplices of the perpetrators, and we will no doubt share the burden of the karma resulting from their sinful activities. Of course avoidance of negative consequences should not be the primary reason to inspire us to change, but rather we should change because, taking a definitive stance for the protection of our children and the weak is righteous and indispensable for any society that wishes to make spiritual progress. I do not know what the required changes are, but I am confident that if collectively we set our mind to finding a suitable dialogue, this will necessarily lead to a workable solution.
The following is a quote by, The Most Revd and RT Hon Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Head of the Church of England, taken from the back cover of a book titled “Time for Action” – Sexual abuse, the Churches and a new dawn for survivor; published by “Churches Together in Britain and Ireland”.
“Few if any issues in recent years have so stained and compromised the credibility of various Church institutions and hierarchies as the record of ignorance and evasion over questions to do with the abuse of children and adults by Christian professionals, especially clergy. Honesty about this is painful, but essential for the Church’s health and the Church’s mission. This report is sometimes devastating reading, but it is timely, necessary and – if we are prepared to hear and act on some unwelcome truths – ultimately hopeful”.
The above words are frighteningly applicable to the current circumstances in ISKCON. We have faced the same challenges and are making the same mistakes in perpetuating, denying, neglecting and failing to address child abuse within our society.
In my attempts to raise awareness on this topic, I have time and again, due to my personal shortcomings, acted and spoken in counterproductive ways. I pray the reader to overlook my inadequacies and not use them as an excuse to avoid taking the necessary actions to make amends for the past and to prevent that our children will be abused in the future.