Sanaka Ṛṣi Dāsa – India: The ISKCON Vṛndāvan Gurukula has been the scene of some of the most terrible cases of child abuse in our society’s history and one would expect that the school would be well equipped with preventative measures such as child abuse awareness, recognition, training and reporting [police] procedures for both children and staff. That a well staffed and trained external Child Protection Team will be fully operative and functioning serving the school and local community.

Yet it has been nearly two years that ISKCON Vṛndāvan is without a Child Protection Team and in this time the new administration of the Bhaktivedanta Gurukula & International School has operated the school without any accountability with regards to the protection of their children.

As to why the GBC of Vṛndāvan – The Vṛndāvan Executive Board, the Temple and BGIS Administration have allowed such a condition to be manifest while under their direct responsibility and duty is quite remarkable. This also casts a grim shadow on the International Child Protection Office whose responsibility and duty is to establish, train and supervise CPT units in all our Yatras what to speak of ISKCON Vṛndāvan.

Following is Part One of a series of articles bringing to light what the consequences of neglecting to properly care and protect children can bring upon our ISKCON society and in particular our children if the leaders of our society fail to act to properly protect our children.

Vṛndāvan Gurukula, 40 years of child abuse cover-up and counting…

Part One

New allegations of child abuse in the Vṛndāvan  Gurukula.

I reported the incident mentioned in this letter, to the CPO on the 7th of November 2011. I am very concerned by the lack of professionalism, transparency and care for the welfare of the children shown by the CPO in handling this case.

I am alarmed to see how the mentality that regards the interests of the establishment above all, even the adequate protection of our children is still very much alive both amongst the management of the Vṛndāvan  Gurukula and with the CPO authorities.

Bringing this matter to the attention of the devotee public is the only valid alternative I see for the protection of the children in the Vṛndāvan Gurukula; I apologize for the inconvenience and distress this will cause to some. As there is a lot of material, I have divided it in parts that will be published in the coming days.

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: sanaka rsi <sanaka108@gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 10:04 PM

Subject: Report on recent incidents of mistreatments at the Vṛndāvan  Gurukula
To: “CPO (Child Protection Office)” <cpo@pamho.net>, “Praghosa (das) SDG (IRL)” <____________@pamho.net>, “Vrajabhumi” _______@hotmail.com, “Ananda Vṛndāvan  (dd) (Vṛndāvan  Gurukula – IN)” <_____________@pamho.net>, “Bhaktarupa (das) ACBSP (Bhubaneswara – IN)” <________________@pamho.net>,

Dear Champakalata Mataji,

Please accept my respectful obeisance. All Glories to Srila Prabhupada.

I arrived in Vṛndāvan a few days ago. A friend informed me that a teacher in the Gurukula wanted to report some incidents of corporal punishment in the school to the CPO, but did not know the appropriate procedure or whom to contact. On his request I met with Vrajabhumi mataji, she gave me the report I am including at the bottom of this
email.

The first thing that transpires in reading her report is the lack of awareness, training and concern of the school teachers and managers. Just the fact that one of the Gurukula teachers in Vṛndāvan has not been briefed on how to report incidents to the CPO is, in and of itself an alarming indication.

The second is the absence of local CPO representatives in Vṛndāvan, where we have one of the main Gurukulas in ISKCON.

It is imperative to ensure that the Mayapur and Vṛndāvan Gurukula are transparent and that there is adequate CPO presence. The schools need supervision, the staffs need to be effectively trained and briefed on ISKCON’s child protection policies and requirements. If this is not done, the CPO will be at least in part responsible for any
abuse that may take place.

I also want to point out that in India, as of 2007 corporal punishment in schools has been outlawed. I am by no means an expert in Indian legal matters, but my guess is that potentially the families of the children that have been mistreated may be in a position to sue ISKCON.

I believe it is vital that the CPO initiates an urgent inquiry in this recent matter. From reading the report, I am concerned that the school staff may attempt to instruct the children on an official “doctored” version of the incidents to be given in the event of an inquiry.

To try and avoid this possibility, it may be a good idea to act swiftly and not to give the school management too much notice.

I suggest speaking with Nirguna mataji, she was the CPO representative in Vṛndāvan up until two years ago, when the new management took over. She still lives in Vṛndāvan, but is no longer active in the CPT.

Although he is extremely busy, another good person to speak to would be the temple president Panca Gauda prabhu. His email is pancagauda.acbsp@pamho.net

I expect to be in Vṛndāvan till the 15th of November. I will be happy to assist in any way I can, my phone number here is +91-9557303313.

Hare Krsna

Thank you

_______________________________________________

 

Report on the Vṛndāvan  Gurukula

My name is Brajabhoomi devi dasi, I have served as teacher in ISKCON Gurukulas for almost 20 years. From 1991 to 2001 I taught at the Bhaktivedanta Manor School in England with Mokshalaxmi mataji and Jagadattri mataji.

Between 2001 and 2008 I served as a residential ashram teacher at the Vṛndāvan Gurukla. In the spring of 2011 on recommendation of Ananda Vṛndāvan mataji, the former Vṛndāvan Gurukula principle, I resumed my teaching service in Vṛndāvan .

I served in the capacity of ashram manager for the smaller children. As part of my duties I regularly checked the ashram to ensure that the children were clean and safe and that the teachers were taking proper care of them. I also served as a substitute ashram teacher 3 days a week.

Before starting I will give a brief introduction of the key individuals involved in the management of the Vṛndāvan Gurukula and the incident I wish to report herewith.

Lila Purushottama prabhu is the school principal. He is from Orissa, but lives and works in the city of Kanpur (which is about 300 KM from Vṛndāvan). He visits Vṛndāvan about once a month. His involvement in the day to day management of the Gurukula is non-existent.

Radha Kantha prabhu, is also from Orissa. Officially he is the vice-principal, but practically speaking he runs the Gurukula, he takes care of the day to day management and makes some of the major executive decisions. He has been a devotee only a few years.

Suranand prabhu is the ashram director, and he also serves as the ashram teacher for the children of the 11th and 12th grade.

Tejasvini mataji, also from Orissa, was the ashram teacher for the children between 5 and 8 years of age (she has been temporarily suspended after this incident, but is due to be re-employed in the near future).

Nirguna mataji, is the lady that served as the CPO representative when Ananda Vṛndāvan mataji was the principal of the school. Practically speaking, since the change of management there has been no CPO representative in Vṛndāvan . As far as I know this is due to Nirguna’s poor health, but also because she has expressed her unwillingness to work with the new management.

In my observation, the Gurukula is run very much like a bhakta program. The school promotes a forceful approach of imposing Krishna Consciousness on the children. When the children do not wake up for mangala arati, they are made do write the Mahamantra 200 times and wash 100 plates. The school is of the opinion that this will be for the benefit of the children because for in this way they will make spiritual advancement.

On the 18th of October 2011, Tejasvini mataji took a one week leave from her service to spend time with her visiting mother; I was asked to fill in for her. Soon after I took over, I noticed a significant change in the behaviour of the boys in her ashram that gave me reason for concern. When I had observed the boys with Tejasvini, they had been very quiet, obedient and subdued, whereas with me they were behaving as I would expect children their age to; they were naughty, exuberant and playful.

I spoke to the boys and inquired about their life in the ashram, I asked them if they were happy and if everything was going well. They told me that they did not want Tejasvini mataji to come back, because she was hurting them.

I asked the boys to tell me what she did to hurt them; the accounts they shared left me disturbed.

There are 17 boys in her ashram; out of them 14 have received some form of physical abuse. Of the 3 boys that have been spared, 2 have extremely protective parents and the other has an older brother in the school. It appears to me that on some level she has consciously chosen to only harm the children she thinks she will get away with hurting, staying well clear of the boys that are more protected and more likely to get her in trouble.

She slapped the boys. Using 3 fingers, she would pinch the flesh of their bellies and then do a 180 degree twist with her hand while still pinching their tummies, often causing them to cry. When the boys would cry, to get them to stop she would pinch them again on their chest. Sometimes, with her hand she squeezed their neck and choked their throat causing the children great pain.

Two of the younger boys in the ashram are the ones that have suffered the worst abuse; on more than one occasion she has grabbed them by their sika she hit their head against the wall. I know of two occasions when, as punishment, she made them skip their meal. I once found one of them crying alone in the corridor, I asked him what was wrong and he told me that Tejasvini mataji didn’t let him have prasadam. I then took him to the prasadam hall and fed him.

One day before Tejasvini took her leave, one of the boys came to me crying. He lifted his kurta and showed me a big red welt on his tummy and told me that Tejasvini had pinch-twisted his stomach very hard. I went to see Tejasvini and asked her why she had hurt him; she replied that the boy had been hitting other children, so she had decided that by hurting him, she would show him what he was doing to the boys and thus teach him not to do it again.

After listening to the boys I told them that now that they had told me about this, I had to report it to Radha Kanta prabhu. They agreed, because they wanted to make sure that Tejasvini mataji did not come back to their ashram.

On October 19th, as I was getting the boys ready to go to the temple I saw Radha Kantha Prabhu, I told him that we wanted to speak to him. We sat down with all the boys. When the boys were finished giving him a detailed account of the abusive behaviour of Tejasvini dasi, he told them, “Oh, well, surely you must have been very naughty”. I was very disappointed.

I explained to Radha Kanta that it had taken a lot of courage for the boys to speak up and that it was our duty to protect and encourage them. I also told him that blaming the children for the abuse they had endured for months was unacceptable.

I spoke to Radha Kanta later the same evening and he revealed to me that he had wondered why the children were so obedient and restrained with Tejasvini. I told him that I felt Tejasvini should not be allowed to teach the children again. I also told him that it was his duty to report the incident to the CPO immediately. To which he replied that we should wait until the principal got back to Vṛndāvan . He requested me to keep the incident confidential and instructed me not to approach the CPO.

The following morning, the 20th of October, I met with Radha Kanta and Suranand prabhus, I told them that the children were concerned that if Tejasvini was allowed back to be their teacher, she might hurt them in retaliation for denouncing her to the school authorities. They were complacent about the whole matter, Radha Kanta prabhu again told me to wait for the arrival of the principal and not to report the incident to the CPO.

One of the children told me that one morning he did not dance during mangala arati, because he was not feeling well, as a punishment, afterwards Tejasvini mataji made him jump 200 times.

On October 21st, just before the school break, I took him to see the ashram director, Suranand prabhu. The boy was uncomfortable to speak up, I reassured him that everything would be fine and then he related the incident to Suranand. After hearing the account, Suranand said, “Why have you waited so long, why didn’t you speak before”.

I was frustrated. Instead of taking a proactive approach to adequately address the incident, he decided to tell the boy what he had done wrong. I felt that he took the matter very lightly; he was not concern with the misconduct of the teacher, but rather decided to lay the blame on the boy.

I did not feel reassured that they would handle the situation correctly; I was concerned they would not report the incident or have it properly investigated. So on the 25th of October, I decided it was my responsibility to inform the CPO. Not knowing who to turn to, I spoke to Nirguna mataji. Although she has not been active as a CPO representative in the last 2 years, she was the only person I could turn to.

Before the boys went home for their holiday Radha Kanta assured me that when the Principal would arrive in Vṛndāvan , he would arrange a meeting with me, him and the Principal to address the matter. I was never called.

The boys were due back on the 30th of October. On the 29th at 9,30 pm, the evening before the school reopened, Radha Kanta called me to inform me that they had decided to suspend Tejasvini mataji from the school until the matter had been investigated further and that I was not welcome to resume my service in the Gurukula.

I inquired as to the reasons that had made them decide to sack me; his reply was short and blunt, “it is our decision, end of discussion”. After this he hung up the phone.

Feeling unsatisfied with his reply, I called him again and pressed him for the reason that had prompted them to sack me. He then told me that I had been fired because I had disregarded his request to not report the incident to the CPO.

Radha Kanta prabhu, then submitted a report of the incident with Nirguna mataji, she informed him that she could not accept his report alone; she told him that she needed a report from me as well. On the 3rd of November Radha Kanta called me to ask if I could compile a report of the incident.

In my whole career as an ashram teacher, this is the first time I come across a situation where a faculty member is discharged for reporting incidents of abuse to the CPO.

I approached the CPO out of concern for the welfare of the children. I did this on the recommendation of Ananda Vṛndāvan  mataji, she told me that if I felt that the children were not safe I needed to inform the CPO immediately.

One last thing I think is important to mention is that, Mother Padyavali from Australia, another long standing teacher in the Vṛndāvan  Gurukula has been recently laid off. I am concerned that the school management may be operating on a policy of removing qualified and experienced teachers, if they happen to disagree, confront of challenge their modus operandi.

From what I have observed, they actively discourage any form of feedback and constructive criticisms. I think this is very unhealthy and is likely to cause an environment that will foster abuse.

Please do the necessary to ensure the children in the Vṛndāvan  Gurukula are safe and happy.

End of Vrajabhumi’s report.

________________________________________________________________

Further considerations and recommendations (written by Sanaka rsi das)

I regard the following points raised in Vrajabhumi’s report to be of
serious concern and require additional attention.

1)      That on two occasions the Vice-principal requested Vrajabhumi not

to report the incident to the CPO.

2)      That the school management decided to discharge Vrajabhumi on the
grounds that she reported a child abuse incident to the CPO.

3)      That the principal of the Vṛndāvan  Gurukula is absent and that
the school is run by a relatively new devotee.

4)      That it is the school’s intention to reinstate Tejasvini.

5)      That the school’s current management does not give the matter of
corporal punishment the necessary importance.

6)      That the school seems to be run on a policy of, “It’s either my way
or the highway”.

 

Recommendations

 

1)      For the benefit of the children hurt by Tejasvini, she should be
encouraged to apologize even if she is not so inclined.

2)      That Tejasvini is not allowed to work in any service related to children.

3)      That a meeting be held with all the school staff for the purpose of
raising awareness on the importance of their service and child
protection. They need to be brought up to date with ISKCON’s
requirements. All the teachers and other staff need to be instructed
on how to contact the CPO to report an incident. They also need to be
educated on the notions that food depravation and forceful imposition
of Krsna Consciousness are not acceptable practices.

4)      That the children in the school receive an official apology for the
negligence of the CPO, and that they be reassured about ISKCON’s
intention to respect their rights and that everything will be done to
ensure such mistakes are not repeated. The children also need to be
instructed on how to report incidents of corporal punishment.

5)      That the report of the incident that Radha Kanta gave to Nirguna
mataji be compared with the one submitted by Vrajabhumi.

6)      That inquires be made to ascertain why, Nirguna Mataji has stated
that she, “is not willing to work with the current management of the
Vṛndāvan  Gurukula”.

7)      That inquiries be made to ascertain why Padyavali mataji was
discharged from her services as a teacher in the Gurukula. It would be
a good idea to ask her opinion of the school management.

8)      If it emerges that Padyavali Mataji was discharged without valid
reasons, both her aned Vrajabhumi should be encouraged to resume their
services.

9)      That the CPO sources a qualified, experienced and senior devotee to
take on the service of principal for the Vṛndāvan  Gurukula.

10)     About one year ago, another incident of corporal punishment
surfaced in the Vṛndāvan  Gurukula. In light of the recent events it
is necessary to make inquiries to ascertain the reliability of the
report the school submitted of this incident.