Chakra Discussions

The Persistent Child Abuse Problem in the Hare Krishna Movement:
Part I

by bhaktin Miriam

Posted August 1, 2004

Someone has to speak up concerning the persistent child abuse problem in ISKCON. This is not a thing of the past; it is happening right now. Seeking help from ISKCON's upper management and leaders has not helped because they are aggravating the problem by deliberately covering up for and protecting child abuse perpetrators whom they favor. It is our moral responsibility to stop this practice now in order to restore the integrity of our commitment to the child abuse victims. ISKCON is making a mockery out of this very serious issue by having the victims and the world believe that it is committed to doing everything in its power to deal with the child abuse problem; the facts prove that this is not necessarily the case.

Let's first back up a bit and examine some of the possible causes of child abuse in ISKCON. ISKCON established its first formal boarding gurukula school in 1971. By 1986, all ashram-only gurukulas closed their doors, with the exception of the Vrindavan and Mayapur schools. According to Dr. Burke Rochford's report entitled "Child Abuse in the Hare Krishna Movement: 1971-1986 (ISKCON Communications Journal, Volume 6, No 1, June 1988), three determining factors, when combined, created a context conductive to child abuse: sankirtan, lack of institutional support for the gurukulas and exclusion of parents from the gurukula.

"The children were abused in part because they were not valued by leaders, and even, very often, by their own parents, who accepted theological and other justifications offered by the leadership for remaining uninvolved in the lives of their children. . . . The leaders saw no reason to invest resources in the gurukula because it couldn't fail, given the elevated spiritual status of the children. . . . Without a workforce of dedicated sankirtan devotees, ISKCON's missionary goals and financial stability were placed in jeopardy. The solution rested with the gurukula because it relieved parents of the burdens of children, thus affording them the opportunity to work full-time sankirtan. . . .

Sankirtan represented the foundation of ISKCON's sectarian world, and the movement's sannyasi elite took measures to assure that it was protected against the pressured deleterious effects associated with the expansion of marriage and family life. While initially established to spiritually educate ISKCON's children, the gurukula ultimately served the interests of ISKCON's missionary activity, and the need to raise money in support of the movement's communal way of life. . . . Given the leadership's view of gurukula and its purpose, it failed to provide the support necessary to maintain an educational institution. . . . Throughout its existence the gurukula operated with insufficient staffing, funding and oversight. . . . It became an institution defined by neglect, isolation and marginalisation. Because of these qualities, the gurukula also became a context in which ISKCON's children became subject to abuse."

In essence, Dr. Rochford is illustrating that our children were abandoned because we put more value on distributing Srila Prabhupada's books than the health, security, and the education of our children.  Everybody abandoned them -- their parents, the leaders, and the rank and file devotees. We abandoned them as if they were already liberated souls.

When the gurukula children became adults, they started to recount their horrific stories of abuse in the hands of their teachers and caretakers. According to Bharata Shrestha prabhu's report entitled, "ISKCON's Response to Child Abuse: 1990-1998," (ISKCON Communications Journal, Volume 6, No 1, June 1998):

"In May 1996, at the North American GBC meeting in Alachua, Florida, a group of former gurukula pupils, invited to speak by the leadership, detailed case after case of heart-wrenching suffering at the hands of school authorities, which reduced the entire audience of educators to tears. Virtually every former student (these included those who had attended schools over the last twenty years) at the conference was either a witness or a victim. Children suffered denial of medical care for life-threatening illnesses, serious bruises and contusions, lost teeth, broken noses, scarring from caning, repeated sexual abuse and even homosexual rape at knifepoint. The perpetrators of these very serious crimes were none other than the teachers, the ashram leaders, the administrators, and in some cases even sannyasis and ISKCON gurus. . . . An entire generation of children had been subjected to horrendous treatment at the hands of those entrusted with their welfare by parents who thought that they were doing what was best for their children. The children, now adults, had complained before and no one had listened."

One wonders how could things have gone so wrong for so long. There are no easy answers, but it is due to the general attitude that children are not a priority in ISKCON. We will examine this later, but first let's take a look at what has been done to deal with the child abuse problem up to now.

It took a long time for ISKCON to finally confront the child abuse problem. At the 1990 annual GBC meeting in Mayapur, Resolution 90-119 was passed to rectify future allegations of child abuse. This resolution dealt only with the issue of child abuse prevention and not with the rehabilitation of the victims. Its guidelines carried no force of law; therefore, it was effectively unenforceable.

Consequently, in the 1998 annual GBC meeting in Mayapur, Resolution 98-305 was passed to remedy those issues.  In 1997, the GBC established a child abuse task force to develop a comprehensive plan to address past, present and future cases of child abuse.  At the 1998 annual GBC meeting in Mayapur, the GBC approved the establishment of ISKCON's Central Office of Child Protection, also known as the Association for the Protection of Vaisnava Children (APVC), which opened its doors on April 1998. The purpose of the Child Protection Office is to resolve past and present cases of child abuse in ISKCON; to care for the victims of child abuse in ISKCON by establishing a grant program for funding and referrals for therapy, as well as vocational and educational opportunities; and establishing screening procedures for all volunteers and employees in our schools, temples and projects, setting up child protection teams throughout ISKCON, and educating children, parents, managers, and others about child protection.

Unfortunately most temples still do not have a child protection team and members do not have knowledge of the principles of child protection. As a whole and individually, ISKCON has not educated its membership on how to protect its children.

Children of Krishna, Inc., an important, independent, grass-roots organization run by Gurukuli alumni, was started as a result of the May 1996 North American GBC meeting in Alachua, Florida. This, according to Bharata Shrestha prabhu, was "a spontaneous response by participants of the meeting." The organization is composed of both first and second-generation devotees. Their mission: "Children of Krishna, Inc. supports, furthers, and protects the educational, economic, emotional, and spiritual advancement of the children of the Hare Krishna Movement through our grant programs, information network, and associated resources." The Children of Krishna website states that "Within our grant program, we offer assistance for education, therapy, events and other non profit projects."

According to Bharata Shrestha prabhu's report, there were several flaws in the GBC resolutions that dealt with child abuse. Two such flaws were: "Loop holes . . . can be used by abusers who have 'friends in high places' and . . . the appeal procedure puts final decisions in the hands of people who may or may not be qualified to pass final judgment." Unfortunately, these two flaws have come to haunt us.

Perpetrators who have "friends in high places" have certainly taken advantage of their good fortune and have successfully lobbied for themselves so that they could be protected by the leaders of ISKCON from having to follow the Child Protection Office mandates.

One such current case is that of a devotee leader who, ten years ago, committed statutory rape with a 13 year old girl. A panel of team members of the ISKCON Child Protection Office investigated and adjudicated his case, and thus reported on July 26, 2002. A full report of its findings and adjudication has been sent to every ISKCON leader. All the temple presidents, gurus, GBCs and leaders have been informed about this man via the Child Protection Office reports sent to them. The Child Protection Office report on this man stipulates that this devotee cannot give classes, hold administrative positions or lead kirtans. Regrettably, the leaders of ISKCON have allowed this man to do exactly all of the above.

In fact, there is an ad on the Internet right now listing him as one of the dignitaries in a large celebration to be held in Boston in September 24-26 of this year. Last month, on June 12, 2004, I was puzzled and, frankly, angered to see this devotee leading the kirtan in one of the Ratha-Yatra carts during New York's Ratha-Yatra parade through Fifth Avenue. I even spoke with one of the New York leaders a few months ago about this man and he gave me his personal reassurance that he will make sure to bring up this issue with the other ISKCON leaders. Did I have any reasons to feel hopeful by his reassurance?

Apparently not, because this perpetrator was here last month as a kirtan leader for the NY Ratha-Yatra and, as I walked around in Washington Square Park during the Ratha-Yatra festivities, one devotee was handing out flyers for a special program to be held in Boston on September 24-26. One of the persons listed in the flyer along with other gurus and Malati Devi prabhu is this same devotee that I am talking about. By the way I am making a point of mentioning Malati Devi because I have read one letter that she wrote and posted at Chakra.org, challenging anyone to show her proof that the GBC is covering up for child abuse in ISKCON. She is also the same GBC member who has specifically received a letter (and I believe there were more) sent by the former Child Protection Office director complaining and seeking her help because the above-mentioned perpetrator was being allowed to break the Child Protection Office mandates with the blessing of ISKCON leaders. Did she do anything about it? Apparently not, since her name is listed, along with the perpetrator's name, in the flyer and other ads for the upcoming Boston event.

In the 26 Second Avenue centre's newsletter, entitled "Matchless-gifts", for August-Sept 2002, there is an announcement that this devotee (who I will call devotee A) will give a class on August 23, 2002. Last summer, I was also present at 26 Second Avenue, where I heard one of Devotee A's lectures. This lecture took place more than a year after the Child Protection Office issued its report on him.  I was also present in the annual NY Ratha-Yatra held two months earlier on June 29, 2003 when this devotee was one of the kirtan leaders. In fact, the New York devotees published a nice article at Dipika.org entitled "New York Ratha-Yatra Kijai" In that article Devotee A is named is listed alongside the many gurus of ISKCON who also participated in the NY Ratha-Yatra. I was also present in a huge program organized by 26 2nd Avenue on June 28, 2003, which took place in the Angel Orensanz Art Center, a former synagogue. Radhanatha Swami, Sacinandana Swami, other New York leaders and a huge crowd of devotees attended that program. Devotee A was the only Kirtan leader in that long and wild kirtan held that evening (please see article: "Ecstasy on the Lower East Side).

While visiting the 26 Second Avenue website one day, I found Devotee A being featured in their past events section. They have him featured in two different events with the following titles: "Maha Harinam @ Times Square with [Devotee A]" which took place on October 19, 2002 and "Harinam via Broadway with [Devotee A]: Amazing Harinam through the streets of the Lower East Side with the famous kirtaneer, [Devotee A]," which took place on August 23,2002.  There are a total of five pictures of him leading kirtan in that website. The website also has an audio file so Devotee A's voice could be heard singing.

In New York and maybe other devotee communities as well, there is CD being sold entitled "Ecstasy in the Lower East Side." It contains highlights of Devotee A's kirtan. I have that CD at home.

While reading the Dipika.org website, I found a June 28, 2003 article entitled "Puerto Rico: Adopt a Temple" with the following statement, "The temple president is (Devotee A), who is one of the most dedicated, hardworking, and selfless temple presidents I've ever met."

In the Dipika.org website, under its "OldChakra.com" section, I encountered an article entitled "Christmas Employment in Puerto Rico", where it says the following: "We at Amrita International (A business partnership of four devotees including the temple president and GBC representative for Puerto Rico, His Grace (Devotee A) are seeking responsible devotees for Christmas employment at our malls in Puerto Rico." Other similar articles are also at Oldchakra.com, such as Nandini dasi's News from Puerto Rico (Oct. 31, 2002).

At Chakra.org there was also an article entitled "Our Puerto Rico tropical temple needs pujaris and gardener." The article said the following: "We have had a change in management here in ISKCON, New Govardan Hill, Puerto Rico; the past temple president, (Devotee A), is no longer here." It is curious that this article came out December 30, 2003, yet, according to one temple president whom I spoke with and who shall remain unnamed, Devotee A was present at the temple presidents' meeting a few months ago. I do not know in what capacity he was attending the presidents' meeting, but he was there.

I met the temple president of 26 Second Avenue, Dayananda prabhu, on March 27, 2004 and informed him of my concerns regarding Devotee A. He told me that until recently he was unaware of the Child Protection Office decision on Devotee A. That may be, but it would be too much of a stretch to also believe that all the other NY leaders, and all the gurus present at the NY Ratha-Yatra in 2003 were also unaware of this, since the Child Protection Office sends reports of every decision to all ISKCON leaders and gurus. Isn't it weird -- none of the other leaders had bothered to tell Dayananda prabhu about this devotee for more than a year after the Child Protection Office issued its report on Devotee A. As far as this past NY Ratha-Yatra is concerned, no NY leader can say that he or she was unaware of this devotee's past.

Devotee A is appealing the CPO decision, which he has every right to do. But, until the appeals procedure is finalized, he must follow the Child Protection mandates. Moreover, ISKCON leaders have the moral responsibility and obligation to make sure that Devotee A's mandates and all other mandates are being enforced. Letting him give classes, lead kirtans, sell his CDs and act as a temple president demonstrates that the leaders are not concerned with protecting the victim's rights. So where is their commitment to the child abuse victims?

Along with the rank and file devotees who commit child abuse, leaders who commit child abuse should also be held accountable to the same extent of the law and should follow the same procedures as anybody else. Just because someone is a guru or a leader does not mean that the law does not apply and that there should be special exemptions and preferential treatment; no one should be exempt from following Child Protection Office mandates, like devotee A and others have.

Another current case of a perpetrator who has 'friends in high places' is the manager of the ISKCON restaurant in Vrndavana, India. He has harassed and been sexually involved, at least in a minor sense, with several adolescent girls. The Child Protection Office has tried to address this with various leaders, yet the person has retained his position because of his connections. And so he continues harassing adolescent girls. There are many other such examples throughout ISKCON.

The leaders of ISKCON and the GBC have even gone as far as to intervene in some cases that should have been investigated by the Child Protection Office just because the accused perpetrator had a leadership position. One such case involved an initiating guru and sannyasi alleged to have molested a preteen girl. The GBC did not allow the Child Protection Office to investigate that case.

Another instance where the GBC stepped in to protect the perpetrator is in the well-publicized case of Dhanurdhara Swami, an initiating guru and sannyasi. In his case, Ravindra Svarupa, who was then the head of the GBC's Executive Committee, stepped in, in favor of Dhanurdhara Swami, to overturn the Child Protection Office's Official Decision on Dhanurdhara Swami not to allow him to conduct initiation ceremonies. To this day, ISKCON devotees have not received a rational explanation for why Ravindra Svarupa did this, other than that he wanted to protect his friend.

I witnessed one of my acquaintances getting ready to get initiated by Dhanurdhara swami, without her having prior knowledge of her guru's past. The only things that she knew were very sketchy and inaccurate. So I gave her a copy of the Child Protection Office's Official Decision on Dhanurdhara Maharaja, which can be found in the Internet. I then proceeded to inform the NY authorities that an unauthorized initiation ceremony was about to take place, only to find out that they were well aware of it and that in fact supported it. When I contacted Romapada Maharaja, the GBC for NY, he told me that I had no right to get involved in a ceremony to be held in a private home -- a clever technical loophole, I may add.  Nevertheless, that home was none other than the home of his then personal secretary and it was built and used as a preaching center for devotees. I attended at least one program there.

Besides overturning one important part of the Child Protection Office (CPO) official decision, the GBC and ISKCON leaders allowed Dhanurdhara Swami to violate other restrictions. For further information on this, please read "Dhanurdhara Maharaja should have followed the ICOCP injunctions" by this author, and Krsnacandra dasa's article entitled "GBC Reaction to Child Abuse Ruling". Both articles are posted in Dipika.org's "oldchakra.com".

The report on Dhanurdhara Swami read, "If Dhanurdhara Maharaja violates any of the points of this decision, then his connection with ISKCON will be suspended until his case is reviewed by this panel." Yet he is still very much part of ISKCON and is an initiating guru even though he had also violated other Child Protection Office injunctions which were not reversed by the GBC's Executive Committee.

According to Dhira Govinda das, the former CPO director, in his article entitled "Child Abuse and the Hare Krishnas" published in the book, The Hare Krishna Movement: The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant: "Currently there are a few other cases involving devotees with leadership roles. The standard APVC [Association for the Protection of Vaisnava Children] processing of some of these is being contested by many ISKCON leaders, as . . . they believe that, whatever may have happened in the past, these devotees should be free to use their experience and talents to serve ISKCON, without being substantially inhibited by restrictions from the APVC."

Of course, that is another way of saying that children are not a priority in ISKCON; what is more important is to protect the reputation of devotee perpetrators who are favored by the ISKCON management. This is the same type of mentality that caused the child abuse problem to perpetuate all these years throughout ISKCON and, as anyone can see, that corrupted mentality has not changed a bit. If this mentality persists in ISKCON, we will continue to have child abuse in our schools.