The Persistent Child Abuse Problem in the Hare Krishna Movement:
Posted August 2, 2004
The leaders of ISKCON and the GBC are most responsible for what has happened to our children because they have the authority and power to do something about it. Yet, for decades, they looked the other way and child abuse persisted despite their knowledge. To date, these leaders still have not been held accountable for what has happened.
Let me give you one case in point of this type of corrupted mentality in the works: On July 11, 1991, Tosan Krsna, Adikarta, Bhaktarupa and Dayarama prabhus issued an investigative report on child abuse incidents at the Bhaktivedanta Gurukula Village, which was then headed by Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja. The report identified 11 serious child sex abusers and more than two dozen victims. The report described several incidents of sexual abuse, rape and molestations by older boys to smaller boys, including children as young as 5 years old. The report clearly indicated that there was pervasive, forced sexual abuse, coercion, intimidation and fear.
At the time of the 1991 investigation, the report also described the school atmosphere surcharged with repeated threats to the boys so that they wouldn't talk to the investigators. Besides the July 11, 1991 report, several persons involved with the school maintained that incidents of forced sexual abuse were prevalent throughout the year and over a period of many years. Attached to the July 11, 1991 report is a letter (the Child Protection Office has an original signed copy of this letter) from Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja and Naresvara Prabhu that identifies more than 30 boys who were involved in sexually abusive incidents.
Eight long years later after that horrific 1991 report, the Child Protection Office (CPO) was established, and Dhira Govinda prabhu, its former director, went to Mayapur to speak with the headmaster of the Bhaktivedanta Gurukula Village. What he found was that the headmaster was none other than Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja, the same headmaster as when the July 11, 1991 report was written. Unbelievably, no one had even bothered to remove him from his post!
Dhira Govinda prabhu met with Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja on 2/11/99 and 2/19/99. A report entitled "Report on the Bhaktivedanta Gurukula Village" described what transpired on those two meetings. From those meetings between Dhira Govinda prabhu and Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja, one can read just how difficult it is for our movement to deal with child abuse in the spirit of objective appraisal, and, more to the point, with empathy for the victims. In place of truth, too often one finds denials, at times even outright deceptions, and, most disturbing, as the investigator himself writes, a complete lack of remorse for the plight of the victims.
When asked about two incidents of child sexual abuse that happened in 1984 and 1987, Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja explained that it happened in January, just when the spring starts, after the rainy season, after Ratha-Yatra, a dangerous time for such things since: ". . . The lust is there, but also they've been active and then suddenly they can't move around because they get slowed down by the rain. And then Kartika. You know Kartika, you see all the animals, that's their time, you know, all the dogs are fired up . . . all the birds, it's like the time, you know?"
In a classical manner of absolving himself from any personal responsibility for what happened in his school, Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja actually says in this excerpt that the determining factor for the abuse of children inside his school were the unnatural animal inclinations toward lustiness in the children themselves, peaking during the Kartika season. In other words, the victims are seen as somehow less than human and, of course, they are to blame!
At first, at the 2/11/99 meeting in which Anuttama and Sad Bhuja prabhus were also present, Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja denied what was said in the July 11, 1991 report, asserting that there was no forced sex between boys of different ages. But later he conceded that there was indeed forced sex between boys of different ages. Also his own signed letter referred to two specific incidents of child sexual abuse involving boys of significantly unequal ages.
The July 11, 1991 report paints a gloomy picture of the school staff, stating, "The staff of the school cooperated with the investigation. However, the general attitude of the staff towards the investigation was disturbing. Many seemed to be downplaying its importance. Many have, as yet, failed to accept that they were neglectful in not preventing the occurrences. Many have failed to demonstrate that they have honest feelings of sympathy for the abused small children." The 1999 Bhaktivedanta Gurukula Village report confirms this also: "Current discussions with Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja reveal a similar mentality of minimization, even to the point of blatant denial of facts that were uncovered and acknowledged a few years prior."
The children themselves lived in fear. There were so many repeated incidents of sexual abuse in the school that the children were known to go to bed with knives under their pillows. On February 1999, eight years after the July 1991 report recounted horrific, pervasive incidents of child and sexual abuse in the Bhaktivedanta Gurukula Village school, Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja confirmed that there were problems in communication between the Child Protection Team (CPT) and the school; that there was no Parent-Teacher Association; that there was no Board of Directors for the school. Nor did the school have a comprehensive Counseling program using devotee counselors. Therefore, the school still remained vulnerable to child abuse because it did not have any outside structure of support. The BGV report states that the Child Protection Office had "several reports from former students that they informed Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja of the sexual abuse, but he failed to act. Sometimes, they claim they would be beaten by him for making such reports."
The BGV report recounted child abuse incidents by Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja himself (at that time unconfirmed) where it is stated that he engaged in severe beatings with a stick. After 1984, this happened on a daily basis. One former student reported that Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja beat him about 30 times. For further information, please read the Official Child Protection report on Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja.
All the GBCs and ISKCON leaders received the reports on the Bhaktivedanta Gurukula Village situation and the involvement (or lack of it) of its former headmaster, Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja. They have also received a report on the child abuse that Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja himself inflicted. Nevertheless, he is still a prominent personality in the Bhaktivedanta Gurukula Village school today and, what is more, he has been allowed to remain a spiritual leader and guru. One wonders what has happened to accountability in our ISKCON institution.
Another child abuse case, in which it took ISKCON a decade to do anything substantial about it, because the leaders wanted to protect the reputation of the perpetrator, is the case of Satadhanya das. The July 11, 1991 report on child abuse in the Bhaktivedanta Gurukula Village school mentioned that Satadhanya dasa was the Chairman of the Mayapur Administration Council (MAC) and that he "openly spoke on at least two occasions during the investigations, that he thought that too much was being made of the investigation and that these activities were normal in a boy's school." Satadhanya dasa is a well known figure in the child abuse saga in ISKCON and, by July 1991, the Mayapur leaders knew of some of his past child abuse behavior, yet he was still a prominent figure in Mayapur. In fact, eight years later, in 1999, he was made the ISKCON representative in a court of law in India.
Satadhanya dasa used his position of authority, when he was formerly a sannyasi, to entrap and forcefully engage in sexual acts with boys and young men during the early '80s. Over the years, as more and more details of his past abuses surfaced, he nevertheless continued being an important leader in ISKCON Mayapur all the way until the beginning of 2000, when he was finally expelled from Mayapur by the dint of the Child Protection Office.
The "Official Decision on the Case of Satadhanya dasa" written in January 25, 2000 points to relevant facts about Satadhanya dasa's character. The report states:
The pattern persists that Satadhanya appears to admit to child abuse only when confronted with allegations and evidence that would be very difficult for him to deny, and even in those admissions consistently provides incomplete and misleading information. Here is a summary of that pattern, taken from documentation in the case file, using only Satadhanya's testimony:
--When informed in 1991 that there were allegations of abuse against two victims, he admitted to two victims, ages 23 and 25. He also implied that there was only "two incidents" altogether, both occurring at about the same time in 1982.
--When confronted with a third victim later in 1991, the first known underage victim, he admitted to this third victim.
--For eight years, from 1991 to 1999, Satadhanya steadfastly maintained that there were only three victims, and that there was only one underage victim.
--In August, 1999, Satadhanya was confronted with a fourth victim's name and admitted to sexually abusing this person, though not revealing the duration or severity of the abuse.
--In November, 1999, when questioned again by the ICOCP (the Child Protection Office), Satadhanya clarified that there were four victims, and admitted to previously overestimating the ages of some of the victims, when he had estimated their ages as being 25 and 23 years old."
How did the Mayapur leaders react to this sexual predator? By the time his third victim surfaced on March 5, 1992, the ISKCON Board of Education decided that the community must give their three-fourths vote approval for Satadhanya to remain a member of the community. But on March 29, 1992, Satadhanya wrote a letter to the IBE (ISKCON Board of Education) requesting that the three-fourths vote be discarded, writing, "Since I am so well-known in all government circles, amongst the life-members, and the surrounding villages, informing the local Bengali grhasthas will be tantamount to informing the government and press. I am the primary ISKCON representative interfacing with government in various important dealings." So, the IBE made a concession on behalf of Satadhanya and told him that "the vote could be taken just among the non-Bengali grhasthas."
But when the Mayapur Administrative Council (MAC) presented the vote to the community, instead of having them vote for whether a child abuser should stay in the their midst and continue to be such great prominent figure of authority in the holy land, they were instructed instead to vote to oust him from the community only if he represented a threat to their children (which he didn't). Also, according to the report on Satadhanya, "The MAC (Mayapur Administration Council) representative also stated that he did not agree with the idea of having a vote, declined to answer questions about Satadhanya's offenses, and became upset when the parents persisted with their inquiries." The Western parents were also upset that they had to vote on behalf of the Bengali parents without even informing them. When the vote was finally counted, the Western parents voted that they did not want Satadhanya dasa in the community.
Shortly after the Western parents voted, a second meeting was arranged; this time the Bengali parents were included. At this meeting the discussion focused solely on whether or not Satadhanya dasa was a threat to the children of the community, and not whether a child abuser should have so much prominence and be allowed to be in their midst. This time the vote was in favor of allowing Satadhanya to continue living in Mayapur.
Many parents reported that they felt apprehensive and intimidated by the MAC during those meetings. One parent wrote later, "We even feared some reprisal may come to disturb our ability to continue living and serving in Mayapur."
In January 1993, and at other times, the Mayapur GBC Committee expressed the opinion that Satadhanya dasa was punished sufficiently by being dishonored and being forced to give up his position as regional secretary. Nevertheless, some members of the committee were upset because Satadhanya was a child abuser who was still very prominent in the community who was never punished, despite his record of sexual abuse.
So, in March 1995, after much prodding from the community, the international GBC resolved that Satadhanya should undergo a psychological risk assessment. "If he receives a 'low to no risk' approval, he can live on ISKCON Mayapur property." For this psychological risk assessment Dawn Fisher interviewed Satadhanya. He told her that his youngest victim was 16 years old when in fact the child was only 11. He also told her that the longest sexual abuse that he had with his victims involved a few meetings when in fact, they involved about four years. Since Dawn Fisher did not know of his real past, and only heard his fabricated side of the story, she proclaimed him to be of low risk to the children; therefore, he was allowed to remain in ISKCON Mayapur.
The residents were still not satisfied. They thought he should not be allowed to stay in the community and that he was awarded positions of significant responsibility, authority and compensation instead of being punished. Consequently, another community vote was scheduled in February 1997. Before the vote could take place, Satadhanya agreed to move down the road of the ISKCON Mayapur property. He also agreed to pay $3,000 to one of his underage victims, which he did.
What is very disturbing about this case is that ISKCON authorities, leaders and the GBC knew about this sexual predator for over eight years -- I repeat, eight years -- and they didn't punish him. In fact, he was awarded positions of authority and continued to be a prominent figure in ISKCON Mayapur.
Unfortunately, this is a systematic problem throughout ISKCON. That is why, even while we are in the middle of a child abuse case in the courts, with 500 claimants, ISKCON leaders continue to protect child abusers by allowing them to retain their positions of authority and prominence and not follow the Child Protection Office's mandates.
A persistent theme of the above chronicles is the link between child abuse incidents and the lack of accountability by our leaders. As long as we continue to protect child abusers and allow the upper management of ISKCON to escape responsibility for what has happened, the message is that abusing children is not such a serious crime and this encourages more abuse. The outcome is that the children of ISKCON will continue to be abused. We can no longer tolerate that!
When it comes to holding our leaders accountable for their crimes, we look the other way and use the old tiring, ready made excuse: "Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination." In that case all devotees are saintly because we are all engaged in devotional service. Doing devotional service doesn't exempt any of us from being held accountable for our actions regardless of what title or position we might have.
To be sure, the vast majority of leaders and managers want justice for the children and want to fix the child abuse problem as best they can, but the fact of the matter is that they are so blinded by fear of reprisal, and loyalty to each other and the institution, that they have allowed child abusers to remain in leadership positions, to escape punishment handed out by the Child Protection Office and even to interfere with child abuse investigations -- the name for this is obstruction of justice.
The Child Protection Office cannot, and definitely should not, be dependent on the GBC for its financial survival because, as we just saw, it would be a conflict of interest. As illustrated above, the GBC and other ISKCON leaders have been protecting devotee perpetrators. So, if the Child Protection Office wants to do its job properly, how can it bite the hand that feeds it? We have already seen the Child Protection Office shutting down because the GBC stopped funding it; in fact, it was barely funded for over a year. To overcome the problem of depending on the GBC to survive financially, the Child Protection Office must be separated from the clutches of the GBC. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that, by going after abusers that the GBC favors and protects, the Child Protection Office will end up being threatened, intimidated, manipulated and/or shut down, as has already happened.
This practice of protecting people with important positions or connections from being prosecuted has got to stop. Also, as long as we put the institution's image above the truth, or lack the personal character to speak up when we see others who are protecting perpetrators, then we will never achieve child abuse reform. More importantly, as long as the same cast of characters, who were in charge of ISKCON when there was rampant child abuse in the schools, are not held accountable for what had happened, then things will remain virtually the same and the children will continue to suffer child abuse.
Most of the bibliographic references are linked within the test of the above two-part article. For more information on the Association for the Protection of Vaisnava Children, including the"Report on the Bhaktivedanta Gurukula Village" (1999), the "Official Decision on the Case of Dhanurdhara Maharaja" (1999), the "Official Decision on the Case of Satadhanya dasa" (2000), and the "Official Decision on the Case of [Devotee A]" (2002), please contact the APVC.