Posted June 20, 2006
A Response to "Statement on Behalf of the GBC Body About Dhanurdhara Swami" by Praghosa dasa, ISKCON CCO.
Praghosa dasa's statement June 15th, 2006 concerning Dhanurdhara Swami follows a long series of articles on the subject, which re-emerged upon news of the untimely death of Ananda McClure. I've been wanting to make a contribution to the discussion from my perspective, and this GBC statement warrants such a response.
At the time when the whole circumstance with Dhanurdhara Swami was transpiring, while he was in charge at the Vrindavan gurukula, I was a senior administrator in ISKCON at the local level. I had previously been the Temple President of Seattle and a headmaster of the gurukula there, and I was a close personal friend of Jagadisa Swami, who was the Minister of Education.
When I joined ISKCON in 1970, Jagadisa Swami was the Temple President of Toronto. I worked with him for several years in a cooperative arrangement, with him being the GBC and me being the Temple President of Toronto. Consequently I got an inside look at what was really going on, not only in the Vrindavan gurukula that Dhanurdhara Swami was in charge of, but throughout the whole movement at the time.
We have to keep in mind that Dhanurdhara's reign took place during what we now know was the Zonal Acarya period, wherein a few people controlled practically all the funds and personnel in the movement. Jagadisa Swami was one of the first to be included in the insider's club when they started to expand in the early 1980's. At the time Dhanurdhara was in charge of the Vrindavan gurukula, Jagadisa Swami was not only the Minister of Education, he was also an initiating guru. He had his own personal room at the Vrindavan gurukula and spent a good deal of time there.
I'm explaining all this because I feel that what is absent in the whole discussion, and is worth pointing out, is the reason Dhanurdhara Swami is still in ISKCON today. As I see it, it is because Dhanurdhara did not break the most sacred of all taboos for a leader in ISKCON -- he did not speak ill, publicly and adamantly, against the chain of command above him. The taboo was in place back then, and it continues to this very day.
One has to keep in mind that during this period of time, many if not all of the children were either initiated by, or their parents were initiated by, one of the Zonal Acaryas. If not initiated, then one of the Zonal Acaryas had earmarked or designated that they were going to initiate the children in future. These Zonals were ultimately responsible for the children from their zones, but at the time they weren't even providing enough funds for the schools to keep the children properly maintained and educated.
To a certain degree, Dhanurdhara Swami admits that he was taking his frustrations out on the "system". But that system was not just the gurukula system, it was the Zonal Acarya system. The Zonals visited regularly and often stayed at the temple in Vrindavan, which was attached to the gurukula. Let's keep in mind that the children weren't silently taking all this abuse. At the time they were informing their parents, their gurus, the GBC, Jagadisa Swami, Bhurijahan das, and others - but who was listening? Yet even today, does Dhanurdhara Swami point this out? No. He knows that he has to be the sacrificial lamb and basically take it on the chin for those above him in the power structure.
The prevailing mentality in the gurukula system during those days was simply a drop of seawater in the ocean. Abuse was taking place throughout the movement. Not only were children being abused, women and new devotees were also exploited by the Zonal Acaryas. They were forced to perform all sorts of so-called "austerities" to collect money so the leaders could live a lavish lifestyle. Very little of that money ever filtered down to the children or the devotees, except a minority of elite few at the top - the Zonal Acaryas and their immediate associates. The rank and file devotees were living in dire poverty and were forced to engage in so-called "sankirtan" activities for twelve to fifteen hours a day, on continuous marathons. In fact, many died because of sleep deprivation that resulted in their driving off the road. Devotees committed suicide as a direct result of the Zonal Acarya influence. So while the children and women and vulnerable people may stand out as the most obvious signs of what was going on, the mentality expressed even today by Dhanurdhara Swami and Pragosh dasa in his GBC statement is all filtered down from the corrupt system at the top.
I was in contact with Nirmala Chandra, Jagadisa's son, while the Turley lawsuit was being spearheaded in America. That suit will now cost the movement millions of dollars. Nirmala described that the majority of the most serious sexual abuse was being perpetrated by Bengali disciples of Jayapataka Swami and Bhavananda, who were contaminated and influenced by Bhavananda Swami. They had been engaged in homosexual activity in Mayapur, and were then moved up to the Vrindavan gurukula, where they started abusing the children. The youngest ones were particularly sexually abused by these Bengali disciples, and the gurukula teachers had very little ability to control them because they only answered to their guru, not to Dhanurdhara or his assistants.
Nirmal enlightened me to the fact that the older boys, although sometimes physically abused, had to live with the knowledge that the younger kids were being sexually abused, and that this mental abuse was often more painful then the physical abuse they took themselves. They knew about the abuse being perpetrated by the Bengali devotees and they reported it, but they couldn't stop it. For some reason, neither the Swamis in charge nor their parents could stop it from happening.
Dhanurdhara Swami had easy access to Jayapataka Swami and Bhavananda, who were the leaders of these abusers, yet we haven't heard from Dhanurdhara about his attempts to get specific GBC members to intervene. Dhanurdhara Swami has not disclosed the details of his attempts to get the GBC and leadership to solve the very serious problems that were increasing the pressure on him and other administrators in the gurukula system. We have not yet seen any responsibility assumed by those who planted this abusive mentality, not only in the children, but in the teachers themselves.
When reading Dhanurdhara Swami's Case History, we see that he does not expose or highlight the real cause of the systemic problems at the Vrindavan gurukula. While he makes a few broad-brush statements about the lack of support coming from above, he does not provide details or name names.
Naturally, those in charge of the GBC know full well that Dhanurdhara Swami is protecting their power structure, and in return they're protecting him. Today they have employed Pragosh dasa, the CCO, as their latest apologist.
Those who are speaking out today are the now-adults who were children at the time the worst abuses were taking place. Unfortunately, their remembrances are the memories of children, who were essentially unaware of the workings of the power structure above them. Some looked upon Dhanurdhara Swami as being the cause of all the miserable causes, but in fact, he was just the local representative of a system that was all-pervasive throughout the society, not just the gurukula system.
Until Dhanurdhara Swami and the GBC members who were in charge at the time make a full disclosure of exactly what was going on during that era, quoting chapter and verse and naming names, the real truth will remain hidden. And as long as that continues, it should be no surprise to anyone that Dhanurdhara protects the system, and the system protects Dhanurdhara.
Sampradaya Sun Editor