BVPS at Mayapur Gurukula?
Posted October 19, 2003
On September 20, 2000, ISKCON's Office of Child Protection ruled as follows:
"During the 1980s, through 1991, many children suffered physical, sexual, and psychological child abuse in the Mayapura gurukula while Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja was in the position of principal of the school. Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja has expressed to the ICOCP that he takes responsibility for the child abuse that occurred while he was principal of the school.
"In some instances Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja imposed excessive physical punishments on students, and Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja also takes responsibility for these acts of misconduct. . . . Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja may not at any time assume a managerial or administrative role in ISKCON, and especially not in connection with children."
What, then, is Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja doing at the Mayapura Bhaktivedanta Academy, a scant three years later? One parent of children at the school, Praghosh das (ACBSP Hedmark, not SDG), seems to think that the "principal Headmaster His Holiness Bhaktividya Purna Swami" is very much a part of life there:
". . . The school is up and running. The boys are in ecstasy. Pure transcendental ecstasy. They love the school. They love the austerity. They love the training and they love the camraderie [sic]. Most importantly -- they are fast growing to love and greatly respect HH Bhaktividya Purna Swami. THIS more than anything IS singular desired result in attending such an academy." (E-mail letter posted Oct 13, 2003)
This is surely a glowing recommendation but, even so, should Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami be allowed to remain at the Mayapura gurukula, where he has done so much harm in the past, and where he has been specifically barred from serving?
Another cause for concern is that Praghosh das states the purpose of gurukula is learning to love and respect Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami. Is that what is being taught at the gurukula in Mayapura?
When I was in gurukula at Gita Nagari in the 1980s, I was taught that the purpose of gurukula was to learn to love Krsna. Perhaps things have changed since then, but it speaks volumes about the curriculum at such an institution, that its main goal is the adoration of Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja, who already has been found guilty of child abuse by the official ISKCON body in charge of such matters.
How many times have we heard this expression before: "They love the austerity"? For many experienced gurukulis, I'm sure this phrase conjures up sinister imagery. One can read this very quote in reference to gurukula life in the late seventies and the decade of the eighties, from Back to Godhead magazine (vol. 11, no. 9): "True, by usual American standards, their life is austere. But isn't this good?"
I'm sure many well-intentioned parents thought along these lines then, as well as, apparently, now. Of course, now it has come out that many gurukula children were underfed, under-clothed, and under-loved, to such an extent that too many from our generation have since committed suicide.
A little austerity (early bedtimes, corresponding early risings, and structured routines, including regular chanting and Deity worship) can be a good thing, but given Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami's previous regime, how can we feel confident that "austerity does not also include psychological intimidation (including forced chanting), neglect (including inadequate food and inadequate health care) or regular beatings?
In addition, what sorts of other activities are going on with Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami running the Mayapur gurukula, as his record already indicates a reluctance, to say the least, to stop other child abusers from exercising their proclivities? According to some accounts, a 28 year old teacher has already proposed marriage to a pre-teen girl, and yet Jahnu Dvipa das, a member of Mayapura's Child Protection Team, does not feel that there is any need to investigate this allegation further:
"The real enemy in ISKCON is not child-abuse, the GBC, the fallen gurus or dubious sannyasis. They are not the enemy. The real enemies are the ones who use all these controversial issues to cast doubt on Srila Prabhupada and his followers. . . ." (E-mail letter Oct 14, 2003)
When the above concerns were raised, Praghosh prabhu responded with this letter:
"I don't give a s**t what the CPO says. They are just an 'Agency' created by a group of fools who don't know what they are doing but are trying to position themselves for the purpose of sucking money from the Samkirtan Movement and enhancing their pathetic reputations as puffed up, know it all Do Gooders!!! . . . They thoroughly disgust me!" (E-mail letter Oct 14, 2003)
However, as it stands, Praghosh das really has nothing to complain about from the Child Protection Office so far, as Hari Sauri prabhu has already stated that the CPO should not be at all interested in investigating the situation at the Mayapura gurukula.
As he sees it, there is no cause for alarm:
"[We have] the assurance of the local CPT [see Jahnu Dvipa das, above] and at least a good number of the parents whose children attend the school, as well as school administrators. This kind of statement [i.e., a request for investigation of the Mayapura Bhaktivedanta Academy] pre-empts an unbiased, neutral investigation and loads the onus into the 'guilty unless proven innocent' category. It is completely unacceptable." (E-mail letter Oct 15, 2003)
It really doesn't matter whether Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami is innocent or guilty under the current circumstances. What matters is that he has already been found guilty, admitted his guilt, and has been barred from participation in ISKCON's gurukulas. He is already in violation of this ruling.
For ISKCON to maintain a politically advantageous apathy toward this development in its flagship community would be a sad indication of its commitment to the cause of protecting this new generation of Krsna's children, and of its seriousness in reaching out to the first generation of gurukula alumni.
Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami may today be an utterly reformed character, a different person than the abuser of Vaisnava children that he was less than fifteen years ago. Hopefully he is, given that he is again directly involved in their lives. However, that is absolutely no reason to allow him contact with Krsna's children. Once a person has been found guilty (by his own admission, no less) of child abuse, he should no longer be allowed contact with children, at least out of respect for his past victims, if not out of concern for potential future victims.
It is a slap in the face to the children whose devotional creepers were badly damaged by this man to allow him any opportunity to do it again to others, even if he has truly changed his behavior. There are plenty of wonderful service opportunities that do not involve teaching gurukula.
There are enough responsible adults in the world, and within ISKCON,
that we need not let child abusers teach our children. If there are not
enough willing, qualified people within ISKCON, perhaps the gurukula issue
needs to be revisited yet again.