Chakra Discussions

GHQ member tries to turn back the clock on women's rights

by the Chakra editorial team

Posted January 31, 2005

Editor's note: Basu Ghosh prabhu, a member of the neo-conservative GHQ faction, wants an end to legislated equality for women within ISKCON; he has asked the GBC to rescind the year-2000 resolution 501 on Women's Rights in ISKCON.

His proposed 2005 replacement resolution claims the earlier resolution was adopted in haste and without consideration. For five years, it has been ISKCON law that all ISKCON temples are to encourage "all qualified devotees, regardless of gender, to speak on Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, etc. during the regular temple class" and that all ISKCON temples must designate "half of the temple room area, divided in the center from the altar" for women (Law 618 on Women's Participation).

Basu Ghosh das's proposed resolution calls for replacing the current regime of statutory protection for women's rights with the most conservative possible interpretation of Srila Prabhupada's statements on women -- to return, in fact, to the pre-2000 era where, to quote from the third item of the preamble to the earlier resolution 501,"the voice[s] of our women . . . have been hushed and stifled due to misinterpretation of our Vaisnava philosophy, and thus the human and interpersonal needs of our devotees have been minimized."

The GBC asks proponents of resolutions sponsored for debate at their meetings to provide a rationale for proposals, to justify their importance to ISKCON, and to foresee the results of implementation. In item 2 (d) of their supporting explanation, advocates for the new proposed resolution claim that this retrograde step will be important for the success of ISKCON by somehow mending its "perceptible conservative/liberal rift".

One GBC member has agreed to sponsor Basu Ghosh das's proposed resolution, so it will likely come to a vote at this year's Mayapura meetings. Under Robert's Rules of Order, such sponsorship does not necessarily imply approval.

On January 19, Chakra invited Basu Ghosh das to respond with a justification of his proposal; but he has declined this opportunity.

Braja Bihari das has offered to mediate a discussion between Basu Ghosh and members of the ISKCON Women's Ministry to seek a possible negotiated compromise. Basu Ghosh has agreed to this proposal but has not withdrawn his proposed resolution from consideration in the meantime. The women's ministry has responded with a petition drive giving the general devotee community an opportunity to register its opposition to Basu Gosh's proposal.

Please email your comments, whether pro or con, to your local GBC representative before he or she leaves for the Mayapura meetings. Chakra would also welcome copies of these comments, particularly if you allow us to post your letter. Due to the anticipated volume of responses, we do not expect to be able to post every letter, but we will post a selection of viewpoints.


(The following is to be presented at the 2005 GBC Meetings in Mayapura)

Basu Ghosh's proposal:

Whereas the Women In ISKCON resolution of 2000 (Section 500: Holy places and spiritual communities) contains language that is ambiguous and misleading, suggesting that the GBC and the senior leaders of ISKCON constitute the party responsible for the care and protection of women in ISKCON, in contradiction to Srila Prabhupada's many statements explaining that the male members within individual families, namely father, husband and grown up sons, are specifically charged with that responsibility, and

Whereas the action order of that resolution to provide equal facilities etc has the implication of the creation of a welfare system or a guarantee of rights for women in ISKCON, in contradiction to statements by Srila Prabhupada that are critical of welfare systems and of governments granting rights to any group, and

Whereas the resolution uses language affirming the principle of gender equality or gender blindness which, from a study of Srila Prabhupada's writings and statements can be construed to support the principle of women's independence, and

Whereas equal rights or equality for women, social and/or political, leading to women's independence, stands contrary to Srila Prabhupada's instructions on the care and protection of women in ISKCON,

Therefore it is resolved that:

The Women In ISKCON resolution (Section 500. Holy places and spiritual communities) shall be suspended pending a review and revision to correct the shortcomings as indicated above before submission to the GBC body for a vote to reinstate it in an amended form.

Explanation:

Please answer the following questions:

1) What prompts you to submit this proposal?

There are obvious ambiguities and implications within the resolution which in various ways misrepresent Srila Prabhupada's guidance for the care and protection of women. Since the resolution was hastily proposed and passed into law by the GBC without going through the normal process of subcommittee etc, it contains flaws due to oversight and requires more time and consideration to be reworded.

2) Why this proposal is important for the success of ISKCON?

a) All ambiguity of the present resolution can be removed and replaced by language taken from Prabhupada's own writings that defines exactly what ISKCON's position is regarding its women members.

b) All legal liability and obligations to women and to any group will be controlled. This is particularly relevant to the growing question of ISKCON's treatment of gays and lesbians who may seek to take advantage of any apparent 'equal rights' laws in ISKCON's constitution.

c) There will be conformity to Srila Prabhupada's instructions on the care and protection of women in ISKCON with respect to the great difference of attitudes towards and treatment of women found in various countries of the world.

d) The final draft of this resolution that is accepted by all or at least by a huge majority will help to mend a perceptible conservative/liberal rift in ISKCON.

3) What would be the implications of implementing this proposal?

The GBC will now have the opportunity to take more time to consider the huge implications of writing laws that affect the personal lives of all ISKCON devotees.

It must be remembered that following the Women's Presentation at the 2000 GBC meeting there was absolutely no discussion whatsoever about the causes and origins of women's abuse in ISKCON and the proper means to prevent it from reoccurring. The resolution in question was the only tangible outcome and was accepted blindly in a matter of minutes without proper examination.

4) How do you see yourself contributing to the implementation?

A number of concerned devotees in good standing are willing to contribute to a discussion which will produce an amended resolution which addresses all of the above concerns.


The Original Resolution: Women in ISKCON

WHEREAS, the Women's Ministry presentation on March 1st, 2000 to the GBC Body brought a clearer understanding of the mistakes of the past and the need to provide equal and full opportunity for devotional service for all devotees in ISKCON, regardless of gender, and

WHEREAS, it is clearly following in the line of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada that all people are welcome to join Lord Caitanya's sankirtana movement and are capable of developing full love of God, and

WHEREAS, it is our belief that many of the social issues that confront us are exacerbated because the voice of our women, who are the mothers and daughters of our Krsna conscious family, have been hushed and stifled due to misinterpretation of our Vaisnava philosophy, and thus the human and interpersonal needs of our devotees have been minimized,

Therefore be it resolved that:

501 [STATEMENT] 1. The members of the Governing Body Commission of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness offer their humble apologies to the women of Srila Prabhupada's society who, because of our own shortcomings and those of the Society, have suffered due to a lack of protection, support, facility and appreciation for their service, devotion and vast contributions to the Society, and

[ACTION] 2. All GBC Body members and other leaders shall hold istagosthis in each of their respective temples to establish the priority of providing equal facilities, full encouragement and genuine care and protection for the women members of ISKCON. Also, separate meetings should be held with the leaders and women of each temple to address the women's needs and concerns, and

[GUIDELINE] 3. All GBC Zonal Secretaries, Temple Presidents and other leaders are requested, in coordination with the Women's Ministry, to invite senior devotee women, especially Srila Prabhupada's direct disciples, to visit their temples to provide their association and thus help in training younger devotees.

Women's Participation -- 618 [LAW]
A. All ISKCON temples are to allow all qualified devotees, regardless of gender, to speak on Srimad-Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, etc. during the regular temple class.
B. All ISKCON temples designate half of the temple room area, divided in the center from the altar, for the ladies.
C. If the management in a particular temple feels it is unable to implement these proposals, the Executive Committee will appoint a small team of senior devotees, including women, to sensitively review the particular local situation.