ISKCON Youth Fund - Genuine Care and Loving Support|
by GUPTA DAS (JOSEPH FEDOROWSKY)
Posted March 17, 2012
Disparaging statements were recently published on the Internet by ill informed individuals regarding the ISKCON Chapter 11 Youth Fund. The gist of the malicious falsity is that in order to punish the original Texas Gurukuli plaintiffs and avoid the payment of millions of dollars to those plaintiffs, the North American GBC and the SSPT formulated a strategy to illegally increase the number of Gurukuli claimants worldwide with the result that ISKCON filed for Chapter 11 protection and created a Reorganization Plan in US Bankruptcy Court.
As a member of the ISKCON legal team which defended against the Texas lawsuit and as Special Master appointed by the Bankruptcy Court to evaluate the claims and oversee distribution of the $9.5 million dollar Youth Fund, it is clear that these spurious allegations are far removed from both an understanding of the legal mechanics involved as well as the actual motivation of ISKCON leadership.
The fact is that the bankruptcy legal strategy originated with counsel and was subsequently presented by counsel to ISKCON management – not the other way around. Moreover, it was the studied opinion of counsel that the case filed against ISKCON in Texas was fully defensible based on the applicable statutes of limitations.
ISKCON leadership ultimately decided to create a multimillion dollar compensation fund under the auspices of the Bankruptcy Court to uniformly compensate as many Gurukulis as possible rather than defend and prevail against those ninety-one Texas plaintiffs. This approach resulted in placing more money in more Gurukuli hands – not less money in fewer Gurukuli hands.
The resulting legal strategy chosen by the ISKCON leadership achieved three important goals. First, it protected the good name and honor of Srila Prabhupada from spurious attack. Second, it saved temples from closure that may have been sold to cover legal fees if the case had gone through an expensive trial process. And third, in addition to the original ninety-one Gurukulis who sued ISKCON, almost six hundred more young devotees who had suffered abuse were located and included in the final settlement, and thus allocated their fair share of the compensation fund.
ISKCON’s open, innovative and straightforward approach in the ISKCON Chapter 11 Reorganization Plan was well received by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. During the confirmation hearing in West Virginia, Hon. L. Edward Friend II of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court stated he was “impressed” with the Reorganization Plan and with all the effort that it took to put together, and that he “wholeheartedly endorsed the Plan” as being in the “best interests of the creditors [Gurukuli tort claimants].”
Hon. L. Edward Friend II also noted that the Plan “makes sense” in that it will avoid numerous lawsuits which would otherwise waste assets that will be used for the benefit of the claimants, and then went on to praise the Plan as a “model” that should be followed in similar cases throughout the country.
The Court’s unbiased, objective and laudatory analysis of the Reorganization Plan eviscerates the ludicrous assertion that the Chapter 11 case was a secret, corrupt conspiratorial plot devised by ISKCON leaders to disenfranchise the Movement’s youth or to punish any individual or group. Disparaging statements along this line serve no purpose other than to insult and vilipend ISKCON’s sincere, long term commitment to the Movement’s youth.
Thus, from my perspective as legal counsel and Special Master in the bankruptcy proceedings, it is abundantly clear that the Reorganization Plan would not have been successful were it not for the day-after-day devotional commitment of innumerable devotees, GBC members, gurus, sannyasis, temple presidents, regional leaders, congregational leaders, supporters and other well wishers from around the world who – with genuine care and loving support – voluntarily took on the responsibility and shouldered the burden of financing the Youth Fund to successful completion.
Dear Deena Bandhu Prabhu,
I am very sorry for replying so late as I hardly ever check my mail.
During the many years that I was there, there had been may different cases but in relevance to the the time of the new management I was present only during their initial year and a half.
There had been certain child on child cases detected by some of the senior students. I was also witness to two such cases where I had reported them to the concerned teachers. This was mostly found in kids of ages 10-12. But mainly it seems to me that such occurrences are due to the fact that there have been no Child protection training seminars for the children as well as the adults in the past few years i.e. perhaps 2 years or so.
Some of my juniors had also told me that a there is bhramachari in the temple who would often mingle in with the kids a lot and offer them anything they would want from the prasadam stall. He would sometimes try to touch them inappropriately in the mob at the temple while dancing.He had even invited several individuals ranging from the ages of 10-14 to his office alone. Whether something even happened there is not known as some of the kids were too embarrassed to say but some of turned out to be bold enough to walk out when they felt something was wrong.
This is about all I know. A year has passed since I graduated so I haven't heard much from my friends at the gurukula except that some of them are leaving because they find it too taxing for them the way they are expected to have a stringent bhramachari like sadhana and distinct academic excellence to the best levels. Most of them are from non-devotee backgrounds, especially from cities like Delhi and Gurgaon as they are likely the only ones that can easily afford such fees. As it is, they find it very difficult to settle in within the different environment.
This has caused a rotation of almost 50-60 completely new students turning up every year; which is why hardly any of them ever get a taste of what Prabhupada intended to give the children in the Gurukulas.
I guess I have said enough and only hope that things may get better.
Thank You for your concern.
Pls keep me anonymous...thanks
Child Protection Website|
by Gaurav Mittal
Posted March 3, 2012
In early 2000s, I proposed to develop an official child protection website to provide information about adjudicated and ongoing child abuse cases. I discussed this idea with Tamohara Das (CPO Director), Romapada Swami, Hanumat-presak Swami and other leaders but they did not show any interest.
ISKCON is a volunteer-based organization. Most people work for free as service to Krishna. Even if some people are paid for services, then the pay is quite minimal. In these conditions it is difficult to enforce a systematic child protection program. ISKCON cannot act as police and cannot stop offenders to visit temples, give lectures or lead kirtans. Even if CPO bans an offender from ISKCON, the CPO does not have power and resources to implement their decision in all temples. But CPO can provide education and information to all ISKCON members so that the members have the opportunity to protect themselves and people around them.
There should be an official website providing information about offenders like the US's sex offender directory. Temples and centers should provide this website to all members so that concerned members are aware of offenders and CPO investigations.
This CPO website should have a section about the cases which have been adjudicated. It should also post all the victims' allegations if victims allowed CPO to share them in public forum. It should also provide the defendant's arguments and the CPO's judgment.
There should be a section in this website for cases that have not been resolved. The allegations pertaining to these cases should still be posted for the sake of awareness with a disclaimer that these allegations can be false and are not verified.
With awareness from this website ISKCON members will be able to enforce CPO decisions and take right action. The problem of not having such information available to all ISKCON members has allowed offenders in the past to easily break CPO directives. For example, there have been many occasions where child offenders have broken CPO directives and given class or lead kirtans even though they were banned from doing so. If the audience was made aware of CPO directives then they would have surely opposed offenders and forced temple leadership to follow CPO directives.
It is important to post information about the allegations along with CPO decisions or directives. In the past there have been cases when CPO has shown leniency towards offenders. If ISKCON members are provided with complete information about abuse cases then the members can make informed decisions about associating with such offenders.
Developing this official website will be a good step to prevent child abuse.
A number of friends and acquaintances have shared, that though agreeing with the points I have raised in my articles, they take objection to the forums I have used. Posting an article on any given news site, does not require or imply my endorsement all the views expressed therein. While I acknowledge their disapproval, I do not see that I have valid alternatives at present, and in spite of whatever imperfections may be there, I am grateful for the opportunity to avail of these forums.
Notwithstanding my objection to some of the material posted on dandavats, I sent a copy of every recent article I have written to the editor; who has evidently deemed them unfit for publication. I hold that any such considerations one may have, pale before the urgency and gravity of the topic at hand; to avoid addressing child protection issues on account of a lack of ideal forums is not a sensible alternative.
I’d like to ask a question to those who disapproved of the websites that posted my articles; with this question I mean no offence to anyone, it is exclusively intended as a way to offer food for thought. Do these same devotees feel similarly disturbed when websites posts articles glorifying known child abusers?
Some friends have pointed out the need to open a website that deals exclusively with Hare Krsna child protection issues; at present we are exploring this option.
In this article I share allegations pertaining Bhaktividya Purna Swami (BVPS). The nature of these allegations is so disturbing that some will find them hard to believe. All the information presented comes from individuals I regard as credible and sincere devotees. As I have already expressed in previous articles, the objections I raise in regards to BVPS pertain his continued involvement with children.
It is a common occurrence, in child abuse cases, for victims and witnesses to be reluctant to file an official complaint; for reasons I will address later in this article, this phenomenon has been even more prevalent in incidents that have involved BVPS.
In this article I will address past and current events that represent reasonable cause for concern indicating that the children in BVPS’s Gurukula may be at risk. Past and recent allegations suggest that the safety of these children is in jeopardy; at present I am gathering evidence to substantiate these accusations. I invite anyone wishing to share incidents involving BVPS or his Gurukulas to write to me at sanaka_rsi [at] hotmail [dot] com.
ISKCON child protection authorities have conducted two major investigations (and a couple of smaller ones) on BVPS and his Gurukulas. Click Here The first one took place in July 1991, and the second in 1999. Both these investigations uncovered evidence of extensive abuse; the measures taken by ISKCON’s child protection authorities have been disproportionately inadequate.
Most devotees who have spent extended periods of time in India are familiar with what it means to be blacklisted. When a foreigner is caught breaking the law, if the offence is serious enough the police will enter their name in a “black-list” of individuals who will not be allowed back into India. Due to the fact that corruption in India is still widespread, when one has been around long enough and knows people in the “right” places, by paying some bribes, it is relatively easy to have a troublesome foreigner blacklisted. Some senior devotees have been blacklisted; not because they broke the law apparently, but because they upset the wrong people.
Since 2006 repeated allegations have surfaced accusing Bhaktividya Purna Swami and the staff of inappropriate conduct towards the girls in his Gurukula. Last year parents removed a significant number of girls from BVPS’s school. It is necessary to interview these girls and their parents to inquire as to the reasons that brought them to leave the school.
I have recently been informed that in 2006, when these allegations first emerged; initially Ramadevi, who at the time was the CPO representative in Mayapur, expressed her resolute intention to expose and put an end to BVPS’s transgressions once and for all.
In this connection she had a private meeting with Bhaktividya Purna Swami; it is not known what was discussed. What is known however, is that she came out a changed person; visibly frightened. Ramadevi flatly refused to carry on with the investigation and overnight she turned into BVPS’s new best friend and vocal supporter. This sudden switch left devotees in Mayapur perplexed.
Ramadevi Prabhu is a foreigner, she is a single woman in her 60s; Mayapur is her home. To the best of my knowledge the small apartment she lives in, is all she owns in the world. She has expressed the desire to spend the rest of her days in the Dham. It is alleged that BVPS threatened to have Ramadevi black-listed if she went ahead with the investigation.
There are other devotees, who do not wish to be named, that claim to have been threatened by BVPS in a similar fashion as described above.
If indeed, this is the reason that caused Mother Ramadevi’s sudden turnaround, some may be quick to judge her a coward, and certainly such behaviour can hardly be deemed honorable. However, it is important to look at the context of the situation. ISKCON’s child protection authorities have more evidence and testimonies of abuse involving BVPS than almost any other offender in the history of ISKCON. The nature of the abuse BVPS is directly and indirectly responsible for is extreme and extends over a span of several years. Yet, when basic commonsense is applied to assess the sanctions that have been imposed on him, they are found to be inexplicably inadequate. In the western world, an individual responsible for transgressions of a similar nature, would have faced a considerable prison sentence and never been allowed in the vicinity of a child for the remainder of his life; whereas in ISKCON we have the Education Ministry that encouraged Maharaj to resume his services.
If BVPS did threaten to blacklist Ramadevi, she would have found herself in a dilemma. The negligible sanctions ISKCON’s child protection authorities have imposed on BVPS for his past transgressions, offer no guarantee that reporting any new allegations would have a significant impact for the protection of the children, or that he would have come to face appropriate consequences. Whereas to expose BVPS’s misconduct, Ramadevi would have had to be prepared to leave Mayapur for good, and possibly lose her apartment. It would have been a difficult predicament for her.
As we have seen in Vrindavana’s recent incidents, even to this day ISKCON’s educational authorities offer more support to perpetrators than to whistle blowers...I wish I could confidently say that if I was to find myself tackling such a dilemma I would have had the courage and the integrity to chose righteousness over convenience; the truth is that I am not sure I would.
Many amongst those who have only been exposed to BVPS’s charming side will find such a possibility to be doubtful and probably offensive as well. The truth is that there are several indications that point to a wall of fear and silence surrounding past and more recent allegations of child abuse that involve BVPS and his Gurukulas; this fear deters witnesses from coming forward and is indicative of a greater problem. In Mayapur, we have a situation where “everyone knows”, but few are willing to speak... and almost exclusively, the few who are brave enough to say anything are only willing to do so anonymously.
There are several ISKCON leaders who have offered protection to known child abusers when their victims or the CPO have made some attempts to make them accountable. In my last article I wrote about the role played by Sesa prabhu in protecting BVPS. There are a number of Swamis and Gurus who have been inviting BVPS to preach in their zone, offering him ample respect and worship. Given that ISKCON is yet to adequately address his past misconducts and that he is still involved with children, such endorsement ought to be viewed as a cause for concern.
Indradyumna Swami is one such example. On one hand he has offered support and assistance to a number of children in ISKCON since the early days; some of these children had no one to turn to for help. I have a friend who views him as her second father. On the other hand he openly endorses BVPS.
Towards the end of January, I was in Vrindavana and I came to know that BVPS was visiting with the girls from his Gurukula along with Nareshvara prabhu. They stayed in Vrindavana for several days and were joined by Indraduymna Swami, and together they toured to different places in and around the Vrajamandala. Indradyumna Maharaj was accompanied by a few of his brahmachari disciples. The girls in BVPS’s Gurukula range from age 5 to 18 years of age.
Even if for a second we were to overlook the fact that these girls are mostly underage, still, if as aspiring Gaudiya Vaisnavas, we observe the nature of Mahaprabhu’s interactions with women and the example he set through His instructions to Chota Haridas, it is difficult to understand how it is beneficial or appropriate for these Sannyasis or for these girls to be spending extended amounts of time together.
If we then look at the examples presented in the Shastras of exalted personalities the likes of Saubari Muni, Visvamitra Muni, Lord Indra, Lord Brahma and Lord Siva, we can understand that sex desire is something extremely difficult to overcome. It is something that must be regarded with extreme caution, especially by individuals in the renounced order of life. This is confirmed by the track record of ISKCON Sannyasis.
I wonder why it is that some Sannyasis insist on interacting with women as if they have transcended sex desire. Even if they have indeed transcended this desire, is the example that is being set for current and future generations appropriate? What is Indradyumna Maharaj teaching his brahmachari disciples by his example? These girls probably think that it is acceptable and perhaps desirable for them to seek the association of Sannyasis.
Would it not be more fitting to have ISKCON’s senior ladies to train and educate these girls? Does anybody really believe that BVPS is the best person to prepare girls to become emotionally healthy and balanced women who will be able to contribute to society?
A girl that had been abused in BVPS’s Gurukula, was enrolled in a different school, (one of the schools in Mayapur that is not under BVPS’s control). Indradyumna Swami insisted that this girl be sent back to BVPS’s Gurukula, even after he was made aware of the specific details of the mistreatment she had suffered. On account of Indraduymna Swami’s insistence this girl was eventually sent back in BVPS’s gurukula.
I have been told that Nareshvara prabhu is one of the few adults (if not the only one) who is not part of the school staff, and allowed to freely visit BVPS’s girls' Gurukula. This is a privilege denied even to the parents of the girls.
If Champakalata prabhu, the CPO director, has been made aware of these incidents, given that she is a disciple of Indradyumna Maharaj; she is not exactly in the best position to adequately reproach her spiritual master.
Over the years, Sivaram Swami has made efforts to promote the welfare of children in ISKCON; more so than other GBCs. A while back on his website I saw a video where he was speaking on the importance of child protection. I wish more GBCs followed his example in this regard. Sometime towards the end of July 2011 Sivaram Maharaj wrote the following comment in response to my article. <Click Here
> While there are many things I take exception to in this letter, one that I agree with, is that the GBC
>are letting the CPO office slip off their top of the priority list. It is something that should be addressed
>and I would suggest that the CPO budget is not down-graded by the GBC, but guaranteed.
If you click this link (Click Here), you will see a video posted on dandavats, where only last year, Sivaram Swami gave a glamorous welcome to BVPS in Hungary. There is a Kirtan party awaiting BVPS’s arrival, when he gets out of the car, the devotees shower flowers on him, and Sivaram Swami welcomes him with a friendly hug; then BVPS seats on a Vyasasana and the devotees wash his feet in the temple room (possibly in front of the deities). During his stay in Hungary BVPS gave a series of classes on diverse topics including of all things the education of children.
I assume that Sivaram Swami is somewhat acquainted with BVPS’s history of child abuse. If he is not, I strongly encourage him to become familiar with some of the history of BVPS’s involvement in the horrors perpetrated to the children in the Mayapur Gurukula. My concern is that prior to inviting BVPS in Hungary, Sivaram Swami may not have duly informed his disciples, nor expressed his disapproval of BVPS’s past wrongdoings.
If my concerns are founded, this causes a problem. In giving BVPS such a extravagant welcome, effectively what Sivaram Swami is saying to his disciples is, “I approve of this man (and everything he stands for)”. It is a tacit endorsement of the abuse that BVPS is responsible for.
I would have a less to object, if my concerns are unfounded, and indeed Sivaram Swami has given his disciples a comprehensive briefing on BVPS’s misconducts, explaining that despite BVPS’s extensive responsibility in the severe child abuse that took place in Mayapur, for whatever reasons, he still values his friendship with BVPS, his knowledge of Vedic mantras etc.
I am also aware of another instance where Sivaram Swami wrote a letter of support to help a person who was being investigated for child mistreatment by the CPO and was later found guilty.
A number of other ISKCON gurus and leaders regularly invite BVPS to visit the former Soviet Union to attend festivals and preaching programs.
Given that to date BVPS has not adequately acknowledged nor apologized for his responsibility in the past child abuse in Mayapur; that he is still involved with children; and that more recent allegations have surfaced that are yet to be appropriately investigated; any glorification of BVPS by ISKCON leaders, that does not include a comprehensive history and a necessary distancing and disapproval of BVPS’s transgressions, will be a form of endorsement of everything BVPS stands for, including child abuse.
This is that much more relevant if we take into account the well known naivety and lack of information that is prevalent amongst the devotees of the former Eastern-Bloc. In my opinion gurus who invite BVPS to visit their zone, but neglect to address BVPS’s history are doing a disservice to child protection, to their disciples and to ISKCON. As leaders, they are failing to take the necessary stance in regards to child protection.
While I appreciate the praiseworthy efforts made by these two sannyasis; child protection cannot be optional or selective. Given the position they occupy, with their actions, they are setting precedents that discount the gravity of, and can therefore encourage the perpetuation of child abuse. The inconsistency between their actions and their words weakens the merits of their stated intentions and whatever efforts they have made for the protection of ISKCON’s children.
In regards to Sivaram Swami and Indradyumna Swami, my objections are specific to the instances mentioned. Although I understand that my writing may come to have an adverse effect for their overall reputation; it is not my intention to cast a judgement on their character, rather I hope that this will encourage them to give more thought to the consequences of their actions and hopefully, also to act with more coherency, in ways that will be conducive for the protection of children in ISKCON.
P.S. Correction: In my past articles I have written that Champakalata Prabhu, the CPO Director, is a single mother. It has been brought to my attention that this is not the case. I wish to offer my apologies to her and to the vaisnava community for the disturbance this has caused. In the future I will make greater efforts to verify information before writing.
Nandini Stocker shares her experiences in Iskcon in "Reflections On ISKCON's Lost Generation" . In her article, she talks about the rampant and pervasive abuse on children in the Hare Krishna society. Nandini writes, "Almost every person in my generation of the Movement suffered some sort of abuse.". She questions these inhuman and unimaginable acts of abuse in religious organizations. As she finds no answers, she gives up. She writes, "Ultimately I don’t know why the perpetration of sexual abuse exists historically in the Catholic Church. And I’ve given up trying to figure it out." Many people have commented on this article and the common theme is to blame post-1977 ISKCON leaders. Most members of Iskcon, including the leaders, joined this organization with a hope. They were looking for something higher in their life. God is within us and we are always seeking Him. In their search of God, they followed Iskcon's philosophy which promised to take them back to Godhead. But in the process something went wrong. Instead of finding God, many committed grave offenses of exploitation of children and women. This abuse was pervasive to a degree that almost all children in the Hare Krishna movement during the 70s and 80s have suffered it. What went wrong! Abuse can't be blamed on people as most members were good people. The common element among these followers was the philosophy. It is this philosophy which blinded them and resulted in a pervasive culture that supported abuse.
Many scriptural concepts are misunderstood in ISKCON. The qualifications of a devotee is one of them. Due to this misunderstanding wrong people have been considered as “advanced devotees” and have become leaders in ISKCON's history. One example was Kirtanananda Swami who died in late 2011. Many Iskcon devotees including two prominent Iskcon Swamis went to bow down to his samadhi even though he hurt a significant number of people. Dhunurdhar Swami is another example. He was Iskcon guru till early 2000s even after he was found guilty of violent abuse of innocent children in Vrindavan Gurukul.
Another misunderstood concept in the philosophy of Iskcon is the attitude of a devotee towards others. The judgmental and intolerant attitude towards others is encouraged. People are labeled as fallen, offenders, vaishnava aparadhis, karmis, rascals etc. Those associated with such labels are treated with contempt by Iskcon members. That is what happened with innocent children. They were labeled and seen with contempt because they couldn't behave as the adults demanded. This resulted in society's neglect which left the children vulnerable to abuse.
Who is advanced devotee? How we should treat people around us? Answer to both of these questions are related. In Ramayana, Lord Rama describes the qualities of a devotee as follows - "Ananya bhakta is the person who has firm determination that I am servant of Rama (God) who manifests in the form of the whole animate and inanimate world".(Kishkindha Kanda 3) What this means is that the devotee sees his beloved Lord in all people around him. Therefore, he treats them with love, respect, care and appreciation. Service to Krishna is direct service to people around us. As Krishna is manifesting in people around us, such devotee does not judge or label people. Instead he is always ready to give them happiness.
Lord Krishna explains the same understanding in his last instruction to Uddhava as follows - "I consider this process — using one's mind, words and bodily functions for realizing Me within all living beings — to be the best possible method of spiritual enlightenment.“ (SB 11.29.19) “With a pure heart one should see Me, the Supreme Soul within all beings and also within oneself, to be both unblemished by anything material and also present everywhere, both externally and internally, just like the omnipresent sky.” (SB 11.29.12) “For him who constantly meditates upon My presence within all persons, the bad tendencies of rivalry, envy and abusiveness, along with false ego, are very quickly destroyed.” (SB 11.29.15) "Within this world, whatever is perceived by the mind, speech, eyes or other senses is Me alone and nothing besides Me. All of you please understand this by a straightforward analysis of the facts." (SB 11.13.24)
The above vision of a devotee is also described by Lord Krishna as “Vasudeva Sarvam” in BG 7.19 which means to see everything and everyone as a form of the Lord. Just like not eating meat is a basic principle of a devotee, in the same way treating everyone with love and accepting everyone as a manifestation of the beloved Lord should be the basic requirement of a devotee. If this key principle of Gita was practiced in ISKCON, the second generation devotees like Nandini wouldn't have been lost.
Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
Om,May All become Happy,