According to the recently posted “Proposal to Bureau Regarding Mayapur,” a team of India Bureau members recommended that immediate action to be taken by a newly appointed Mayapur Executive Board (MEB).
The proposal includes the need for developing procedures to address “reports of ethical violations.” Will this category include child-abuse? It must, because the Mayapur community accommodates one of the last ISKCON gurukulas including a boarding school facility. Other gurukulas have converted to day-care facilities, often because of verified instances of abuse of children. The Mayapur Gurukula has a past history of confirmed child abuse.
According to the ISKCON Child Protection Task Force (ICOCP) report issued in 2000 and ratified by the GBC, Mayapur had the worst record of child abuse that the ICOCP head had so far encountered in ISKCON. This devotee, Dhira Govinda das, was highly qualified to lead the Task Force, having a Ph.D in psychology, 25 years experience in the field of mental health as a children and family counselor, and a medical social worker, including a responsible position with the child protection unit in the Florida Dept. of Children and Families.
The two principal offenders in the report were Bhavananda and Satyadhanya. Eyewitness accounts documented astonishing examples of Bhavananda administering corporal punishment to boys and a girl, whom he was on occasion lifting up by her ponytail. The report states that Bhavananda “must undergo a psychological evaluation by a mental health professional approved by the ICOCP, and he must comply with ongoing therapy described in the evaluation report.”
The judgment, as ratified by the GBC, indicated a number of restrictions to be eventually lifted, except this one: “As lifetime restriction, Bhavananda must not have a service involving connection with children in ways described in this document and must not hold a position in ISKCON, such as Temple president, Temple treasurer, or Governing Body Commissioner.”
There is no doubt that offenses detailed in the report, if prosecuted in the US legal system, would result in heavy fines and jail sentences and a requirement to notify local citizens as a child molester residing in their community. An interesting question is, did the GBC body follow-up it’s ratification regarding the mental health treatment?
In any case, after six years’ active service, the head of the ICOCP resigned. He was heard to comment about his frustration regarding the fact that often after being officially identified, an offender would be discovered a year later teaching in another location.
Child abuse is nothing new in ISKCON. In 2003, a Federal Court awarded $9.5 million US to ISKCON child-abuse plaintiffs, which was eventually distributed to 700 victims located around the world. Such problems arise in ISKCON because there is a lack of enforcement and preventative procedures in effect, accompanied by deliberate attempts to avoid law enforcement and legal options, even when there is no viable alternative.
Generally the actual perpetrator of an offense is not prosecuted, adequately punished or removed from environments where others could be at risk. Physical, mental, sexual and ritualistic abuses are a matter of record in western society, but in ISKCON a special category is also applicable- spiritual abuse- the deliberate interference and disruption of a spiritual soul’s natural development of awakening dormant Krsna consciousness. It is most sinful when so called teachers, sannyasi’s, brahmin’s and gurus abuse those who come to them for spiritual shelter from a hedonistic society.
There are adult devotees who struggle to cope with dysfunctional patterns of behavior resulting from childhood abuses in ISKCON. Their faith in the only process to finally cure the distresses of this world, namely the transcendent processes of Krsna consciousness delivered by Srila Prabhupada- that faith has been severely tried. Many of them, highly intelligent and talented, find their best shelter in kirtan.
It has been said that those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them. Children living in Mayapur and Vrindavan are Srila Prabhupada’s hope for the future and must be protected at all costs. Inappropriate leniency toward child-abuse offenders must be avoided and government legal and law enforcement entities should be involved. In Mayapur, local Bengalis, out of personal humility, family pride or embarrassment, might not make formal complaints. Nevertheless, it behooves the India Bureau members, as responsible guardians, to be thorough and responsive to any “reports of ethical violations” pertaining to child abuse.
It also behooves devotees responsible for dependents to be vigilant and ensure the protection of those dependents (wives, children, siblings, elderly parents, other family members, students, servants and employees, et.al ) by pursuing whatever measures required to enact that protection, including going public, seeking legal and governmental intervention, organizing community action, and removing dependents from risk-prone environments.
The most effective means to bring about a fair and honest change is to, at least temporarily, remove the students and those at risk until the situation has been satisfactorily resolved. The satisfaction must be to the standards of protection defined as acceptable by the students and survivors of abuse.
Your humble servant,
Rupanuga das (ACBSP)