A Bad CPO Decision Should be Reversed
BY: DHARINI DEVI DASI
Jun 11, PORTLAND, OREGON, USA (SUN) When I first looked into Vakresvara Pandit’s CPO case, I discovered that I, along with most ISKCON leaders and rank and file devotees, had a lot of misconceptions and did not know the details of the case. As a result, most of us uncritically and innocently accepted the CPO decision without question. My effort was to objectively evaluate the case, separating fact from rumor, to see what actual evidence there was to support such a verdict.
FACTS OF THE CASE
Several years ago, when his two children were teenagers, Vakresvara Pandit Prabhu (“VP”) organized athletic events for the Dallas temple congregation’s teens. Later on, as an adult, one of the congregation member alleged that when she was a minor, VP had “consensual sex” with her on one occasion in someone’s apartment. The term “consensual” indicates that the alleged act was not the result of force; but if true, it would amount to statutory rape, because a minor is legally “incapable of consent”.
It must be noted that none of the other teens ever made any accusations or witness statements against VP, and they knew him well since they were good friends with his children. Unfortunately, in Dallas the accusations became rumors, and years later, some devotees may believe the rumors to be truth.
At the time of the accusation, despite determining the allegation had no credibility but following standard procedure, the local temple’s Child Protection Team alerted the police and social services. After questioning the accuser in Dallas, the police took no action because she elected not to press charges. In addition, the Dallas police said that she should call the Garland police, because she said the activity took place in Garland, a town about 45 minutes away, in the home of an acquaintance of VP (an insurance client). This acquaintance, however, whose apartment was allegedly the scene of the incident, did not even live in Garland at the time, and the furniture she described in detail did not exist: He stated that he was going through a divorce at the time, and had no furniture for one year. Incredibly, these crucial facts were ignored.
There was no eyewitness testimony or physical evidence that indicates the alleged events ever took place, and there were significant contradictions which were never explored. I will not go into much detail here, but an example is that the owner of the apartment was never asked by the so-called judges how VP could have had access to his apartment. In fact, VP never had a key, and would not have been able to enter without the owner’s permission or knowledge.
PROBLEMS WITH THE CASE
The CPO’s “trial” procedures were unfair and weighted against VP. Here are a few examples:
- The investigators trained the “judges”, which is like having the detectives or the prosecution train the judge and jurors;
- The defense was not given access to the accuser’s testimony, which hindered the defense because VP could not address what she said;
- Considerable evidence available in the case file indicating VP’s innocence was apparently either suppressed or disregarded;
- Discrepancies in the accuser’s allegations were overlooked by the “judges”;
- During the recruitment of judges for the case, at least one potential judge was told by the CPO office that “Vakresvara is probably guilty”. This indicates the outcome had been either predetermined or heavily weighted against VP, and the jury was tampered with;
- Apparent frustrations and inconsistencies in VP’s testimony were taken as indications of guilt without an attempt to have him clarify;
- The “judges” used a junk science procedure with no demonstrated validity or reliability as evidence of VP’s guilt. It was pushed on the judges despite the creator of this system directly telling the CPO director that it wasn’t valid for use in sexually-related crimes. (See Visnugada dasa’s article entitled Snake Oil, Scapegoats and the Hare Krishnas). Yet it was an important basis of the verdict against VP;
- Sesa prabhu, who represented VP, had helped develop the CPO procedures. He demonstrated to the NA GBC and the CPO that the CPO repeatedly and knowingly violated their own procedures in order to get a conviction. The original goal of the CPO was to provide an arbitration procedure. Instead, the past CPO director, with no legal background, altered the procedure to mirror a quasi-criminal justice system.
The CPO verdict stated, “This was not a case of pedophilia, but rather a case of immoral sexual behavior with a minor.” Yet the official ISKCON announcement from the minister of communications, published on ISKCON websites, was that VP was “responsible for sexual abuse of a minor”, which left the readers to imagine the worst. Further, ISKCON took no action when the same site characterized VP as a “child abuser monster”. You can imagine the distraught of VP’s daughter when she discovered such statements about her father.
To get some feedback on the case early on, I wrote the following to a nationwide network of attorneys with whom I participate in online discussions:
"An adult woman claimed that about 10 years prior, she had consensual sex with adult male. He denied it. Her church called the police but she declined to use the legal system to see whether she had a viable statutory rape claim.
Her church's national child protection unit set up a rudimentary court where the accused is found "responsible of child abuse" based on her testimony and on the results of an experimental test with no demonstrated validity that concluded the accused was deceptive. The international religious organization’ spokesman published on its websites that the accused had been found "responsible of child abuse"…
The consensus of the attorneys who responded is pretty much summed up by the comment of one who wrote: "... all I can say is… What a bunch of goofballs!”
A fair system would have likely exposed the truth. However, many omissions, defective procedures, speculative findings, and other errors show clearly that the case was so riddle with problems that a reasonable person would conclude that the procedure was prejudicial and the outcome was predetermined.
For over a year, other devotees and I have tried to convince the CPO and the NA GBC executive committee to re-open the Vakresvara Pandit (“VP”) case due to our belief that the procedure could not have proved his innocence. After numerous telephone calls, emails, essays, negotiations with ISKCON Resolve, a letter campaign to international leaders and finally, a resolution proposal to the international GBC meeting in Mayapur, no opportunity was ever offered to re-open the case. The NA GBC EC chairperson at the time explained that the GBC cannot do anything, because reconsideration is not part of the existing CPO process. I find this unconvincing, since the GBC is “the ultimate managerial authority”. If the GBC empowers the CPO to convict someone, it can also empower the CPO to re-open a case if a serious mistake has been made. Sadly, I am hearing of many similar mistakes made in other CPO cases, so I suspect that the mistakes in this case were not an isolated incident, but rather an operating procedure. Such devotees who have been wronged may come forward.
My hope is that fair-minded devotees will see for themselves the seriousness of ISKCON using its full ecclesiastical authority to condemn someone of child abuse or statutory rape without having a clue of how to conduct a fair process. Further, ISKCON makes official public statements reporting that such a devotee was found guilty of a serious crime, thereby marking a devotee with a scarlet letter, ruining his or her reputation, causing great suffering to the family, and endangering spiritual lives, all of which is shockingly absurd when the allegations would never fly in a court of law.
First, ISKCON has no business playing criminal courts, nor is it equipped to do so. Without proper training and expertise, the result is sure to be a kangaroo court. Second, making public statements that someone has been found guilty of a serious crime leads a reader to think that there was a conviction in a real criminal court, which is not true, and so it exposes ISKCON to a form of defamation called libel (in written form). Falsely accusing someone of having committed a serious crime is defamation per se, which is a heightened form of defamation, where the damages are presumed. In my opinion, the CPO’s “judicial” activity is playing with fire, and it is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Third, there is no precedent of Srila Prabhupada making public statements that ruined a devotee’s reputation. Finally, who in their right mind would want to work in ISKCON programs involving children if the CPO does not have a fair system? Any accusation throws a devotee into a judicial system reminiscent of that of communist China.
EVENTS AFTER THE CPO VERDICT
In addition to public shame, VP’s sanctions were: no leadership position of any kind, no giving class nor leading kirtans for a period of 3 years in any ISKCON event. It should be noted that VP is famous for his kirtans. Towards the end of the 3rd year, VP was asked by a NA GBC to lead a kirtan at a festival. When VP reminded the GBC individual of the sanctions, the GBC said not to worry, thinking that it would be alright since they were outside the temple. VP agreed, thinking that following a GBC request would protect him. VP also took 3 months off work to help take care of Bhakti Tirtha Swami (also a GBC) during the last stage of his illness in Gita-Nagari. Near the very end, Maharaja asked VP to sing, and VP was not about to say no to anything to his dear Godbrother and friend. Shortly afterwards, VP also took a turn to sing at his funeral, a private event.
Unbelievably, the NA GBC EC disregarded the above circumstances and decided that to punish VP for his defiance of the CPO sanctions for chanting Hare Krsna at the request of GBC persons, including a friend on his deathbed. They extended the sanctions for another 2 years, despite the protests of some GBC members, As a devotee, I find this unsettling, for I cannot imagine Srila Prabhupada ever doing such a thing.
When the 3 years + supplemental 2 years were ending, the NA GBC then passed a resolution stating that all sanctions given by the CPO would be extended for a lifetime. In the legal world, this is called an ex-post facto law (after the fact). It is unconstitutional for a government in the US to pass a law to change the terms of a sentence after the crime was committed. The reason is that it looks like cheating: the accused are told the punishment will be such and such, and later it is changed. Due to devotee pressure, the NA GBC backed down and repealed the resolution (which indicates that what they can do, they can reverse).
It is important for devotees to know despite hours spent pointing out the problems with this case, some NA GBC EC still contend that there was nothing wrong with the CPO procedures, while they concede there were “anomalies” (definition: “deviations from normal, form or rule”). Unfortunately, there are instances of ISKCON leaders’ deviations that have been kept quiet or gone unpunished, while rank-and-file devotees are subject to a different standard.
Officially, the NA GBC EC has demonstrated little to no concern for the suffering and pain that has been unjustly experienced by VP and his family. An injustice has many unforeseen consequences and ramifications. For example, to this day, Bkakti Tirtha Swami’s disciples are distraught by the fact that their guru was vilified at the end of his life for asking VP to sing by his side.
While we understand that overturning this verdict may appear to cast doubt on the CPO, the refusal to reconsider is worse. The CPO has wonderful goals, but abusing adults to protect children is not the solution we seek. Everyone can understand that mistakes are made, but it appears that in this case, the appearance of justice is more important than actual justice. I hope that our good devotees will take action. Please contact your temple presidents and GBC’s to ask them do redress the injustice done to a Vaisnava and clear his name.