Jul 06, 2016 INDIA (SUN) On the 4th of June 2016, Anuttama Prabhu released an official GBC statement on child protection in response to the "Cost of Silence". This document is a comprehensive rebuttal to Anuttama's paper. It is formed of two sections, the first part is made of 3 pages, and it covers the main shortcomings with the solutions suggested by the GBC. The second part is a longer and more detailed rebuttal that addresses the repercussions of the omissions, inaccuracies and minimizations in Anuttama's response.
I have mixed feelings about this response.
On one hand I am pleasantly surprised by the overall message conveyed. Essentially this response is an acknowledgement of the problem and the urgent need to raise the child protection standards in ISKCON. If, after watching the video, anyone was doubtful about the validity of the concerns raised, Anuttama's statement offers the best confirmation that many of the problems are indeed real.
On the other hand, if you actually stop to analyse the essence of the 14 pages, you will find that there is little substance to the solutions proposed. Anuttama Prabhu has gone out of his way to present an image that the GBC really wants to make an effort to address the problem, without actually committing to any tangible actions.
When Anuttama's response is seen in this light, it then becomes little more than a piece of damage control, media propaganda.
Essentially this response grossly minimises the extent of the problem. This is a disservice to child protection in ISKCON because it risks distracting the attention generated from the video. This interest could have been channelled to create positive changes. Now we run the risk that child protection will be shelved away until the next big scandal hits the international media headlines…
The directives the GBC has formulated, to try and address the current emergencies faced by Child Protection in ISKCON, and more specifically the Mayapur and Vrindavana gurukulas, are nowhere near enough.
Anuttama accuses the video presentation of being unbalanced, with many exaggerations and shortcomings… I find these criticisms to be rather amusing. The implication is that his statement offers a picture of the situation that is balanced, accurate free from shortcomings. Who, among us fallen jivas can claim to be without shortcomings? And who decides what constitutes a "balanced presentation"? Most of us like to think that our particular perspective is balanced, unbiased and accurate, and we will find some that agree with our views and other that don't.
Judging by the substance of the examples that Anuttama offers of the "many exaggerations" he claims to be in the video, it is safe to say that the use of the word "exaggerations" in this instance IS in and of itself an exaggeration.
Historically the CPO has had a lot of challenges with the implementation of policies and sanctions. No matter how difficult it may be to address the issue of enforcement, there can be little hope for any real progress until this has been resolved.
Pope Francis is now talking about introducing new regulations to terminate bishops that mishandle child abuse cases. I look forward to the day when we will see a similar degree of leadership accountability in ISKCON.
What is perhaps the biggest shortcoming in Anuttama's paper is precisely the fact that it makes no mention of the need to take measures to discourage the inappropriate behaviour of ISKCON's leaders. You can't hope to begin addressing the child abuse problem without tackling the culture of supporting offenders that has been prevalent among some ISKCON leaders…
The truth is that no matter how challenging it may be to create some accountability among the leadership, it will be very difficult to make any real progress, if their actions are not exemplary, for they are the ones that set the example for the masses.
The fact that the GBC has decided to place the Vrindavana Gurukula on probation for one year indicates that the problems are greater than what is acknowledged in Anuttama's statement.
The GBC and the CPO have been aware of these problems for the last 6 years. Gopal Krsna Maharaj and the current management of the Vrindavana Gurukula are personally responsible for enabling, neglecting and covering up severe child abuse in the school. And yet, Anuttama tells us that the GBC wants to give 12 months, to these very same individuals, to clean up the school and bring it on back track.
No one is asked to resign, no one is made accountable and no new staff is introduced to offer a fresh outlook. It is not sensible to hope that this strategy can succeed. You can't solve a problem with the same mind-set that created it.
Despite the ban the GBC placed to fundraise for the new school in Vrindavana, work has been progressing full steam, and they are scheduled to relocate shortly to the new facilities. The school has terminated two teachers that have spoken out against child abuse in the school; and Leela Govinda, the teacher that has been beating the children is still teaching.
I really don't see that there are any shortcuts here…If there is to be any hope to save the Vrindavana Gurukula, the top management of the school needs to be replaced with qualified individuals.
In Mayapur we have a similar scenario, the CPO and the GBC have been aware of the problems surrounding Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj for many years.
The GBC acknowledged that Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj has not been following the CPO restrictions, but they don't feel that he ought to face any sanctions for this. Naturally this reinforces the notion of a weak and ineffective CPO. If you disregard any sanctions imposed, you won't face any consequences... So why comply? Rather they instruct Maharaj to relocate off the school campus within 14 days. But they leave it up to the Ministry of Education (Sesa das) to decide whether Maharaj should be allowed to continue teaching to children…
Sesa, the very individual who is responsible for encouraging Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj to resume teaching, AFTER the CPO had banned him, and despite his documented history of abuse; is tasked with the important decision of whether Maharaj should continue teaching…
In 1990 the GBC ordered Maharaj to move out of the school and as we know, 6 weeks later he was back. Are we seeing a replay of the same? That the GBC should feel that removing Maharaj from the Gurukula IS a sufficient sanction, is evidence of severity of the child abuse problem in ISKCON.
For the sake of transparency and out of common decency, Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj must not be allowed any involvement – whatsoever - with children for the rest of his life. No respectable educational institution would ever consent to having a man with his track record come anywhere near children. Why is it so difficult to understand that keeping Maharaj there poses a threat to the children and is a liability for ISKCON at large?
Even if an abuser NEVER offends again, which as we have seen is NOT the case with Bhaktividya Purna Swami, still, what sort of society allows a known offender to teach?
Sesa prabhu really needs to resign as the Minister of Education... and make room for more qualified devotees to take up this service.
Something that I found to be encouraging was the proposed restructuring of child protection both in India and internationally. However, without a clear, concrete and measurable plan on how this will be achieved we are not going to get very far.
Creating an Indian sub-division of the CPO Office is an excellent idea, and one that deserves much support. The burden of funding this office and of the periodic CPO inspections should not be placed on the schools. If the schools are unable or unwilling to finance the CPO, child protection will be easily disempowered and stopped on its tracks. It would be like asking the Wall Street bankers to voluntarily pay for the financial compliance authorities to come and perform an audit.
"Sorry, we're short of funds this time around…Give us a call next year"
To lay the foundations for a lasting and powerful CPO, we will need to explore alternative funding options. Funds can be raised by taxing the Janmastami collections of ISKCON temples worldwide, soliciting donations from wealthy swamis, leaders and private individuals and/or taking a percentage from the construction of new temple projects.
The end objective needs to be the creation of a Child Protection trust fund like the MVT, that is solely dedicated to the betterment of the protection and education of children.
This year devotees around the world were shocked by the violent clashes that ensued in Mayapur. Some devotees who had been trying to address the rampant corruption that has been taking place there, were beaten up and others were chased out like stray dogs; they escaped fearing for their own safety.
Make no mistake, these devotees were not some passive pushovers, they were influential and experienced men. Praghosa prabhu was one of them. He had angered the wrong people because amongst other things, he was also trying to tackle a serious case of child abuse in Mayapur where Bhakti Purushottam Swami has been protecting a known offender.
Anuttama Prabhu reassures us that everything will be fine now, because Pitambara devi dasi has agreed to head the Mayapur CPO.
When I was there, earlier this year I had the opportunity to speak with her, and in my estimation she is a sincere, capable and qualified candidate, who can facilitate child protection. But I just don't see how, on her own, she will be able to do what is necessary to transform child protection in Mayapur. It would be like sending a lamb to monitor the wolves. She will need a lot more than CPO training, skills and knowledge to bring the situation under control.
The situation is so dire, that I am afraid we will need to call in Rambo to clean up child protection in Mayapur. It is concerning that Anuttama is even suggesting that somehow the child abuse problems in Mayapur will be resolved because Pitambari has agreed to take on the job.
Detailed rebuttal on the perceived shortcomings of The Cost of Silence
Is the CPO Independent of the GBC?
Anyone who has read Anuttama's response has probably noticed that although the 14 pages cover mostly matters of CPO concern, the document has been released by Anuttama, who is a GBC and ISKCON Communication, and that this statement has been approved by the GBC Executive committee.
The statement also tells us of the corrective measures the GBC intends to implement to address the Child Protection problems in ISKCON. And of course, if history is anything to go by, the GBC does not exactly have a good track record with regards to child protection enforcement.
For some odd reason the statement makes no mention that the CPO was even consulted in the making of this document, wherein the author is trying to argue that the CPO is independent of the GBC and that the GBC does not interfere with CPO matters…
One of Anuttama's more emphatic objections was precisely with regards to my observation that the GBC wields too much influence over the CPO, and how this undermines its effectiveness and credibility.
In the case of Varkesvara Pandit, other GBC members besides Radhanath Maharaj interceded in his favour. The GBC has also interfered with the cases of Lokanath Maharaj, Dhanurdhara Maharaj, Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj and Gauri das.
The following is a letter by Dhira Govinda Prabhu:
"When I served as CPO director, the GBC gave specific instructions for the CPO to not address the case of Lokanatha Maharaja. The dealings of ISKCON leadership around the case of Lokanatha Maharaja was filled with concealment, deception, inconsistencies, and lack of accountability.
Sincerely, Dhira Govinda dasa"
And this is a letter Tamohara prabhu sent to the GBC about Lokanath Maharaj's case:
"While the official GBC report is technically correct, its careful wording tends to cast the incidents into a more favourable light. There are at least three specific instances where the wording of report underplays and minimizes the severity of the transgressions."
Also note that Lokanatha Maharaja's recent letter actually gives a more true account. Here are the examples:
The report says, "Sometimes he would praise her by patting her and saying 'Very good.'"
- The reality reported by the girl was that he rubbed her thigh.
The report says, "he said 'Go and take your shower!' and swatted her with his hand."
- The report does not specifically mention that the swat was on her rear end.
The report says, "Lokanath Swami's hand touched and moved across the girl's upper thigh over her clothing."
- What actually happened was that his hand was resting for some time (possibly up to a half hour) on her "private parts."
The girl was 11 years of age at the time.
And this is from a letter Tamohara prabhu sent to all the prospective judges for Gauri's case:
"Therefore, with this new evidence, I approached the Chair of the GBC as to whether we should re-open the case (as the GBC had originally told the CPO not to further adjudicate), and he gave a definite go-ahead to proceed. Therefore, the case will be handled as a normal full adjudication procedure by the Child Protection Office."
For these reasons I insist that ISKCON needs a Child Protection body that is entirely independent of the GBC. The CPO needs to be restructured in a similar fashion to the BBT; an entity that works in cooperation with, but that is entirely independent from the GBC.
Why is it that in the making of the video ISKCON Child Protection leaders were not interviewed?
Anuttama's official statement alleges that the fact that video does not interview current child protection leaders, is evidence of a grave bias ant that there was no interest to provide a balanced study of the problem.
The video does not claim to be an objective, unbiased report of the current child protection situation in ISKCON. "The Cost of Silence" was an exposé on the child protection problems faced by ISKCON today. We had limited resources; we did the best that we could with what we had. To make a comprehensive presentation on the history of child protection in ISKCON was beyond the scope of the documentary.
Anuttama Prabhu also overlooks the fact that over the past 6 years I have written several letters to him personally, but also to many other GBC members and to Champakalata, the CPO director, and I also wrote several public articles. In these letters and articles I made repeated attempts to bring their attention on the problems faced by the children in Vrindavana and Mayapur. For the most part my concerns were ignored, and very little has been done to address the problems. I concluded that the GBC, Anuttama prabhu and Champakalata were not interested in having a dialogue.
The frustration I and others experienced in our attempts to address these very real child protection concerns has been one of the major factors that inspired the making of the video.
The film neglects the fact that many ISKCON schools are doing well
While it is true that there are many schools that provide a good standard of child protection in ISKCON, I doubt if there are many schools where children have "NEVER suffered from abuse", as Anuttama claims.
Anuttama fails to note that the video also does not cover many other ISKCON schools in third world countries where children do suffer. I have spoken to eye witnesses that have seen children getting bashed at the Bhaktivedanta School in Mumbai and at the ISKCON school in Manipur. The argument that the video makes is that, if the flagship schools have so many problems it is reasonable to assume that there are problems in other schools as well.
The film failed to inform viewers that the perpetrator of the 2011 incident in Vrindavana was banned for life from serving with children.
This is true. It is also true that the teacher that reported the incidents was removed along with the perpetrator, and that Gopal Krsna Maharaj, and the entire school management strongly opposed the removal of the offender. At the time, Anuttama prabhu was made personally aware of these problems.
The behaviour of the school management in this incident was a clear indication that they should never have been allowed to continue teaching.
Now 5 years, and many more abused children later, these very same individuals are still allowed to run the Vrindavana Gurukula without any personal consequences for their gross negligence.
The film ignores the fact that Devashish, was reported by school authorities to the Vrindavana police and arrested.
This is like trying to get some credit for closing the gate after the cows have escaped. Anuttama prabhu avoids addressing the fact that despite knowing that Devashis was a known sex offender, the school management invited him to work with the Vrindavana Gurukula and that he later abused more children.
Anuttama Prabhu also fails to address that there have been other incidents of sexual abuse in the school that have been ignored. Again there have been no sanctions for the gross negligence in how the Vrindavana Gurukula Management dealt with the case of Devashis.
The GBC did not apologize for disciplining Dhanurdhara Swami, they apologized for violating fair process in the adjudication of his case.
This apology is in the 2007 GBC Resolutions and is placed immediately before the apology the GBC sent out to the Turley case child abuse victims. So one after the other, the GBC first apologised to the abuser, and then to the victims.
It is true that the apology was with specific reference to the violation of fair process. Still making a public apology to an offender of the calibre of Dhanurdhara Swami and placing it above the apology to his victims shows a lack sensitivity and is inappropriate at best.
Anuttama argues that while Radhanath Swami's obeisance to Kirtanananda's grave may be misdirected, it is clearly not an endorsement of abuse.
A personality the likes of Radhanath Maharaj cannot honour or show respect to individuals such as Kirtanananda, Bhavananda, Sri Galim, Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj or Dhanurdhara Swami without sending out the message that he approves of these people, with everything they stand for, which naturally includes the child abuse. For this reason, the video suggests that leadership, as public figures, ought to exercise a greater degree of mindfulness about the far reaching repercussions of their actions.
Anuttama also omits commenting on Radhanath Maharaj's support of Varkesvara Pandit. I wonder how Kirtanananda's victims would feel if they saw Radhanath Maharaj pay his obeisance to his grave…
I was speaking to a friend recently who made two interesting points. The first was the story of Ambarish Maharaj and Durvasa muni. This pastime teaches us that even Lord Narayana Himself cannot forgive an offence made to His devotees… This same point is reiterated in the pastime of Jagai and Madhai. Mahaprabhu was ready to kill them. He only stopped when Nityananda Prabhu, the aggrieved party, begged Him to spare them.
Yet for whatever reason Radhanath Maharaj seems to feel that it is appropriate for him to extend his forgiveness to these characters. I find it objectionable that someone like Radhanath Swami takes it upon himself to "forgive" child abusers for offences that were not committed to him.
I don't believe in eternal damnation. I think that everyone of us is deserving of mercy and compassion. We'd be lost without it. We are far more fallen than Jagai and Madhai, what hope would we have without compassion? The point is that Jagai and Madhai spent the rest of their life living simply and doing their bhajans. I don't believe that in order to progress in the path of devotion, child abusers need to be allowed to continue teaching or occupy positions of high profile gurus.
The second point is that if personalities like Radhanatha Maharja and Indradyumna Maharaj want to maintain friendships with child abusers, out of common decency and respect for the victims, they should have the consideration to keep these friendships private. They cannot promote individuals like Dhanurdhara Swami, Bhavananda, Bhaktividya Purna Maharaj etc… by inviting them to speak on the vyasasan, and expect no criticisms.
In the film, Radhanatha Swami denies opposing the removal of Sri Galim from New Vrndavana and explains that his concern was for Galim's wife and children. The film indicates otherwise, without conclusive evidence.
The fact that Radhanath Maharaj did not call the police immediately, and that he expressed his concern for Sri Galim's wife and children, but not for his victims are reasons for serious concern. In the conversation Radhanath Maharaj first denies opposing the ban of Sri Galim, but then he also says that "he may have…"
I have made my own inquiries and I have satisfied myself that Radhanath Maharaj DID oppose the banning of Sri Galim from New Vrindavana, AFTER knowing the nature of the allegations. I encourage Anuttama Prabhu and anyone who is concerned, to conduct their own inquiries. Don't take my word for it.
The film criticizes Sesa das for acting as Vakresvara Pandit dasa's defense advisor. Yet, it is part of standard CPO procedures—and every civilized society—to recognize the right of an accused party to a proper defense. To deny such would be unjust.
This is just a poor strawman argument. Although I am not aware of any CPO case where the victims were represented by a GBC, the video does not object to the fact that Varkesvara Pandit was represented. The video objects to the fact that he was represented by Sesa das, who is a GBC, the minister of Justice and the minister of Education.
Indradyumna Swami is criticized for taking photos of girls in bikinis. But the photos displayed and under question were taken from larger scenes of men, women and children reacting to harinama parties on the beach in Poland, many of which have been cropped by detractors.
I have discovered that it is true that some of those photos were indeed cropped. Some… But it is also true that some of the photos of children in bikini were not altered in any way, they were presented, just as Maharaj uploaded them on his Facebook page.
It is interesting how Anuttama prabhu tries to convince the devotees that ALL pictures were cropped. That's almost as bad as some of the journalism in the documentary… Anuttama selectively chose to focus on some of the pictures which were cropped, but remains completely silent on the pictures of the girls sitting on his lap.
What I have noticed is that none of Indradyumna Maharaj's supporters are willing to acknowledge that Maharaj brought the criticisms upon himself with his actions…They fail to see that Maharaj has been interacting with these girls in a manner that is socially unacceptable, and that if he does not change his ways, he will continue to invite criticisms.
There are three reasons why Indradyumna Maharaj's behaviour is inappropriate and sets a dangerous example:
a) It teaches these girls that it is acceptable for them to be touched in such fashion by an older man, thus placing their safety in jeopardy.
b) Imagine what a circus we would have if the brahmacaris at the temple started following his example and touched little girls. Because "gurudeva does it" so it must be ok…
c) It exposes Indradyumna Maharaj and ISKCON to criticisms.
The film ends with the claim that the Child Protection Office is a public relations tool, implying its efforts are insincere and "for show". This is an unfounded, uninformed, and frankly ignorant assumption. As documented above, the CPO is active and effective in many parts of the world in promoting child protection.
It has been my experienced that the CPO does a much better job at maintaining an appearance of effective child protection, than it does at actually protecting children. I have listed the reasons that have brought me to this conclusion.
Case in point are the situations with the Vrindavana Gurukula and Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj. Maharaj has been allowed to continue teaching despite the fact that he holds the world record for the longest and oldest CPO case file of anyone who is still allowed to teach.
This concern is shared by the devotees that helped in the production of the video and many others who have unsuccessfully attempted to approach the CPO for help and assistance.
I have reached this conclusion based on my personal interactions with the CPO, and also after having "compared notes" with many other devotees.
I believe that any professional, external party that would examine the workings of the CPO would reach a similar conclusion.