Comments on the 'Cost of Silence'
BY: SANAKA RSI DAS - 12.4 2017
Bhakti Vikas Maharaj Comments on the 'Cost of Silence'
Hare Krsna Maharaj, Please accept my respectful obeisance; All Glories to Srila Prabhupada.
I have just listened to the lecture you gave in the Czech Republic on August 27, 2016 wherein you speak about child protection and critique the Cost of Silence video. What caught my attention was your lenient views on corporal punishment in general and more specifically, your endorsement of Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj and Indradyumna Maharaj's actions.
You go to great lengths to support Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj, but it appears that you are not very well acquainted with his case, nor the extent and gravity of his actions. This is something I have come across often in ISKCON, when certain devotees arbitrarily choose to endorse a known child abuser, without even having taken the trouble to read the case file of the offender they support. Which raises the question, "If you don't know the full extent of this person's actions, what exactly are you endorsing and supporting?"
You start your lecture by claiming that you do not wish to be an apologist, but then you go ahead and give an entire class wherein you try to excuse the behaviour of Indradyumna Swami and Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj. You highlight the accomplishments of Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj as if whatever degree of success he may have achieved somehow negates the children he has abused… It doesn't.
You claim that the only incidents involving Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj date back to 25-30 years ago, and that when you once visited the Mayapur Gurukula, Bhaktividyapurna did not occupy any position of relevance in the school, hence you argue that it is not fair to place the entire responsibility of the problems in the school on his shoulders.
If you read his entire case files, you will find that Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj has been personally investigated and sanctioned by the authorities several times. The first major investigation took place in 1990, the second in 1998, the third in 2007 and the last one in 2015. Each one of these investigations brought to light the negligent, inappropriate and abusive behaviour towards the children placed under his care.
The incidents you describe in your lecture date back to the late '80s and early '90s, and were scrutinized in the investigations that took place in 1990 and 1998. While it may well be that at the time of your visit, Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj did not occupy any position of relevance in the school, many of the incidents that were investigated in 1990 and 1998 took place while Maharaj was the principal of the Mayapur Gurukula, hence he was deemed accountable. At any rate, all teachers have a duty of care towards their students.
It is reported that several children approached Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj to pleading for his help and protection because they were being sexually abused, and he failed to protect them. He also personally beat children in a brutal fashion; some of his victims were bleeding after receiving his lashes and remained in bed for an entire week.
The 2007 investigation further reports the following incidents:
- That Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj was present while young girls were bathing naked.
- That a 16 year old girl was rubbing oil all over Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj's back because apparently he was experiencing some back pain.
- That Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj was rubbing chickpea paste on the body of young girls who were semi-naked, only wearing their underwear.
- That Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj spent several days and nights in the room of the 23 year old female principal of the girls school alone with her. This relationship is reported to have spanned over the course of many years (8-10).
- That this lady was sitting on Bhaktividyapurna's lap in front of other students.
- That Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj and this lady were seen indecently dressed and acting in a frivolous manner in her room.
These are excerpts from the 2007 investigation reports which can be viewed here. The 2015 investigation confirms many of these reports, which leads to the conclusion that Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj's abusive/inappropriate behaviour continued over many years.
Bhakti Vikas Maharaj, you also quote Bg 9.30, "api cet su-duracaro", and you say: "Do we want to edit this out of the Bhagavad-gita…" and… "is there some crime that is unforgivable?"" (Bhakti Vikash Maharaj's direct quotes are in italics)
You also speak about the story of Lord Brahma when he attempted to assault his own daughter, you explain how the other demigods did not banish Lord Brahma for his actions. I will assume that your implied message is that hence Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj should not be banished either.
I get the impression that often the essence of this verse is overlooked. I have heard many devotees quote Bg 9.30 to excuse unacceptable conduct. I don't believe this to be the intended teaching here.
In the purport to this very verse Srila Prabhupada explains further:
"On the other hand, one should not misunderstand that a devotee in transcendental devotional service can act in all kinds of abominable ways; this verse only refers to an accident due to the strong power of material connections... No one should take advantage of this verse and commit nonsense and think that he is still a devotee. If he does not improve in his character by devotional service, then it is to be understood that he is not a high devotee." (Bg 9-30 Purport)
With all due respect Maharaj, I don't believe it is your place to encourage the forgiveness of offences that were not perpetrated against you. I don't recall Mahaprabhu quoting Bg 9.30, telling Lord Nityananda to move on when Jagai and Madhai injured Him… On the contrary, he was ready to kill them until Nitai pleaded with Him to be forgiving. Do you see the difference?
We have 4 separate CPO investigations, and each of these investigations lists several instances of Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj's inappropriate behaviour, highlighting a pattern of abuse that spanned over three decades. It is a stretch at best to try and use Bg 9.30 to excuse or justify Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj's conduct. We have a clear case where this person has abused dozens of children and breached the regulations of his sannyasa ashram on many occasions. How do you make this fit into the category of "an accident"?
I agree that there is no such thing as a crime that is unforgivable, and I do not regard Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj's transgressions as unforgivable; I do however believe that it is reckless to allow a man with his history to have any involvement whatsoever in the education of children.
If you allow a person that has a track record of abusing power to continue occupying the same position you are not being forgiving, you are enabling abuse. You are doing a disservice to child protection, to Bhaktividyapurna Maharaj, and to society at large.
If you had two children and the first one had been abused by a teacher, would you also send your second child to this same man in the name of forgiveness? Quoting Bg 9.30, because, after all, everyone deserves a second chance? I hope not.
You also state your views that it is advisable to use fear in the education of children, you say: "Fear is good", and that "preventing some degree of corporal punishment in the education of children is another form of child abuse".
My understanding is that raising children with fear is not conducive to developing healthy Krsna conscious devotees. On the contrary, we aspire for fearlessness in the shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord. Srila Prabhupada has gone to great lengths to explains that Krsna Consciousness IS NOT an artificial imposition. How exactly do you see fear as a desirable element in education? Your opinion that it is advisable to use corporal punishment in the education of children is opposed to the essence of Srila Prabhupada's instructions on education.
There are two more statements you made that I'd like analyse:
"To put sexual abuse with twisting the ear of a child in the same category is extremely unbalanced and unfair" and "Everyone knows that Indradyumna Swami likes kids and young girls and everything, but there has never been a case of his doing anything wrong…Let's be frank, it seems that he is attractive to young women, but there has never been any record of him engaging in any illicit activity".
There are a few things to consider here, first of all, these are strawman arguments. The video covers many different kinds of child abuse, but nowhere in the video is child sexual abuse described as being equal to pulling the ear of a child. What is unfair is for you to suggest otherwise.
Also, in the same audio clip where children complain about their ears being pulled, they tell of how the teacher shoved their head into the wall. You have selectively taken a statement out of context, misrepresented it, ridiculed it and then attacked it. Do you also regard shoving a child's head into a wall as part of your notion of acceptable corporal punishments?
The thing is that when corporal punishment was sanctioned in ISKCON Gurukulas, teachers sent children to hospitals, and when it was banned, they still sent children to hospitals.
One thing we can learn from the history of corporal punishment in ISKCON is that teachers cannot be trusted to administer it in a measured and controlled fashion. Hence, even if you are of the opinion that some degree of corporal punishment can be helpful at times, you need to take into account that we do not have self-controlled brahmanas as teachers. Rather, over the years we seem to have attracted an exceptional number of immature and wrathful individuals, who more often than not abused their position of authority to lash out and release their own anger and frustrations on defenceless children.
If you will encourage the use of corporal punishment you need to think long and hard whether the perceived advantages of using corporal punishments outweigh the potential risks and costs.
Similarly, please correct me if I misunderstood you, but I get your second statement to mean: "Indradyumna Swami has never been found guilty of abusing any children, hence it was inappropriate to include him in the video".
This is another misrepresentation. The video does not accuse Indradyumna Swami of having abused children. The video states that the nature of his interactions with children is inappropriate.
Statistically the number of child abuse incidents perpetrated by adults who know the child and its family are significantly greater than the incidents perpetrated by strangers.
Here is a 40 minutes video of Indradyumna Swami interacting with children. What Maharaj is teaching them is that it is acceptable or even desirable for them to be touched by an adult the way he does, so long as their parents approve of the person.
As an authority, Maharaj is also setting an example for all the devotees that look up to him for guidance. Imagine what would happen if brahmacharis in temples around the world started to think, "Well, I also like children, Indradyumna Swami is doing it, hence it must be ok."
At least in western countries, the nature of his interactions with children is socially unacceptable. This can become a hindrance to his preaching efforts and to ISKCON's already troubled reputation. The argument you are making seems to be: "I agree that Indradyumna Swami's interactions with children are inappropriate, but since I don't have any evidence that he has ever been abusive, we should encourage him to continue because he is a great preacher".
ISKCON's history demonstrates that this careless approach brings little if any benefit and it effectively increases the vulnerability of the children. In the past this left our children wide open to the exploitations of criminals.
Another issue with this reasoning is that instead of being preventive, it is reactive. To encourage this mind-set is irresponsible and disrespectful of past victims. Why would you wait for the life of even one child to be destroyed before taking action? ISKCON's leaders have the duty to lead an exemplary life and set up preventive guidelines designed to offer children the greatest possible protection.
I suppose you will also agree that from the perspective of his sannyasa ashram, his interactions with women and young girls are unacceptable and a bad example for younger sannyasis and women alike.
Indradyumna Swami and every parent have the responsibility to try and establish whether any perceived benefits of his interactions with children justify the potential risks.
I welcome your feedback on my observations. Should you find that some of your statements are inaccurate, I invite you to retract/correct them.
Thank you for taking the time to read this.
Yours in the service of Vaisnavas
Sanaka Rsi das
Cost of Silence - video