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25 May 2006 @ 03:59 pm
Child Abuse in ISKCON  
Recently one of the former abused children from ISKCON's Gurukula school system comitted suicide. Family and friends say he never did fully recover from this daily abuse, which had catastrophic effects on his self esteem and peace of mind. It has sparked a discussion on Chakra (chakra.org) about what ISKCON should do with it's abusers. The perpetrator, Dhanurdhara Swami, was initially censured but has since been allowed a position of power and respect within the organization. Many are saying that this policy of allowing abusers back into the fold is destroying any credibility ISKCON could ever have as a legitimate religous organization. We've seen the Catholic Church similarly suffer from allowing priests to move from parish to parish after acts of sexual abuse.

I understand the impulse to forgive and allow some hope of redemption and continued spiritual service. But this course of action is not working.

I propose instead that these and other organizations provide an isolated venue for such continued service, a farm or monastic community. Perpetrators of physical or sexual abuse would be sent there if they wished to continue serving in some way, perhaps producing a craft or product that could be sold in order to make reparations to victims. (This in addition to whatever the legal authorities require in terms of punishment.)

These perpetrators would either agree to go to these isolated areas to serve or be forbidden to associate with the congregation or churches in any way. They would agree to be isolated from children for the rest of their lives.

This is an issue for society at large as well--what do we do with pedophiles knowing that we have no way to cure them at present? We release them into our communities near children and try to put them on a list to warn everyone. This just brings violence against them or causes them to be driven from their homes. It's inhumane to lock them away in prison forever once they've served their sentence. So what do we do with them? Some of them are repentant and desperately wish to escape their affliction while others are not. Some agree to chemical or physical castration to escape their desires.

Can't we create communities for them where they can find meaningful work, live in a natural setting surrounded by trees and grass, and yet not be near children? And shouldn't we be pouring dollars into research to cure them?

I can't help but think that if we weren't wasting so much of our time and money on drug enforcement and prostitution arrests we could focus more on the violent crimes and child abuse.

(ISKCON=International Society for Krishna Consciousness, aka the Hare Krishna movement.)
(Anonymous) on May 26th, 2006 03:41 am (UTC)
Can people like this be cured?? I agree with you, though. Nice pastoral settings away from people for folks like this.
Tapatitapati on May 26th, 2006 04:07 am (UTC)
I'd like to think that someday we'll find a cure or at least get better at prevention--since so many become pedophiles because they themselves were molested. Keep them away from kids and you'll eventually lower the numbers in that manner.
(Anonymous) on May 27th, 2006 05:40 pm (UTC)
Shakuntala's initial letter was irresponsible
As more recent letters on Chakra have made clear, using Dhanurdhara Swami as a scapegoat in this situation ignores much of the problem. The tone of the entire ISKCON society in the late 70's was one of impersonal, rigid standards that were enforced by intimidation and force. Did you know there are recorded conversations of Srila Prabhupada where he instructs devotees to hit children as a way of disciplining them? As one of the more recent posters on Chakra explains, he was hit in every ISKCON temple he went to as a child. The problem was universal, and was symptomatic of the general fanaticism and immaturity of ISKCON at that time.

Dhanurdhara Swami's interactions with students, including his interactions with Ananda, have been investigated and documents for years. You might be surprised to know that a thorough investigation found nothing like the completely inflamatory accusations proposed by Shakuntala. There is even documented evidence that shows that Ananda forgave Dhanurdhara Swami years ago, due to the Maharaja's efforts to repent.

It would be helpful if you got to know more of the individuals involved, and their histories. Dhanurdhara Swami was young, inexperienced and at the time unqualified to run a school in a society that gave no resources or support to the children. Further, his work to make ammends over the years has consistently been covered up by a GBC body that has had to protect their financial intrests and couldn't have people apologizing for doing things wrong in the midst of a multi million dollar Gurukula lawsuit.

I appreciate your sentiments, but they are uninformed.
Tapatitapati on May 28th, 2006 01:59 am (UTC)
Re: Shakuntala's initial letter was irresponsible
True, I don't know the principles in this drama, but my remarks are intended to use this one example to point out a problem. I could care less if the GBC protects its economic interests personally. People should individually speak out and do the right thing regardless of the GBC. Dhanurdhara ought to be in the forefront of public speaking about this issue and how to resolve it, past and present. Pedophiles have been allowed to go back to ISKCON (Bhavananda as just one example).

I am fully aware of the late 70s atmosphere and various statements by Prabhupada. I was in the movement at that time. I also know that he made other statements contrary to the policy of beating children. (And there's a lot of difference between hitting and beating. Not to speak of molesting.)

If the GBC itself had done right by the victims of abuse in the first place, it may have avoided the lawsuit.

For one other view by a long time devotee, please see this post at my forum. In particular:

I was one of the contributors for the first Gurukula building in Dallas from a settlement I received at the age of 21. Before that the children were cared for by their families in the temple itself or outside in their own apartments. There is a transcript of a conversation I read concerning Gurukula from one of the first meetings Srila Prabhupada had with the teachers that has essentially been removed from circulation ala 1984 tactics now you see it now you don't. In that conversation the teachers kept insisting that the bad behavior of the children was difficult to control and the teachers wanted to hit the children as punishment. Srila Prabhupada was not buying it. They asked about 5 or 6 times in different ways can we hit them when they misbehave the answer was always the same, NO! What Srila Prabhupada did was challenge them to give the children so much love that they would behave as a response to the outpouring of love. He never gave them the loophole they wanted he kept challenging them to rise above their base instincts to the platform of love. "If you love them" He said "then they will respond to your requests to behave without hitting"


I was present in Allahabad in 1977 at the Kumbha Mela. During that time the first known child molester was brought before Srila Prabhupada. This guy had molested all the boys in Vrindavana Gurukula. He was a South American and not an Indian National. Srila Prabhupada had him banned for life never to darken the door of any ISKCON temple ever and Srila Prabhupada said that this was the rule to be followed in any subsequent cases. He was thrown out onto the road with nothing but the clothes on his back which were not even sufficient to keep him warm in the cold January weather and no money to his name. He was found wandering around India a few months after Srila Prabhupada wrapped up his manifest pastimes and invited back by a socalled Guru who was informed of his transgressions and Srila Prabhupada's directive to which he responded that "I am the guru now" so much for following in the footsteps of the predecessor acharyas.

I know we were all young and inexperienced in those days--I was a teen when I joined, dropping out of school to do so. Still if you read the stories of the Gurukula survivors, more than just beatings done out of frustration went on. Some of it was so bizarre and sadistic that I had a vision of these people sitting up late nights trying to think up new ways to torture their victims. There is plenty of blame to go around and I do appreciate the actions of anyone who tries to make amends, as Dhanurdhara recently stated that he has done. He has also admitted that he shares in the blame for Ananda's suicide. One can make amends to a victim but can't erase the damage done, after all.

Still it is a slap in the face of victims to give such people places of power in our movement. Let them serve humbly without titles or disciples. Let the pedophiles be kept away from children. And for Goddess' sake, let's get these issues out in the open where people can talk about them, learn the truth, and heal.
Tapatitapati on May 28th, 2006 02:01 am (UTC)
Re: Shakuntala's initial letter was irresponsible
Excuse me, I should no longer say, "our movement" except insofar as I had a small part in its earlier days. I am just so saddened by what our high ideals ended up producing in the end.
(Anonymous) on June 20th, 2006 04:15 pm (UTC)
important update at dhanurdharaswami.info
(Anonymous) on July 21st, 2006 03:08 am (UTC)
Not a pedophile
Your comments could lead the uniformed reader to believe that Dhanurdhara Swami is a pedophile. He is not. Child abuse does not automatically indicate sexual abuse. The problem is bad enough without accusing him of something that he didn't do.
Tapatitapati on July 24th, 2006 06:38 am (UTC)
Re: Not a pedophile
I spoke of physical OR sexual abuse when I moved to more general solutions.

I agree that he has not been accused of sexual abuse. Enough said.