Vanity thought #1799. “It’s for the children”

Wikipedia gives it as “think of the children” but there’s no difference. It’s about emotional appeal which is used as a substitute for reason. Not that reasoning stands on a much more solid ground according to Sāṅkhya, but still.

A couple of months ago a debate started on Sampradaya Sun when someone brought up Bhakti Vikāsa Swami’s (BVKS) lecture where he spoke on Bhaktividyāpūrṇa Svāmī and child abuse. BVKS replied and, as expected, more questions followed until it all snowballed with half a dozen different people getting on his case as well. It’s gone quiet now, probably because SS editors did not want to publish submissions in defense of BVKS before he finished his presentation. At this point BVKS is not responding, probably because he thinks it’s unfair given how many others were allowed to attack him at the same time. Or maybe he thinks nothing good will come out of it, or maybe this issue drifted away from his mind already.

At one point I myself sat down and penned an article expressing my personal view, not really taking sides and joining the fight, though it’s clear what camp I should be enlisted in. Sun editor immediately replied saying that my submission could not be published and I was actually relieved because I’m pretty sure it would have kicked up a storm of angry responses. Two weeks have passed, I don’t think there will be any progress and that article is not going anywhere, though I would welcome the opportunity to edit it to a more presentable standard, make corrections etc.

Here’s the thing, though – I wasn’t trying to present the correct version of the child protection issue, I only shared my personal perception of it. This perception might be wrong but it’s the one that was created, so don’t blame the mirror. I diligently read the provided sources, I read all articles published about it at the time, I watched the documentary in question a year ago, and my article simply documented my conclusions.

I’ll just copy paste it here as it was, warts and all. I don’t want to rewrite it – it would be too much work for no particular reason. I’m somewhat ashamed of my dismissive attitude but that’s because I am not emotionally involved in this issue, and I only speak about this particular dimension of it in relation to one particular devotee.

Sometimes I feel like I’m writing this against my better judgement – with so many devotees pitching in what is the value of my personal opinion? I can’t claim to speak on behalf of silent majority either, and yet I don’t see my perspective as being totally out of wack and it’s the perspective that should, theoretically, count, too.

As a background – I’ve never met a child abuser or a victim of child abuse in ISKCON, or outside ISKCON, for that matter, but since it has become part of our history I take it on authority that it did happen even if I didn’t see it or hear about it at the time. It’s the stuff of long past and we should put it behind us, I thought.

About a decade ago I ran into an online debate with those who think ISKCON is a dangerous cult that should be outlawed and one of the accusations they threw around was that it’s a hotbed of child abuse and pedophilia. They didn’t cite any facts, however. I searched the internet myself and found only two cases, in one a wife reported her husband to the police because she found child pornography on his computer, and in another a devotee was arrested in a child brothel in Cambodia, though it was unknown if he was in that country on any ISKCON related business. And so I left this as a non-issue until last year when a new documentary was promoted on vaishnava news sites.

It sounded as if it uncovered countless new incidents and I diligently watched it through but the only case of current abuse I remember was that a female teacher pinched a stomach of a boy who couldn’t stand straight during temple ceremony. Not the best way to keep kids in line (though in a pinch would do – pardon the pun) but not serious enough to make an hour long documentary out of it either. And yet for the whole hour people were going on and on and on expressing their outrage and wringing their hands in agony and I thought they just liked themselves to be heard. Much of it was how everybody else is doing their service wrong and if you only asked the speakers in that video they’d put ISKCON straight right away. If I wanted to learn about actual contemporary child abuse then an hour wasted, that was my conclusion.

Then this debate got reignited again and this time it somehow focused on Bhakti Vidyapurna Swami (BVPS). This time we got links to Child Protection Office case files on him and I read them through, too. 2007 investigation lasted for half a year and found two incidents that “could possibly fall” into child abuse category – their words, not mine. One is that BVPS rubbed a chickpea paste on a forearm of the smallest girl in class and another about him manually pumping water while the girls were taking a bath – a common occurrence in India where kids take bath at public pumps all the time and no one thinks any of it, and that was all. Is this what triggers people nowadays? It’s not even a mole hill to make a mountain of.

CPO report makes it clear that they were concerned mostly with people’s reactions and that they didn’t see any victims to be rescued. That paragraph reads as if CPO was acting as “mind protection office” there, but they clearly failed given the amount of outrage BVPS’ behavior eventually caused.

Then we were given a link to 2015 report on Sri Radhe that “confirmed” BVPS transgressions from 2007 paper. I’ve read that, too. All I learned from that is that Sri Radhe, the “child abuser”, had a group of favorite students, Coke in her fridge, and snack wrappers in her trash. I can’t help but put “child abuser” in quotes. As far as accusation of inappropriate behavior between her and BVPS goes – I understand it happened when she got engaged, married, and pregnant, and, in any case, this has nothing to do with CPO matters.

In Sri Radhe’s report one thing stood out for me, though – all the girls were introduced as victims – “victim 1 says, victim 7 says” and so on, and yet no crimes were mentioned. A teacher “yelling” at the class is not a crime, or is it now? Then it occurred to me that in another possible interpretation these girls were, indeed, victims – victims of CPO investigation. They were forced to search their memories for all the negative experiences and then magnify and verbalize them, and then CPO officers validated them by writing them down and making them into official records. It looks as if girls were manipulated and their minds agitated against their teacher and I don’t know how they could come back and look the teacher in the eye after that. And it’s not just one relationship that was broken forever, I’m afraid they’ll never be able to trust any of their future teachers either, and, perhaps, they’ll always have reservations against surrendering to their gurus, too. It’s very easy to poison a child’s mind and I’m afraid CPO did just that. I can understand how no gurukula would want CPO officers to interview their students because damage caused by such investigations can’t be easily undone.

Then there was a link to an old Sun article on BVPS abuse from twenty-thirty years ago. In one of the recent posts the word “rape” was used as if BVPS was a child rapist, and yet this word does not appear in that long article. He did nothing of the kind at all, that “abuse” was about older kids engaging in homosexual behavior with each other and BVPS failing to prevent it and protect younger boys from it. Then there was a matter of corporal punishment but it was mentioned only briefly. At the time it was legal in Bengal and kids at Mayapur gurukula quite possibly had it easier than if they’d gone to other schools. The article mentions that silence from BVPS was considered a far heavier punishment than any beatings. Should CPO prosecute people for not speaking to children now? In the end – it was all pre-1991, BVPS has been sanctioned for it, none of it happens at the present time, and so it should be put to rest.

I remember one episode from last year’s video where, at the end of the class by BVPS, a female devotee stands up and practically starts reading a prepared list of accusations against him that had nothing to do with anything he said. I’m sure she felt she was rallying for a good cause but to me it showed a blatant disrespect for the position awarded to a class speaker, who should be treated as a representative of Vyasadeva himself. Carried away by anger these people lose their intelligence, their power to discriminate between right and wrong – just as Krishna described descent into hell in Bhagavad Gita. Someone mentioned here that BVPS is not allowed to give classes in the UK but he is a regular speaker at Bhagavatam classes in Mayapur where not only devotees but Sri Sri Radha Madhava, Panca Tattva, and Lord Nrisimha have no problems hearing him speaking every Sunday. He is good enough for Them but not good enough for the UK. Whose loss is that?

And it all sprung up to life from him rubbing chickpea paste on a girl’s forearm… This obviously can’t be the reason. I think what drives this outrage is the desire to feel righteous, promote a good cause, and rage against designated culprits to one’s heart content. This behavior doesn’t really need external reasons, any excuse would do, like spotting a word “rape” or “beatings” in some article. Triggering it is super easy. CPO officers from 2007 BVPS report realized and mentioned that danger but, according to their report, BVPS didn’t seem to care, and so here we are.

Much of the current debate is about Bhakti Vikasa Swami’s presentation, too. I don’t think his opponents read him carefully, without prejudice. Why accuse him of giving quotes out of context, for example? He only said that these quotes exist, that Srila Prabhupada did on some occasions support physical punishment for children. This fact is true regardless of context the quotes were made in. And then BVKS defended his understanding of the context, and people objected even more, and in this way the whole thing snowballs out of control and BVKS is accused of not following through on every argument.

It got to the point where devotees approaching Srila Prabhupada for guidance are accused of having “offensive contempt”. I don’t think anyone approached Srila Prabhupada with contempt, offensive or otherwise, in those days and Prabhupada and his servants would have spotted it right away. I can’t accept this as part of the “correct” context for that infamous conversation about gurukula, nor is this the context as relayed in Hari Sauri’s Transcendental Diary. They’ve discussed the discipline question for about 6 min out of a 44 min conversation, by the way.

It is true that Srila Prabhhupada was reluctant to accept corporal punishment as a solution and recommended that trouble maker should be sent to a farm but imagine the outrage if our gurukula managers started doing just that – sending thirteen year old boys to dig on farms, giving them no further education and following Prabhupada’s “not … everyone has to become literate” dictum! That would qualify as child labor and would be downright illegal. For all the analysis of that conversation this obvious point is somehow gets lost.

Bottom line, as I see it, is the usual – devotees bring modern standards from the outside and want to impose them on Vedic tradition. Today it’s opinions on child abuse and earlier it was about gender equality. Others do it with homosexuality and there’s the whole Krishna West movement, too.

Perhaps my accusations are unfair to devotees involved but I kept the names out so that I could talk about behavior, not personalities. In any case I beg forgiveness if I misunderstood their motives and their service. Still, this is the perspective present in my head and I can’t deny it’s there or that it’s not caused by observing this debate.

Hmm, on the re-read it’s actually not that bad, but I would definitely word it differently if I were to write this for Sampradaya Sun again.