Child Abuse – Definitions and Subjectivity H.H. Bhakti Vikasa Swami

What exactly does “child abuse” mean? Different people will have different ideas, possibly completely opposed. Of course, there is unlikely to be disagreement about its more egregious forms. But some behaviors toward children are less clear—some would define them as abuse, others would not. For example, one person might consider a child’s ear being tweaked as an offense so bad that it should be internationally publicized. Whereas someone else might think that some measure of corporal punishment can be actually beneficial for children.

Today’s world is beset by many “hot” issues on which opinions diverge widely and acrimoniously, and concerning which no middle ground has been reached even after many years of back and forth—and probably never will be. Such issues include abortion, the existence of God, the ordination of women and homosexuals as priests, and so on. It seems that, within ISKCON, child abuse is a similar issue. For while some people are horrified by ear-tweaking, others see their horror to be ridiculous.

Also, opinions can change—as did mine regarding corporal punishment. I was completely opposed to it, based on some well-circulated quotes of Srila Prabhupada’s. My stance changed on becoming aware of several other quotes wherein Srila Prabhupada expresses approval of stringent corporal punishment. Somehow, in discussions about child abuse within ISKCON, these quotes never seem to be cited.

He’s not envious. He cannot be envious. The killing of the demons, that is also His affection. Just like sometimes we punish our children; we give a very strong slap. (From Srila Prabhupada’s lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.29 — April 21, 1973, Los Angeles)

If you want to train your children, sometimes you have to slap, you have to chastise for his benefit. (From Srila Prabhupada’s lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.5.2 — April 12, 1975, Hyderabad)

In a conversation on 5 November  1976, in Vrndavana, the topic arose of one particularly badly-behaved boy.

Rupa-vilasa: Bhavananda told me he did not want to see that boy again.

Pradyumna: In Mayapur he had some girl…

Jagadisa: In my opinion, the best thing is to make an example and beat him.

Prabhupada: Yes, send him to farm, work in the field. If he does not work, beat him. Murkhasya lathyausadhih.[“The medicine for a fool is a stick.”]


[Hindi conversation with Bhagatji, with translation by BVKS:

Bhagatji: ek baat yaad aa gayi. /Something I recall.

Prabhupada Eh?

Bhagatji: Pehle log jo hai, pehle jo kuch crime karte the, to phasi

ya kala-pani. Kala-pani me singapore ki taraf malaya bhej dete the.

Aap unko Hyderabad bhej rahe hai./Previously, criminals were hanged or exiled by being sent to kala-pani (nickname of a prison in the Andamans) in Malaya, in the direction of Singapore. You are sending them to Hyderabad.

Prabhupada: Ha! Hyderabad bhejo, usko kaam karao. Usko matti khodne ka

kaam do; nahi kare to usko pito, aise kiya jaaye. /Yes. Send him to (the ISKCON farm at) Hyderabad, make him work. Give him digging work. If he refuses, thrash him, that is the way to do it.] [“pito” means “severely beat”]

Yasodanandana: He was just in Hyderabad for that ceremony there, and he caused such disruption in the whole temple that I don’t think they’d want him there.

Jagadisa: The thing is, if we beat him here and keep him here, then all the boys will straighten up because they will see that if they go bad, then this will be their punishment.

Prabhupada: As you think, you can do. But I wanted to engage in farm work, in digging.

On 5 April 1977 Srila Prabhupada said:

When child is sixteen years old he can do as he likes, not before that.

lalayet panca varsani
dasa varsani tadayet
prapte tu sodase varse
putram mitravad acaret

This is the moral instruction of Canakya Pandita. Up to five years, don’t chastise, don’t take any action. Let him be free. Whatever he likes, he can do. Then after fifth year, for ten years you must be very strict. Then five years and ten years, fifteen. And when he is sixteen years, treat him like a friend. Prapte tu sodase varse putram mitravad acaret. At that time, no stricture that he will break. “My dear boy, if you do this…” This is necessary. And from fifth year to fifteenth year you should chastise the sons and disciples just like tiger. After five years.

And on 25 November 1976 Srila Prabhupada said:

If you want to bring somebody under your control, then you must always chastise him; otherwise it is impossible. Canakya Pandita, the moral instruction, he also says, lalane bahavo doshas tadane bahavo gunah: “If you pat your subordinate, then it will increase the faulty habits.” Bahavo doshah. And tadane bahavo gunah: “And if you chastise, then they will improve.” Tasmat sishyam ca chatram ca tadayen na tu lalayet. Therefore it is advised, “Either your son or disciple, you should always chastise them. Never give them lenience.” So little leniency, immediately so many faults will grow.

More, from 1 February 1977:

Prabhupada: You can force, just like the father forces the child, “Go to school.” Because he knows without education his life will be frustrated, so he can force. I was forced. I was not going to school. Yes. [laughs] My mother forced. My father was very lenient. My mother forced me. She kept one man especially to drag me to the school. So force is required. Father-mother, natural guardian, they can force. The child may be foolish, but father-mother cannot see that their child will remain a fool. He can force. Government also. Why there is military force? Why there is police force? If you want to be outlaw, then you’ll be forced to accept the law. Force is required.

Devotee (1): But first the child has to see that there is some benefit from going to school.

Prabhupada: Child cannot see. He’s a rascal. He should be beaten with shoes. Then he will see. The child cannot see. Putram ca sishyam ca tadayen na tu lalayet [Canakya Pandita]: “Sons and disciples should be always chastised.” That is Canakya Pandita. “Never pat them.” Lalane bahavo doshas tadane bahavo gunah… “If you pat, then he’ll be spoiled. And if you chastise him, he’ll come out a very nice person. Therefore, either disciple or son, they should be always chastised.” This is the injunction of Canakya Pandita. There is no question of patting them.

To clarify my present position on corporal punishment in gurukulas: I generally do not recommend it, although in some form it might sometimes be employed. If a child regularly severely misbehaves, and the teachers cannot reform him (due to lack of expertise on their part, or intransigence on the part of the child), then some changes need to be made for the benefit of all concerned. Such changes might include involving more devotees to monitor and counsel the teacher or child, or even removing the teacher or the child or both from the school.

Some will say that the endorsement of any form of corporal punishment of children is endorsement of child abuse. I disagree, and aver that too much lenience can be disastrous – as in the case of a guardian who failed to properly discipline her ward.

There is another story—it may be fact—that a boy was raised by his aunt very liberally. Then, gradually, the boy became, in bad association, a thief. And the aunt was encouraging, “Oh, it is a very good business. You are bringing so many things without any labor.” So… Or out of affection he [she] did not chastise the boy when he was stealing. Then he, at the end, became a murderer. So he committed a murder. Then when he was to be hanged, so the government men inquired, “What is your last wish?” “Now, I want to speak with my aunt through the ear.” Then he was allowed. And the aunt was generally crying, that “My nephew is going to be hanged.” She was… So he caught up her ear with the teeth and cut it. So he said, “My dear aunt, if you would have chastised me in the beginning, then today, this position, that you are crying and I am going to be hanged, this would not have happened. But you did not do that. Therefore you are uselessly crying now, and this is your punishment: I cut off your ear with the teeth.” A very good instruction. (From Srila Prabhupada’s lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.47 — October 27, 1974, Mayapur)

Much further to be said. More to follow, gradually.

[First published at the Sampradaya Sun ( on 7 May 2017]

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