Recent revelations, reports, and announcements have created an image of former Bhaktividyapurna Swami as an incorrigible pedophile, serial rapist, and a sadist who has tortured children all his life. It is proudly declared that his case is the longest running child abuse case in the history of ISKCON and now it’s closed. Technically it’s probably true as fBVPS has a long history of CPO decisions regarding him.
First allegations of child abuse were investigated in 1991 and were concerned with boys’ gurukula events in the 80s. fBVPS himself was dishing out heavy corporal punishment but all the other allegations were in the “it happened on his watch” category. This being pre-internet time even our most dedicated activists couldn’t obtain any official documents of that investigation. However, after CPO was formed in the late 90s it revisited the fBVPS case in 2000. That report and all the others mentioned here were once available on krishnachildren website that has been taken offline since, partly because these files disclose private information about the victims. I’m not sure how appropriate it would be to present these documents in their entirety but the quoted parts don’t look objectionable from the standpoint of protecting privacy.
2000 CPO report into fBVPS did not mention any new cases of abuse since the 80s and it contains the following passage:
“Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja has been very cooperative with the ICOCP. On February 17, 2000, he met for several hours with a representative of the ICOCP as well as several senior devotees with years of experience in ISKCON education and management. At that meeting all devotees present agreed to the following resolution of this case.”
Among additional restrictions imposed there was this:
“Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja won’t conduct diksa initiations till at least January 1, 2002.”
To sum it up, shockingly, there have been no allegations of child abuse by fBVPS since 1988 and no allegations of sexual abuse at any time whatsoever. Corporal punishment wasn’t considered a child abuse in the 80s either – in India and even in the UK.
In 2003 an all girls school was founded in Mayapur and CPO investigated allegations of abuse there in 2006, with the final report coming out in early 2007. This report contained the following:
“From the incidents reported which could possibly fall into the category of child abuse, two incidents stood out.
DIRECT CPT MATTERS:
BVPS pumping water for the small girls while they were bathing naked. (Confirmed by one 16 year old and two 9 year olds. This happened at the end of last year.)
BVPS attending while the small girls were being given oil bath in only their underwear. He then took over from one of the big girls to show how the chick pea paste should be rubbed into the body after the oil. He rubbed the chick pea paste on the small girl’s body. *** said a couple of times “It’s ok, they understand now hinting to him to leave. He had been warned by *** not to come that day because of the oil bath but came anyway. (Confirmed by a 16 year old and a 9 year old.)”
Please note “could possibly fall” classification by the CPT panel – even they were not sure it could be counted as abuse. Today we have no doubts like that anymore and treat fBVPS as an evil incarnate instead.
In the explanation of the second incident, with rubbing chickpea paste, more details are revealed. Older girls were learning how to remove excess oil after massage by practicing on younger girls. The technique presented by the teacher was wrong, however – they were told to use dry chickpea flour instead of a wet paste and so fBVPS felt he had to step in. He demonstrated how to make the paste and how to use it to remove excess oil by rubbing it on the forearm of the smallest girl in class, not more than 7 years old.
And this is the explanation of the first episode, with water pumps quoted from the report directly:
“It should be noted that, though BVPS admits when questioned that this may have happened two or three times, these incidents happened in a period of three years, one of the episodes having happened at the end of 2005. At this time the girls were around 8-10 years old. However, he denies having stood and watched the children bathing at any time and having noticed they were naked. He also makes the point that small children bathing at a hand pump with adults coming and going is a common place occurrence in India, and thus he thought little of it.”
So, shockingly, until 2022 these were the only instances of what could be considered child sexual abuse by fBVPS. Personally, I wouldn’t consider it as abuse of any kind as I grew up in a society where these things were considered a totally normal behavior.
Bulk of that 2007 report, especially the preliminary part released in 2006, dealt with the inappropriate relationship between fBVPS and girls’ school principal. It felt outside of CPO jurisdiction, however. Today we know that those suspicions were fully justified but this principal was 23 year old at the time, not a child by any measure. What I, personally, find interesting is that the report mentions that as early as 2006 this adult female already had a fiance who had been present during some of the incidents described. From the recent revelations we know that he had no idea his fiance, now his wife, had any inappropriate relationship with fBVPS at the same time.
These were not cases of child abuse, however, so let’s not dwell on it here. Rather, I would once again point out that apart from applying corporal punishment at the time it was legal there have been no documented instances of child abuse by fBVPS until CPO report of 2022. So let’s have a closer look at this new report.
Two versions have been made public, redacted and unredacted. Usually, the unredacted version is asked to be removed but, apart from protecting the victim’s privacy, it has one very interesting difference – it gives description of the incidents themselves rather than only a short judgment presented in the redacted version. Please note that it’s “victim’s privacy” – in singular – as there is only one documented victim here, in the “longest running case of child abuse in ISKCON”.The following is a “side-by-side” list of judgments and corresponding incidents, with my commentaries in between.
1. Sexual harassment of a minor – Details Redacted.
1. In 2005 when the victim was 14/15 years old BVSP and ****, the Dean of the girls school, undressed the victim and lay her down on the floor in her underwear to cool her fever. They also took her down to the water pumps in this state.
A student had high fever and they tried to bring it down by available means. “They” in this case includes an adult school principal who, by the looks of it, was the one who was actually handling the girl. To me it looks like they went by the book here. Usually it would be considered a quite serious situation because it happened far away from modern medical help, and assigning sexual undertones to it would happen in the mind of an observer.
2. Psychological abuse of a minor – Details Redacted.
2. The victim was forced to stay at the school even though it was a day school. Emotional and psychological manipulation was used to keep her from going home, and also to the temple morning programme. BVPS told her, “Krsna is everywhere, no need to go to the temple to see Him. Service is more important.”
Every ISKCON devotee who has lived in our temples has experienced similar situations, plus there could be lots of legitimate reasons to not allow children do otherwise usual things and they are not always announced. It could become a problem if one’s sadhana gets systematically damaged this way but so far we have seen no signs of Mayapur school children being spiritually malnourished. Plus the school itself had its own deities, too.
3. Grooming of a minor – Details Redacted.
3. In 2005 BVPS introduced ‘utban’ body massages/oil application. The victim, and other girls, were made to dress in only a gamcha and a small cloth covering their breasts. BVPS would demonstrate how to massage on the younger girls.
In CPO’s judgment it’s grooming of “a minor” – in singular, but the description mentions that other girls, possibly the entire school, went through the same training, and it also sounds like older girls were trained how to massage younger girls. Are they accusing fBVPS of grooming the entire school for future sexual abuse? No doubt in the presence of other teachers, too. Once again, I’m afraid, assigning sexual motivations in this case happens in the mind of an observer.
4. Sexual harassment of a minor – Details Redacted.
4. BVPS would comment on the victim’s physical appearance, stating how she had a nice shaped bottom, how big her breasts were, that she should eat more to be beautiful as skinny girls are ugly – if they don’t eat their breasts get smaller.
While these comments could be seen as inappropriate there is also a fact that children should know these things and that these are standards of female beauty extensively described in Vedic literature, starting with Srimad Bhagavatam itself. Somebody had to inform them and the argument of who should be doing it and how is better be left outside of this discussion.
5. BVPS would sit at the school computer and read up on and study pictures of women’s breasts whilst the victim was present.
5. BVPS would sit at the school computer and read up on and study pictures of women’s breasts whilst the victim was present.
Elsewhere in the report there is an explanation that this refers to a wikipedia article on female breasts, not some salacious site. Wikipedia does not have age restrictions, as far as I’m aware, and fifteen year old girls should learn how breasts work.
6. BVPS made comments to the victim about women’s nipples and bottoms.
6. BVPS made comments to the victim about women’s nipples and bottoms.
The report explains that this refers to a difference between female statues in Indian temples and women portrayed in today’s media. Indian temple statues can be very explicit but why discussions about them should be considered as sexual abuse? To be fair, the unredacted CPO report assigns no such classification. Besides, fBVPS raised an interesting topic here – are there real differences in human anatomy between Vedic and modern times? We are taught that anatomical humans have existed for tens of thousands of years but only recently we got news of noticeable changes recorded just in the past fifty years or so. Sperm count in males has fallen by half during this time, for example, and it has been connected to something called “anogenital distance”, too. Could it be that the appearance of female breasts has changed as well? It is also a fact that Indian women’s bodies have/had a different shape and this difference becomes very prominent when they are squeezed into western clothes designed for western women, like jeans. Today’s western ideals in female body shape are closer to bodies of young boys, one can easily observe.
7. Sexual abuse of a minor – Details Redacted.
7. BVPS and *** made the victim lie in bed next to BVPS, while *** was on his other side. He held the victim in his arms as she lay next to him with her on his shoulder. He held and stroked her body with his hand, and gave her a kiss on the face.
Hard to make heads or tails out of this one – the other woman, a school principal, was present and she was supposed to play the role of a chaperone. From this school principal’s recent revelations we know that she had no clue there was anything sexual going on between fBVPS and the victim. In fact, she was compelled to come up with her side of the story only after learning that fBVPS sexually abused students, too. At the time she was right there, she had no idea, but now it’s declared as “sexual”?
8. Sexual abuse of a minor – Details Redacted.
8. When the victim was 15/16 years old, BVPS introduced “bum massages” for “relaxation”. The victim was made to lie down and wear a kaupin as BVPS massaged her hips and bottom, saying he was teaching her and *** how to do it so they could then massage him afterwards. This happened on many occasions for the next couple of years where she received massages from BVPS and *** in only her underwear.
Again, this happened many times over in the presence of an adult female, supposedly watching that nothing inappropriate was going on. I would add that she was watching over both as a duty of someone in her position and as a female guarding her secret lover, for the lack of a better word. And she didn’t see it as anything inappropriate.
9. Sexual harassment of a minor – Details Redacted.
9. The victim was made to join *** in giving BVPS massages while he wore only his kaupin.
Same as earlier – looks inappropriate but happened in the presence of a chaperone.
10. Sexual abuse of a minor – Details Redacted.
10. From 2005/2006 – 2010 BVSP began sexually molesting the victim almost daily. As a nightly ritual BVPS would unbutton her choli and feel and rub her breasts and body. He also started doing this to her whilst she was asleep. This abuse started when the victim was left alone at the school with BVPS whilst *** was in Australia.
This part is both admitted and disputed by fBVPS. He admits it happened but rejects that it was on more than three occasions. His account makes sense as it fits with “whilst *** was in Australia”, because otherwise we know he paid nightly visits to *** herself. “Three times” is also how the victim first related these incidents to her mother and later to her husband. fBVPS also objects to CPO unquestionably beleving testimonies which increase the count of these incidents with each retelling. He also insists that the victim was eighteen years old at the time. He says it happened in 2008 and the victim was fifteen in 2005. At worst she was a few months short of eighteen – not exactly a child.
All in all, the shocking extent of fBVPS child and sexual abuse goes only to three times molesting an eighteen year old girl’s breasts sometimes in 2008, and no incidents of corporal punishment (classified as physical abuse) since 1988, when it was still legal.
Compare this with the opening paragraph of this article where I said fBVPS is viewed as a serial rapist and long running, sadistic child abuser. Obviously something went seriously wrong with our public perception here and acting on this erroneous perception towards a devotee is very very dangerous to one’s spiritual life. Whatever happened in 2008 or even in 2010, as the upper limit in CPO report – more than a decade has passed and we know that fBVPS has behaved like a sincere and dedicated devotee during this time. We have been told that he’s been chanting 64 rounds of japa daily, for example. That is not a behavior of an unrepentant offender and so attacking him on the basis of false perception would be spiritually suicidal. The Holy Name HAS the purifying power, too – we should still remember that.
This last argument should also be applied to consideration of fBVPS inappropriate relationship with the adult school principal – many years have passed, years of dedicated service and chanting. That relationship should be investigated to dispel any lingering doubts about his current state of consciousness but it has nothing to do with child abuse regardless.
Last but not the least – it’s not only fBVPS reputation that has suffered here but also of Mayapur gurukulas as well. The 2006 preliminary CPO report includes many letters from former students and their parents, all but one glorifying the school and describing wonderful, character forming experiences they had there. Somehow this image has been replaced with pictures of Mayapur gurukulas as hotbeds of sexual, physical, and spiritual abuse.
And to the question on everyone’s mind “How could you not see anything?” addressed to all kinds of Mayapur authorities – there was nothing to see! Both breast fondling and sexually inappropriate relationships with the school principal were done in secret and even her husband did not know about the currently known extent of these activities until a few months ago. Sivarama Swami once walked in on an inappropriate situation and immediately raised concerns, which were immediately addressed, too – by hiding the relationship even better. It’s not an appropriate solution, of course but it makes it more difficult to detect.
I also tried to “fact check” the most recent GBC resolution imposing additional restrictions on fBVPS where they say that he should not have been considered as a legitimate diksa guru since 2007. Exact words were:
“Whereas, in February 2007 Anirdesya Vapu das was restricted from accepting disciples via GBC Resolution 312/B which was based upon a CPO decision from September 2000;”
The section 312/B in 2007 GBC resolutions goes as follows:
Part B. Positions of Leadership
Whenever the ISKCON Central Office of Child Protection rules that an offense is such as to restrict a person from serving in ISKCON in positions of leadership (including but not limited to offices of GBC, minister, zonal secretary or temple officer), the restriction must include the position of initiating guru. This restriction shall apply to all previous and future decisions of the Central Office of Child Protection.
A devotee initiated by a guru subsequently affected by this resolution is considered to have been duly initiated under the authority of ISKCON and the GBC and is recognized as an ISKCON member in good standing with all the privileges of an initiate. Other questions that may arise in the application of this law should be referred to the Executive Committee of the GBC.
As I showed earlier, the 2000 CPO resolution did not recommend suspending fBVPS initiating guru status forever but “till at least January 1, 2000” and it added various considerations concerning existing and aspiring disciples. However, it did contain “Bhakti Vidya Purna Maharaja may not at any time assume a managerial or administrative role in ISKCON”, a restriction which GBC 2007 resolution ruled to mean an automatic initiation ban. That resolution, however, was not aimed at fBVPS specifically and it appears no one was aware it applied to him until 2022. This makes for an interesting case study of how our bureaucracy interacts with the positions of our gurus but it would be beyond the purview of this article.
I feel I should also mention that accusations of widespread child abuse not supported by actual facts are not new in history. To illustrate I’ll cite this passage from wikipedia:
“The McMartin Preschool case was the first daycare abuse case to receive major media attention in the United States. The case concerned the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, where seven teachers were accused of kidnapping children, flying them in an airplane to another location, and forcing them to engage in group sex, as well as forcing them to watch animals being tortured and killed. The case also involved accusations that children had been forced to participate in bizarre religious rituals, and being used to make child pornography. The case began with a single accusation, made by a mother—who was later found to be a paranoid schizophrenic—of one of the students, but grew rapidly when investigators informed parents of the accusation, and began interviewing other students. The case made headlines nationally during 1984, and seven teachers were arrested and charged that year. However, when a new district attorney took over the case in 1986, his office re-examined the evidence, and dismissed charges against all but two of the original defendants. Their trials became one of the longest and most expensive criminal trials in the history of the United States, but in 1990, all of these charges were also dismissed. The trial was met with disapproval by both its jurors and academic researchers, who criticized the interviewing techniques that investigators had used in their investigations of the school, alleging that interviewers had “coaxed” children into making unfounded accusations, repeatedly asking children the same questions, and offering various incentives until the children reported having been abused. Most scholars now agree that the accusations these interviews elicited from children were false. Sociologist Mary de Young and historian Philip Jenkins have both cited the McMartin case as the prototype for a wave of similar accusations and investigations between 1983 and 1995, which constituted a moral panic.”
Elsewhere on Wikipedia:
“The release of the HBO made-for-TV movie Indictment: The McMartin Trial in 1995 re-cast Ray Buckey as a victim of overzealous prosecution rather than an abusive predator, and marked a watershed change in public perceptions of satanic ritual abuse accusations.”
The above mentioned page lists thirteen significant cases of what they call “Day-care sex-abuse hysteria” and if you click on various links in the “See also” section there are more documented instances of what is called “moral panic” and “social panic”. Perhaps we, as a society, are falling into the same trap here.