Saturday, April 29, 2017

We Cannot Afford One More Child (Sanaka Rsi Das)

A Child Drowns at the Vrindavana Gurukula


On the 25th of April Kartik Sharma, one of the students at the Vrindavana Gurukula drowned in the school swimming pool. The police said that on a first impression it appears to be a case of negligence on the part of the school management because there was no life-guard on duty at the time of the incident.

What is troubling is that we have known for more than a decade that the children in the Vrindavana Gurukula under the management of Gopal Krishna Maharaj have been abused and neglected on an ongoing basis. The school management has known, Gopal Krishna Maharaj has known, Tamohara has known, Anuttama has known, Sesa has known, the GBC has known, we have also known, but most importantly these children have paid the price of our indifference.

Over the years many devotees have attempted to alert the ISKCON child protection authorities that the Vrindavana Gurukula was a disaster waiting to happen. A few years ago I asked a question that today is more relevant than ever; "Who will stand accountable now?"

I trust that now that we have lost a child, there will be a race to shift the blame. I doubt if ISKCON authorities will have the courage to acknowledge their responsibility and FINALLY prioritise and invest in child protection.

In February this year the GBC released a rosy report on child protection in India. This year's GBC Resolutions on child protection are a magnificent piece of propaganda seemingly intended to appease the devotee community that the GBC actually cares. These Resolutions will have no doubt placated and convinced some concerned devotees and congregation members that the GBC is responsibly addressing this issue. The uninformed reader would be forgiven for walking away thinking that the GBC has finally seen the light. They use firm sounding language; they inform us that they have placed the schools on probation.

The truth is that presenting the appearance that the problem has been solved is far cheaper than actually solving the problem, but as far as the needs of GBC are concerned, it serves their requirements...

Upon further scrutiny however, one will discover that the GBC had already placed the Vrindavana Gurukula on probation last year, and that the school had breached these sanctions without any consequences. One would also discover that despite several reports of abuse and negligence in the Vrindavana Gurukula spanning over 10 years, the GBC did not take any measures to correct those in charge of the school.

But perhaps the two most reliable indicators of how much the GBC values child protection are the fact that despite everything, this year the GBC did not increase the budget allocated for the International Child Protection Office, and India still does not have a regional child protection office.

How much money has ISKCON spent this year in building new temples? How about in publishing and advertising personal biographies of high flying swamis? Or court cases trying to retain possession of assets? Is it millions? Is it $10s of millions? The GBC allocated 10,000 US$ for the international Child Protection Office. Is it a surprise that child protection in ISKCON is inadequate?

Essentially the problem is a lack of value for the lives of these children. In India ISKCON has a long history of using children to acquire funds and credibility; the children have been used as a means to an end.

When a school exists for the purpose of making ISKCON look good, or as a fundraising tool, then the children become expendable. To serve these purposes, the school only needs to APPEAR functional from a brief external examination. Whereas, when the objective of the existence of a school is to actually serve the highest interest of the children, then each child is offered the highest degree of care and protection.

ISKCON has been at a moral crossroad for too long. It can wait no longer. ISKCON needs to find the social will to invest the resources necessary to transform education and child protection to bring it to world class standards. The only other responsible alternative is to acknowledge that ISKCON's attempts for education have been a disaster and shut down these schools.

We cannot afford one more child.

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