The topic of child abuse goes straight to the heart. It involves the most vulnerable members of society and, as such, deserves all the public exposure it can get — if not as a deterrent, then at least to raise awareness. By now most devotees are aware of the sexual, physical and emotional abuse that has taken place in ISKCON, but I’d like to draw attention to a much-neglected and underestimated extension of this problem. Although it is not categorized on the same level as sexual or physical abuse, I think neglect and abandonment of a child falls under the umbrella of abuse, too.
Here I am talking particularly about people who have abandoned their child(ren) and consciously refuse to offer the support that would naturally have been there — be it material, monetary or emotional. Some continue this neglect for many years and, by doing so, create a dysfunctional and unstable environment for the child(ren) they left behind. By their refusal to fulfil court-ordered child support obligations or to offer the remaining custodial parent the non-monetary contributions that would benefit the child(ren) while growing up, these people have become abusers through neglect and abandonment.
In most western countries such careless individuals are called “deadbeats” and are considered felons. They lead lives in hiding, in safe havens or on the run. Their faces can be found on websites, much like the faces of sexual offenders, and will be arrested when found. The government may automatically garnish wages and income tax refunds, confiscate drivers’ licences and withhold inheritances. Countries with reciprocal treaties will deport and deliver deadbeats to each other. This all goes to show how serious the issue is.
Unfortunately, thus far, in ISKCON this is practically a non-issue. There are many dozens of deadbeats floating around, especially in India — a safe haven without treaties or child support enforcement and convenient for ISKCON deadbeats. Things get even more acrid if the abusers enjoy name, fame and glory elsewhere as “great devotees” while their former dependents struggle to make ends meet.
Many of these abandoned single moms live on food stamps, little odd jobs or “the pick” to come up with enough money to cover their rent, maintain a simple car, provide for their child(ren) and have a life. Often their credit was ruined in the struggle to survive, making it hard to buy anything that would require a loan, such as a home or a better car.
Sometimes all they can offer their child(ren) in sickness is a trip to the emergency room with six hours of waiting before they can be seen. Others are luckier and have some kind of government-sponsored medical insurance
(usually minimal) or get some support from their parents — if these are still alive and can offer it. God forbid that these mothers themselves should get sick. I know too many who have gone or are going through this while their deadbeat ex-husbands walk the ISKCON hallways of back-rubs and pranams.
Should they be able to? Should they be given any preferred treatment? Should they be allowed to give lectures, hold positions of authority, lead ISKCON projects, lead parikramas or give seminars, etc.? Or should they first stop running from their past and start facing it?
If ISKCON society in general and the GBC in particular is getting serious about protecting our children, an important part of such necessary protection should be holding these individuals accountable, just as other abusers are being held accountable. This is what it is really all about: accountability.
Such accountability would be a major step forward. It’s hard to believe, in a spiritual society like ISKCON, that this even needs to be addressed. Then again, the same goes for the other types of abuse. I think both the ISKCON society and the GBC would do well in paying some attention here, because the relatively royal treatment that deadbeats get in ISKCON, despite their total lack of responsibility and accountability, is a nasty spot on ISKCON’s business card and a slap in the face of the disadvantaged women and children left behind.