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Vedic Society and Child Protection - An Impeccable Standard

by Niscala dasi

Posted November 11, 2012

Since we are attempting to revive Vedic culture, or at least a community that is based on Vedic principles, and since child abuse is such a problem in our own society, the question naturally arises “How did Vedic society protect these most vulnerable of citizens?”

In the Topmost Yoga System and elsewhere, Srila Prabhupada explains that sex desire may be so strong that one may force oneself on family members, including even one’s daughter. Therefore, at no time was a man allowed in a room alone with any member of the opposite sex, apart from his wife. Certainly, if sexual abuse of boys were a problem at that time, this stricture would have covered them as well.

Such strictures may seem very unfair to the greater majority of men, especially fathers, to whom sexual exploitation of children is an unthinkable atrocity. Yet in Vedic society, which was a far more peaceful society than we have now, and which had none of the sensual stimuli so prevalent in modern society, and all the samskaras and spiritual practices to raise the consciousness, these strictures were not argued against- because children could not be placed at risk at any time, even if the risk was so very slight as to be almost impossible.

Srila Prabhupada himself observed this principle, insisting that he not be left alone with his sister, even though she was elderly at the time. The possibility of anything sexual happening was completely zero, so why did he insist on several people staying in the room with them?

Western society focuses on freedom, with freedoms only been justifiably taken away when they are misused. The problem with such a legal system, in relation to children, is that it does not protect them from the first offense. We put locks on our cars and other valuable property, even though few people are inclined to theft, and the majority of the remainder refraining from it, due to the possibility of getting caught out. Our children are incalculably more precious than any possession, and the well-being of future generations depends on them having a loving and completely safe environment to grow up in.

Even after the first offense to a child, an abuser may not be caught right away, or he may silence the child through threats to the child’s family. It is often not until the child has grown up and endured decades of abuse, that she gets the courage to expose him, and sometimes that does not happen. Severely lacking in self-worth, she becomes prey to all manner of predatory men, and the vicious abuse cycle continues. It usually ends in suicide or drug addiction.

It is not that we didn’t trust Srila Prabhupada with his sister, not even a bit. Similarly, were we to introduce such a system, that no man be allowed in a room alone with a child or woman, it would not mean that we don’t trust them. The stricture must apply to all. If it applies to some but not other members, who are customarily considered more trustworthy, such as gurus, uncles, brothers and fathers, then it ignores the fact that this more trustworthy group has proven itself fallible in the past in regard to child protection. It also means that the basis of the rule is that we regard some men as trustworthy and others, not. If it covers all men, regardless of age, character and who they are in the family or in ISKCON, it cannot be argued against thus: “But I would never even think of such an atrocity!” Anyone can say that, and say it convincingly. Why should the only way we know if it is the truth, be twenty years later, when a destroyed individual gets the courage to tell us?

The basis of the rule is not doubt about this or that individual. It is recognition of the fact that men, regardless of what we call them- “father” “uncle” “brother” or “Maharaja”- have sex desire. It is natural. In a religious or even moral society, it is sublimated or channelled productively. But any river can break its banks, and when that will happen, no one knows.

Another problem with modern society is that often it is the father who does the child minding. The mother just assumes that the person she loves would never do anything unthinkable to her children, even though left all day with them, and sometimes changing their diapers or helping them in the toilet, and bathing them. It’s about time we got our head out of the clouds. The fact we love someone does not make them infallible to inappropriate desires.

It is better to doubt, and hurt the feeling of one man, than to destroy the life of a child. But even feelings will not be hurt if the rule applies to all. At least in our society, it should cover all men.

It may be argued that even women can sexually abuse a child, especially a boy. This is true, though far less common. In Vedic society, however, the woman was not alone either. Granny was always part of the picture, especially when the children were young. Extended families also ensured the safety of children. Especially in regard to physical abuse, which especially new mothers may confuse with discipline or “being for the child’s own good”, the benefit of an extended family, brings the practice under scrutiny from someone more experienced.

Currently we are trying to come up to the failing system of child protection current in un-Vedic society, and not even coming up to that standard. In many cases we are breaking the law and not even giving our children the minimum level of protection, such as the headmaster of Mayapura, Bhakti Vidya Purna Swami, justifying the rape of small boys in his ashrama, and yet being allowed to stay on there in that position. Gurukulas in Vedic society were always run by peaceful brahmanas who had their wives always with them, not angry so-called sannyasis who give vent their sexual frustrations by torture and intimidation. The wife of the guru was another mother to the boys, affectionate and protective. Being a brahmani- and possessed of equal vision, she saw the boys with the same love and protection as she did her own children.

What does this mean? It means that no sannyasi should ever be allowed alone with a girl, and given our history, they should never be allowed alone with a boy, as well. Therefore, they should not be headmasters of gurukulas, as children may be sent to the headmaster’s office for discipline. In the home of the married brahmana guru, there was no possibility of solitude with a child. Unless there is no possibility of solitude, unless the guru’s or headmaster’s doors never shut, unless some motherly and protective person is there to witness what happens behind the door, then our gurukulas are not only not up to the vedic standard, they are not safe places for our children. Even if child abuse had never happened in our society, it is not safe- because it could happen. It is better to be over-cautious than under-cautious when it comes to those devotees whom Krsna has entrusted us to care for.

We lock our cars even though most of the people in the car park are honest. Does this cast aspersions on their honesty? Do they get offended? Do they look all funny at you, as you walk away from your car, and say “Excuse me, but I would never dream of stealing your car! I am so offended!”

I am not a traditionalist by any measure. I always favour ethics and common sense over senseless traditions, but the traditional role of the mother in the home, always looking after the welfare of her small and helpless children, given the inescapable different nature of the sex drive in men and in women, makes complete sense, if the need to protect children, by every conceivable and humanly possible means, is an ethic which cannot be negotiated with. This, combined with another Vedic tradition, for a man never to have solitude with a woman or child, including family members, means that we maintain an impeccable standard of child protection, superior to un-Vedic society, which should be the case if we are genuinely to be “a positive alternative”!

No doubt, some will think me vain and presumptuous, by trying to impose standards on their family members, which is none of my business, but: 1) I am making a case for the ideal. I don’t expect it will be carried out, but somehow idealism and reality have to meet halfway. Knowing and being aware of the Vedic standard, how vital it was for Vedic members to prevent even the possibility of child abuse occurring, makes it relevant for us as devotees. It may make us more vigilant and watchful, and less inclined to make assumptions that are dangerous for our children’s welfare.

2) How you treat your children is indeed my business- and the business of every member of this society. We care for each other, children included. That is called community, the building of which, in a loving way, is one of the founding principles of ISKCON, given at its inauguration, by Srila Prabhupada.

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