To BK leadership : Credit where its due ?

Eugene's courage: child protection.

     'The Welfare of Children' at Brahma Kumaris is up front, and rightly so on www.aboutbrahmakumaris.org :a site that claims to be 'Setting The Record Straight' about the Brahma Kumaris.

 London BKWSU Director Sister Maureen Goodman  writes:

'In 1999, the organisation embarked on an extensive project to implement child protection policies and proceedures in all countries where there is a BK organisation.'

In reality, after 25 years in the west BKWSU needed some serious nudging to establish child protection policies.This appeal to leadership was made by an ex-adherent, Eugene Romain: an effort begun by Eugene in 1999, eventually implemented by BKWSU some years later. Part of his report is recorded below. Eugene also includes some of his own experience of 12 years with the group, both as teen and adult. 

A Personal Assessment of Child Protection in Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual ‘University’ (Raja Yoga)

 

1 The Purpose of this Report


This report is a personal assessment of the current level of child protection and child welfare practices in the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University (BKWSU) otherwise referred to herein as Raja Yoga.


It is my belief that Raja Yoga has a duty to prepare its children not just for life as Raja Yogis but also for life in the wider world –and that too not necessarily as Raja Yogis. This necessitates the balancing of very different worldviews and values, namely those of Raja Yoga on the one hand and, to the extent that there is consensus, those of the societies in which Raja Yoga children are growing up.

I would like to stress that in discussing any Raja Yoga beliefs or practices I do not wish to judge them favourably or otherwise in religious terms, but to assess their effect as part of the culture in which Raja Yoga children have to grow up. Hence the supposed metaphysical truth or falsity of Raja Yoga beliefs is outside the terms of reference of this report, but the effects of such beliefs upon the minds and lives of children in terms of how they view themselves, their parents, their friends, other Raja Yogis etc is not.


2 About the Author

I was first introduced to Raja Yoga in 1975 at the London Centre in Kilburn, north-west London when I was 14 years old. I was extremely impressed with it from the very first day. I accompanied my parents on a weekly basis and practised on my own at home. And when my parents stopped attending I took two buses to make the seven mile journey through London to get to the centre.

In 1977 I moved to Trinidad and here the centre was more easily accessible. Because of my relatively advanced experience I soon began teaching. By the age of 16 I was teaching introductory courses and occasionally taking whole classes of adult practising and committed Raja Yogis. This was on top of daily attendance at the centre for my own spiritual study.

In 1979 on the advice of the BK senior teachers in London I did not take up the University place to study medicine I had been offered and instead stayed in London to continue my Raja Yoga study and training. I worked in casual jobs during the day and attended the centre every morning and every evening.

For the next ten years Raja Yoga was my life. I continued my daily practice and went to India without fail every year. I taught Raja Yoga to countless individuals in numerous countries. I recorded albums, spoke on television and radio, wrote and edited books, gave numerous lectures, represented the organisation in numerous conferences in many different fields. I helped to train many centre teachers around the world and worked on a daily basis in the international centre in London. I knew the senior teachers in a way it is no longer possible and I watched as the movement went from being no more than 3 rooms in a London flat to a world wide presence by 1989 the year I left.

Of most relevance perhaps to this report I became both a qualified primary teacher during the mid-eighties and also worked as one of the teachers looking after the growing class of Raja Yoga children. I helped Raja Yoga plan and orchestrate large scale international projects that were implemented with the UN’s blessing and nominal sponsorship in over eighty countries. An education pack, which I wrote with two other teachers who were practising Raja Yogis, was translated into over twenty languages and distributed in over thirty countries. In some countries it was sent to every single school. The school at which I worked helped in the piloting and became only the sixth school in the world to be awarded UN Peace Messenger Status. 

With hindsight I would say that I was one of a handful of Raja Yoga experts on Children. And given that the Organisation asked me to present its flagship program of the time to the UN in Vienna it would appear that the Raja Yoga leadership viewed me as such. And in the outside world as a published author and one of the youngest advisory teachers in UK I was perhaps the only practising Raja Yogis who had some degree of expertise in both Raja Yoga with children but also mainstream education theory and best practice.

In spite of all this the Raja Yoga leadership did not tell me of certain events in the mid-eighties which have led indirectly and nearly twenty years later to the writing of this report and the beginnings of serious considerations of such matters on the part of BKWSU Raja Yoga.

I left Raja Yoga in 1989 at the age of 28, having spent over half of my life within it. Since leaving I have remained on amicable terms with many members and ex members and with the BK leadership.

For the purposes of this report I should state that I do not any longer consider myself a Raja Yogi – I no longer follow its practices nor subscribe to its central beliefs. At the same time I do not consider myself to be ‘anti’-Raja Yoga’ and have never done anything that could be considered such.


3 Summary of Events

Disclosure - February 1999

In February 1999 a young man who had become a member of the London Raja Yogis as a young child, when his mother joined in the late 1970s, wrote to many current and ex-Raja Yogis. It was several thousand words long and in it he explained his feelings about growing up in Raja Yoga and how he looked upon it all now that he had decided to sever all ties with the organisation and the accompanying culture and lifestyle. With his permission his letter is reproduced in full in Appendix F

His letter mentioned the child sexual abuse of his Sister some twenty years earlier by Raja Yogis in India. From hereon she is designated as Child X.

I met with both him and his Sister and among the many issues we discussed they told me in some detail about the incidents of sexual abuse. As a child under 10 years whilst staying with her mother in a Raja Yoga Centre she suffered a serious sexual assault by an adult Raja Yogi living and working at that centre. When she went on to Madhuban Mount Abu, the world-wide home of Raja Yoga she suffered another sexual assault by a different and unconnected assailant. Not one assault, but two in the space of as many weeks –by perpetrators living and working in Raja Yoga’s two most important centres in India.

I immediately wrote to the senior Raja Yogis in London and the correspondence regarding these events and their fallout has continued to this day and is reproduced in Appendix A.


Post Disclosure February 1999 –April 2004

The letter I had received Child X’s Brother referred to many disturbing aspects of his Raja Yoga childhood. The components of his former lifestyle to which he had referred in his letter I knew from personal experience to be damaging, and I had no hesitation either as a former child Raja Yogi or a professional teacher in concluding that his experiences amounted to abuse.

But his abuse, compared say to sexual abuse, was systemic rather than consisting of discrete traumatic events. Much of it could be characterised by them as just an unintended by-product of over zealousness. His Sister’s sexual abuse however was black and white and could less easily be explained away. And what seemed equally black and white was that the events had, as both Sister and Brother now claimed, simply been covered up. As one of the most experienced professional teachers in the Raja Yoga hierarchy both in London and indeed the world at the time of these assaults I could have told the Seniors how such events should be handled. It was my educated guess now, that if they had not consulted me they had consulted no one.

On 24th February I wrote to Dadi Janki, (the World-wide Co-Administrative Head of BKWSU and Founder of the Janki Foundation) and to Sr. BK Jayanti, Director of the London Raja Yoga Centre. These were key people whose responsibility it was to ensure the well being of all Raja Yogis travelling from London. Dadi Janki was based in London and in charge of all international centres now and at the time of the assaults. Sr. Jayanti as the Director of the centre from which Child X was travelling would or should have been informed during the immediate aftermath. Both should have ascertained how it was allowed to happen and should know what the follow up was. 

They are both close colleagues of Dadi Prakashmani, (World-wide Administrative Head of BKWSU and head of Mt Abu) and Dadi Gulzar (head of all centres in Delhi). One assault occurred in Dadi Prakashmani’s jurisdiction while the other occurred in Dadi Kulzar’s. My letters and their responses are reproduced in Appendix A.

Following my letter of 24th February 1999 I wrote again on 10th April, 30th April and 9th June 1999. Each time I received what I considered to be mere sentiments and vague platitudes rather than solid information. On 25th June 1999 they indicated they were planning to formalise some procedures for protection and care of children. This small step took six months since Child X’s Brother had broken the near twenty year silence around these events.

In the interim those in charge of the Institution made no apology nor indicated any acceptance of responsibility for what happened, nor did they feel the need to explain the decades of inactivity. They offered neither external counselling nor any compensation. They called in the help of no outside agencies who might help them manage the pain they had undoubtedly caused nor rectify what were clearly inadequate child protection policies. 

They did not cease, or even pause in bringing children to the same centres where the abuse had taken place nor did they brief parents or teachers around the world. The many practising Raja Yogis who had not heard about the initial disclosing letter knew nothing and the many who had – for he had sent out over fifty copies, did nothing.

I wrote to them again on 9th August 2000 reminding them of their promise to keep me informed. I heard nothing and so wrote again on 19th September 2000. I followed this up with a telephone call something I was loath to do, as it provided no record. On 28th October 2000 I was delighted to see the BKWSU logo on a letter to me. I thought that it might be their child protection policy. It was very late but at least they were finally getting on with it. The letter contained nothing of substance.

I waited and waited and eventually wrote again on 30th April 2001. It was not until 27th January 2002 after more delaying and obfuscating correspondence on their part that I received a child protection policy document for UK Raja Yoga Centres. It had taken 3 years of harassment by me to get them to write this, but they claimed in a letter of 5th December 2001 that some of the delay had been because of consultation with ‘educational specialists’ and with ‘social services’. If any of this was even slightly true then at least it would be a reasonable policy.

In chapter 6 I have recorded my opinions, both as an ex-Raja Yogi and as a teacher, of this child protection policy.

My opinions of the policy notwithstanding I immediately turned my attention to ensuring that it was actually implemented and not just in UK but around the world, wherever there were Raja Yoga children and particularly in India where the original abuses took place.

One might ask why did I not seek first of all to get the Raja Yogis to improve the policy they had just written before getting it instituted around the world? The reasons for this are several.

Firstly to widen the number of people involved in the process. Raja Yogis around the world are frequently professionals much more used to implementing professional policies than the Raja Yoga elite of London who have never had a job outside of Raja Yoga. The input of these professionals on the defects of the policy might carry much more weight coming from them rather than me – an ex (i.e. failed) Raja Yogi.

Secondly a perfect child protection policy is useless sitting on a shelf. It might easily take another 3 years to get them to improve the first one, in the meantime nothing would be happening around the world. Getting them to implement the first draft would at least begin the process of institutional development around the world however imperfect the guidelines.

Thirdly Raja Yoga is essentially an Indian Religion. Perhaps less than 2 percent of its members live outside, and so the majority of children in it are also in India. The original incidents of child abuse which prompted this report occurred in India and no doubt most of the others of which I am unaware are also overwhelmingly likely to occur there. The original events were so appallingly handled – one of the perpetrators was caught and simply let go; which begs the question how many children has he since abused? He was not even handed over to the police. No attempt was made to find out which other children he had abused. In these circumstances it did not make sense to me to spend another few years quibbling with London Raja Yoga about the defects of its child protection policy instead of getting them to implement something, anything at the scene literally of the original crimes.

Fourthly implementation is what a policy is all about. Without implementation you have no policy. A policy is not what is on paper it is what people do. It has been my aim that the institution protect its children and in order to do this it needs to work our how it is going to do it. To not check that it is actually doing what it says it will, when it has given - what I think the correspondence shows - such clear indications that it is not yet truly committed to child protection nor indeed that it can be relied to do what it says it will would be to make me completely complicit in a general milieu of neglect and recklessness. The implementation of its UK policy or equivalents around the world would constitute some kind of progress. The implementation in UK alone would in my opinion be little more than useless.

And fifthly implementation or failure thereof would or should dictate moral and legal culpability on the part of the Institution. I was genuinely worried that in forcing BKWSU to get child protection policies I might be providing it with a false defence if it got sued by victims of abuse. If I did not force them to prove they were implementing their policies there would be no evidence of negligence if they did not. I did not doubt that the original motivation for the production of the UK policy, was as a protection against adverse publicity and as a legal tool in the case of more unfortunate freak events – as Raja Yoga would view them. In Raja Yoga eyes their beliefs, practices and sheer religious power constitute much better tools for the protection of their children than the blunt crude instruments cooked up by the impure non-Raja Yoga world as they would view them. 

I will deal more with these cultural and ideological perspectives upon child protection in chapter 5. Suffice it to say here that in my opinion the only way to get child protection policies implemented world wide was the same way I had got London to write its’ policy and that is through the use of implied and explicit threats. That is, by writing to them and building an incriminating bank of correspondence and by dropping ever more unsubtle threats as to the potential public relations damage this might all cause.

So in January 2002 upon receipt of the UK policy I made the strategic decision to accept its imperfections for the time being and to concentrate upon getting BKWSU world wide to follow London’s lead and formalise child protection policies.

Via letters and particularly telephone calls to various third parties I tried to make it clear to the London leadership throughout 2002 that if I gave up talking to them I would talk to other agencies about what I considered to be inadequate progress. But having written a UK policy London apparently decided they could safely ignore me and so the communications dried up again.

I kept pressing for evidence that implementation of child protection policies world wide was taking place and received only some very silly delaying tactics by the so-called UK Children’s Officer.

So at this point I decided to let Raja Yoga teachers around the world know what the leadership in London was doing on their behalf. I emailed the mass mailing reproduced in Appendix C to all the centre emails listed there. Up until this point any child protection initiatives in the BKWSU had been done in London only and in the utmost secrecy. It was possible in my opinion that some Regional Office heads might have been consulted, but that the ordinary teachers running their centres in their respective countries would certainly know nothing of the child abuse incidents, the subsequent cover up and my subsequent campaign for proper procedures. 

It is part of Raja Yoga culture that accountability goes one way, Seniors do not share their issues with the lower ranks nor do they disclose their problems or failures. In the higher echelons of London and India to implement child protection policies copied from those devised by non-Raja Yogis in the impure outside world is to admit that there are other sources of instruction in the running of the institution than purely Raja Yoga sources – namely God and the Seniors. And here too on one of Raja Yoga’s most sacred subjects – sexual purity.

To risk the exposure before their peers the individual failings of the various senior Raja Yogis in London, Delhi and Mount Abu, and to expose to its centre teachers the collective institutional failings was not taken lightly. But it was precisely these same people who were dragging their feet and taking years to do what should take weeks to protect the children they consider themselves to have a God-given responsibility to protect.

It is a classic symptom of situations where individual instances of abuse can become systemic and institutionalised that those in authority sacrifice victim protection for the protection of the good reputation of the organisation. Only by proving to the Raja Yoga hierarchy that their institution would be more damaged by inaction than action could they be persuaded that child protection was in their interests. Henceforth even if the Raja Yoga hierarchy remained resolute in its determination never to learn anything from an ex-Raja Yogi like me hopefully it would learn from its world wide teachers many of whom were by now no doubt wondering why an institution that deals with the public and throughout the corridors of the UN proclaims itself an expert in ethics, social policy and education had not established such guidelines many years ago.

Clearly this action on my part conveyed to the London Raja Yoga leadership that they still had to manage me or risk further disclosures. Hence on 26th November 2002 I received information that the regional offices around the world had been instructed to implement equivalent child protection policies in their respective regions around the world. This had supposedly occurred 9 months before I found out about it, but when I checked with the regional offices not a single one could confirm if had itself a child protection policy let alone the countries under its’ authority. The Regional Offices are run by the most senior Raja Yogis on each of the World’s continents. If they were doing nothing, nothing was happening.

Meanwhile, I was continuing to try to convey to London in practical terms what accountability actually feels like in the real world and that whether they like it or not they are accountable to me in the same way that all members of civilised society are accountable to each other.

Gradually through spring 2003 I received assurances from individual Raja Yogis that the hierarchy and the centres around the world were ‘starting to get it’ and I started to receive from London lists of countries which now either had policies or were in the process of writing such. Whilst this was welcome news it was always tempered by misgivings caused by London’s tendency to describe the slow progress as if it was a good thing. Why London did not order all centres world wide to immediately adopt its own policy (which itself took an inordinate amount of time to produce) whilst local countries then adjusted it as they so desired is beyond me. By this point London at least should have known how long it takes to produce a child protection policy, theirs after all is only 6 pages long. 

Raja Yoga is a highly centralised organisation. Local centres are trained to do whatever India or London tells them to do. If London had instructed all Raja Yoga Centres world wide to adopt the London Child Protection Policy they would have done so within the week.

The unfortunate truth is that lacklustre and ambiguous management from London and India sent out to the local centres the mistaken idea that they had to re-invent the wheel.

But this was comparatively speaking a side issue compared to the glaring omission in the list of countries who –big deal –have ‘written’ their child protection polices. There was no mention of India. Probably ninety eight percent of all Raja Yogis live in India. If Raja Yoga has still not instituted child protection policies in India then it simply doesn’t believe in them.

On 9th June 2003 after my repeated questioning about India London replied that ‘discussions are still continuing’ and ‘we understand that child protection policies are in place and being followed and will inform you as soon as the formal policy encapsulating these is completed’. Decades after the original events and over 4 years since the disclosure by Child X’s Brother the children in India whether of local origin or visiting from centres overseas could not sensibly be considered to be protected by a serious child protection policy. And London in full knowledge of this continued to simultaneously instruct tiny outposts of its empire some with no children attending its centres to write child protection policies while happily allowing all world wide Raja Yoga children to visit India which had not even bothered to formulate a policy. This is the same administration in London which had been persuading me for years it now took Child Protection seriously and sent lists of countries hoping to smokescreen the absence of India from that same list.

On 19th December 2003 having still received no confirmation of an Indian plan I emailed as many centres around the world as I could find to remind all of those planning to take children to India that they must if they adhered to child protection policies check that the equivalent was in place in India. I also invited them to send me a copy of such. Not one did. The text of my message and the list of centre emails used are in Appendix C. It should be noted that not a single centre replied. Over two hundred were contacted and not one replied. 

The silence was deafening and is an example of how well co-ordinated the Raja Yoga organisation actually is. It is unfortunate that such co ordination which could be deployed to control communication flow with an outsider like me but not deployed in the speedy implementation of child protection policies. Here suddenly every centre was a law unto itself. In her letter of 23rd December 2002 Sr. BK Jayanti writes ‘The nature of the Brahma Kumaris modus operandi world wide has not been one of detailed control and monitoring’. This is nonsense. Perhaps she would suggest that the uniform response to my email amongst over two hundred centres must therefore have been a coincidence.

According to Sr. BK Jayanti in her letter of 26th November 2002 BKWSU India was instructing regional offices as far back as February 2001 in the implementation of child protection policies and yet India at the end of 2003 had no such plan of its own. As a member for over half my life of this organisation I will in chapter 5 of this report comment on this kind of hypocrisy and this tendency when it suits to withhold or distort the truth not only to the non Raja Yogi general public but also to its own membership. 

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shabin | Reply 21.03.2015 05.18

om Shanti, am bk from Muscat centre for 3 years. I would like to receive the update . regards , BK Shabin

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