This judgment, decided on May 25, 2000, was rendered in accordance with the guidelines for adjudicating cases of alleged child abuse established by the ISKCON Child Protection Task Force Report and ratified by the ISKCON Governing Body Commission. This judgment is the official decision of the ISKCON Central Office of Child Protection (ICOCP) on the child abuse case of Raghunatha dasa (Mr. Richard Torreti).
This decision defines the parameters of the relationship of Raghunatha dasa (Mr. Richard Torreti) with ISKCON. The ICOCP advises child abuse victims, their parents, and all members of the ISKCON organization to report allegations of child abuse to governmental social service and law enforcement authorities. Also, the ICOCP advises all members of ISKCON to learn and follow their local laws regarding child abuse and mandated reporting of child abuse.
Raghunatha dasa is a white-bodied person who has received initiation from Srila Prabhupada. He began teaching at the Vrndavana gurukula in the late 1970s. He was a classroom and asrama teacher till 1984, when he left the school for a few months. After returning to the school, he served as a classroom teacher till 1986, when he again left the Vrndavana gurukula. Since that time Raghunatha has resided in Boston and England. For a few years Raghunatha dasa was in the sannyasa asrama.
The ICOCP has received several testimonies of alleged child physical and psychological abuse perpetrated by Raghunatha dasa. The ICOCP has communicated with Raghunatha dasa, by letter, phone, and in-person, to discuss these accusations.
Below are sections of the ISKCON Child Protection Task Force Report concerning definitions of child abuse.
Cultural norms and or poverty are to be taken into consideration when considering neglect, corporal punishment, and psychological abuse. (By cultural norms we mean different outlooks on child raising, punishment, dealing with teenagers, education etc. according to local custom and practice.)
What a parent may be able to provide in one country and is accepted as basic care there, may not be available in another country. Parents or guardians may be in poverty or in rural environment. There will naturally be variances in facilities and outlook on child raising, but at the same time there are basic and universal standards as well; children can be kept as safe, clean, cared for, educated, and emotionally supported as possible. Cultural norms and or poverty are not a loophole but a factor for consideration. They are never an excuse for sexual abuse.
Child Protection Standards
Overview: ISKCON is an international organization, encompassing many countries and cultures. While recognizing these variations, there are universal and basic standards of decency and morals. Each temple and/or community is expected to comply with its own local child protection standards (established by the local and or regional child protection team), to follow the standards established by the central office for child protection, to abide by all relevant GBC resolutions, and to work with the local police and civil authorities, as required. The following child abuse definitions represent the minimum standard in basic child care.
A. Definition- A broad range of mistreatment of children including neglect, physical, abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological abuse.
1. CHILD- a child is defined as 0-18 years of age OR whatever the legal definition for a child is in the particular country where the alleged maltreatment occurred.
B. Types of Child Maltreatment
B.2. Physical Abuse- An act of commission (perpetration) by the parent or caretaker where the child is physically injured and/ or marks such as bruises, welts, lacerations, or burns, etc. are visible. Although the injury is not an accident, the parent may not have intended to hurt the child. The injury may have resulted from over-punishment that is inappropriate to the child's age.
a) Forms of physical abuse include: punching, beating, shaking, whipping, caning, burning, slapping, biting, kicking, ear twisting, throwing.
b) Corporal punishment can also be considered abusive if, although no single incident leaves a mark or results in an injury , the frequent and chronic use of such has a deleterious cumulative effect. (In a recently published study on spanking, researchers found that the more frequently spanking was used as a method of punishment ( three or more times per week ) the more antisocial behaviors the child developed.
B. 5. Psychological Abuse- A repeated pattern of behavior that conveys to the child that they are worthless, flawed, unwanted, unloved, or only of value to meet another person's needs. This verbal battering seriously erodes and damages the child's self-esteem and sense of worth as a person.
a) Forms of Psychological Abuse
1. Spurning- hostile, rejecting humiliating parent/caretaker acts that degrade the child.
2. Terrorizing- parent/caretaker behavior that is likely to hurt, kill, abandon or place the child's loved ones, or the child in a dangerous situation.
3. Corrupting- acts that encourage the child in criminal, anti-social behaviors.
4. Denying Emotional Responsiveness-ignoring the child's need for love and affection."
Regarding Raghunatha, one former student wrote "He regularly made death threats to any number of students and on a weekly basis, astonished us with more demonstrations to those possibilities...There are at least 2 boys who had their front teeth ‘knocked out’ by him, maybe even 3...Raghunatha did it, not by punching; but by slapping. His hand would start at about his shoulder. It would sweep backwards, down to his waist and then come up to shatter on the child’s ‘cheek’. It was so forceful, it would elevate the kid right off the ground. It would rocket the boy’s face nose-diving into the floor with a crash..Raghunatha kicked and punched just as mercilessly...Those 2 particular boys were 8 or 9 at the time...With the worst of his beatings, he decided to leave me locked up in a room for 2 weeks. He was very concerned someone might see the 6 and 12 inch wide blackish purple and bright red bruises all over my back, arms, legs and face...He found my ‘stash’ of Indian comic books. They were about different legendary personalities of India, including stories about Krsna or from the Mahabharat. They were banned ...I could not read then. I read my first book at 17. The comic books were all I could and did read. I loved them so much I chanced keeping them in spite of the ban and payed with the beating of my life...I showed the remaining bruises after those 2 weeks of confinement to . She was visiting for a couple weeks. She was appalled. It was a
month before most all the bruises were healed... and  came in on the following day of the beatings. They were laughing about it."
The ICOCP has received first-hand testimony from a former Vrndavana gurukula student stating that Raghunatha threw him down ten feet of stairs. Another student stated "Raghunath Das physically abused me for several years while I was a student in Vrndavana. He would beat me several times per week, punching, slapping, kicking me, and throwing me to the floor after lifting me above his head. He would lift me by the arms and swing me around.... He took and implemented lessons in beating and hurting kids while leaving minimal marks. He would choke me until I nearly passed out from asphyxiation...The worst beating I ever got was from Raghunatha (Swami). I really thought he was going to kill me." Another veteran of the Vrndavana gurukula stated "Raghunatha Swami would hit kids during japa, would hit kids with closed fists." Other testimonies from students include "My ears, the ears of my friends, they bled every day. We were pulled off the ground by our ears. Some kids’ [ears] were almost ripped off. All of the teachers did it. , , , and Raghunatha." "I was slapped for chanting while looking at a bird by Raghunatha." "Raghunatha was the worst physical abuser. One time, when the electricity had gone out, I went to the guest house without permission to use the bathroom because ours was not working. When I returned, Raghunatha smacked me around several times. He had a knack for hitting the ears, making them ring for quite a while."
Another former student stated "The children would line up smallest to biggest in front of , Raghunatha and  (this is 1981)..............(Some smart-ass older kids like  would hit back, and be smashed to the ground by a blow from Raghunatha ex-marine’s strong fist)...I remember the assemblies every morning before academics.  would have us line up in the corridor outside the classrooms, according to size in three or four rows. We had to chant the whole Mangala Sutra....Vande ham sri guroh, etc..  and Ragunatha would stand at the head of the rows and [ ] would walk up and down the rows make sure we stood perfectly straight, didn’t twiddle our fingers, had our hands folded, and were actually chanting out loud...[ ] and Ragunatha knew which boys were to be selected for punishment that day they would innocently walk down the militant rows of boys, and all of a sudden, grab one boy’s ears and drag him to the front. Like it could have been you and you didn’t even know who they were going to grab...Once at the front, the boys would continue to be held by the ears, either by  himself, or by Ragunatha...[ ] would lift the boy up by his head, and while dropping him, smack both his ears with cups of his hands. If he missed, or if the boy somehow ducked, Ragunatha prabhu (who was standing at [ ] side) would firmly implant his fist (laden with heavy rings) into the boys’ side, or give him a good kick."
Another student testified "They locked us in the shower and they hit us. They came into the shower. They shut the shower door. It was Raghunatha Sr.,  and . We got out. We did get jumped. They knocked and kicked the crap out of us." This testimony was corroborated by another student who stated "In regards to ’s testimony, I saw both  and Ragunatha (senior) viciously beat  with flat palms and closed fists.  seemed to have a permanently broken nose, black eyes, and bruises."
Below is an excerpt from an interview with a former student from the Vrndavana gurukula:
Former student: "The ear slapping seemed to be like, they were trying to cause more pain with each inflicted damage. They would even talk about what would work. Like, this will make the kids listen."
Interviewer: "When you say they, could you be specific?"
Former student: "they, meaning teachers like; [ ], [ ], [ ], [ ], and Ragunatha Swami. Those are the ones I remember mostly as brutal beaters."
Another former student stated "Another time Ragunatha, during Bhagavad Gita class, he just started beating  up. I don’t remember what the incident was, or what the reason was, but he started beating  up. And there were a couple of us standing next to us. And Ragunatha Swami said, ‘What are you guys looking at?’ And just shoved us into the wall and he just kept beating ." When asked to describe what he meant by beating, he responded ‘Well,  curled up into like a fetus position and Maharaja kept hitting him on the back, cause that was the only space that was available. When we were standing there, he was saying ‘What are you looking at?’ And he took both hands and just shoved us in the chest against the wall."
Another student testified "Ragunatha Swami ...has beaten me black and blue throughout my time there. One time he kicked me down the stairs - he craked one of my ribs. I remember one time he threw me up against the wall, and then kept on punching me and kicking me until I blacked out. One time I fell asleep chanting japa and he kept hitting me with his huge tulsi beads; one side of my face swelled up."
Another student said "Once I was sitting in Raghunatha prabhus’ ashram, and I remember some older boy that made some funny remark or something, and Raghunatha took him into the adjacent room and all I heard was yelling and beating. These rooms were all on the same floor of the building, in a circular fashion. When kids screamed in pain, it could be heard all over the building. Most notably, Rahunatha ex-swami was appointed disciplinary extraordinaire by [name of principle of school]. Anyone who was labeled a ‘problem case’ would be sent to Raghunatha to get their ‘ego smashed.’... Raghunatha beat me severely black and blue."
One former Vrndavana gurukula student witnessed Raghunatha badly beat a friend of the former student’s, when they were children in the Vrndavana gurukula. The former student describes the effects of witnessing this event:
"At the time, I was just living through it, doing whatever it took to get by day to day. Over the long term, it made me very angry, that I was not able to stop it happening to a friend. Because of it, I promised myself that I would NEVER quietly sit by again (and I haven’t). This, and other experiences, left me with little faith or trust in most of the ISKCON leaders (especially the ones who have been around since that time). Eventually, it has just become another story in my life. It falls under the category of one’s I’d rather not have to retell too often, though. Spiritually, I’m doing well. Religiously I have little interest in ISKCON doctrine. The ashram effectively killed most of that interest in that. Otherwise, as long as I do not have to deal with the issue, I am doing very well in my life."
In response to the above accusations Raghunatha dasa made statements such as "I never drew blood", "I never broke any bones", "They were afraid of what I might do more than what I actually did.", "I shouted a lot...and I did frighten a lot of people", and "A lot of times just the shouting was enough."
Raghunatha dasa, as well as several former Vrndavana gurukula students, has stated that he was the enforcer in the school, acting on behalf of the principle. He quoted the principle as telling him "I don’t care what you do, just don’t leave any marks." One former student stated "That Raghunatha wasn’t something that he [principle] happened to stumble on, or something that he [principle] even tolerated. But Raghunatha was his [principle’s] weapon of choice for what he considered to be impossible kids." Raghunatha has several times acknowledged that he went "over the top" sometimes in his disciplinary attempts. He qualified this by stating that he wasn’t unduly rough with all the students in the school; that there were a few who were particularly difficult to handle, and he sometimes lost control with them. He said "I definitely went over the top on many occasions."
This panel herein acknowledges the many years of service that Raghunatha dasa devoted to gurukula education and to Srila Prabhupada's movement. Raghunatha dasa served in gurukula education at a time when there were many and extreme environmental hardships that caused immense pressure on all staff members. For example, the Vrndavana gurukula was underfunded and the teachers were inadequately trained. In his responses to the case file Raghunatha emphasized that he received no training for the service of teacher. Despite his lack of experience and training, he was given responsibility for many children, who themselves were under great strain and were troubled in many ways. The gurukula had no choice whether to accept a student or not, and the most difficult children were often placed under Raghunatha’s care. Raghunatha stated "My mind never got any rest...I just needed a break but somehow no break was forthcoming...My service began to sag as a result of that..."
In conversation with the ICOCP Raghunatha has made many statements of general apology. For example he has stated "I apologize 100 times over and over and over again...I have to accept full responsibility for my behavior. Whatever punishments I doled out which were excessive I have to apologize for...My apologies to all the gurukulis everywhere, for any kind of punishments that were given out by me that were excessive, that were harmful, that were disturbing...I throw myself in the dust of their lotus feet, a million times over, and beg their forgiveness and beg their blessings so that I can continue as a disciple of His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada and the Krsna consciousness movement...I feel very remorseful for everything that has happened...All I can say is I’m sorry, from the bottom of my heart, I’m truly sorry. And I wish none of that had ever happened."
While this panel acknowledges the mitigating factors described above, it is important to recognize, as stated by Raghunatha dasa, that he is responsible for his actions. That is, while environmental stressors should be considered a mitigating factor in assessing this case, they do not negate the personal responsibility of Raghunatha dasa for his conduct.
Based on the evidence and descriptions above, this panel has determined the following:
Raghunatha dasa has shown himself to be a sincere follower of Srila Prabhupada and he has expressed a strong desire to continue to preach in Srila Prabhupada’s movement. Raghunatha dasa also physically and psychologically abused several children when he was at the Vrndavana gurukula, thus causing immense pain and suffering for these young devotees. In order for Raghunatha dasa to be able to represent ISKCON as a preacher, he must first show appropriate remorse and make suitable amends for the child abuse he has perpetrated.
This panel acknowledges and appreciates the apologies offered by Raghunatha dasa. However, these apologies have been very generalized. We believe that, for the healing of himself and his child abuse victims, Raghunatha dasa needs to specifically and individually acknowledge his excesses in imposing punishments on children in the Vrndavana gurukula. He needs to personally apologize to each victim, and this apology should describe the acts of child abuse that he committed against that victim, and in the apology Raghunatha must also take full responsibility for his actions of child maltreatment. Also, to demonstrate his willingness to make amends for the way he mistreated children, Raghunatha dasa must monetarily contribute to the effort of assisting the children and youth of Srila Prabhupada’s movement.
For six months from the date of this Official Decision Raghunatha dasa is not permitted to have any connection with an ISKCON temple or an ISKCON-affiliated project. This includes a suspension of the right to visit ISKCON property or the property of an ISKCON-affiliate. After six months Raghunatha may participate in an ISKCON temple as an active congregation member. If he would like the privilege of giving class or leading kirtana at an ISKCON temple, ISKCON project, or an ISKCON-affiliated project, then he must comply with the following conditions. The ICOCP acknowledges and has considered in this decision that Raghunatha dasa has voluntarily restricted himself from giving classes since 1995.
1) He must write at least 5 apology letters, as described above, to five of his child abuse victims. These letters must specifically acknowledge the type of abuse he inflicted on the child, without minimizing the incidents or their effects on the child, and without diverting responsibility to others or to the circumstances. In these letters Raghunatha dasa must take full responsibility for his misconduct towards the children.
In place of written letters, Raghunatha may instead verbally apologize to the victims. The ICOCP will accept these verbal apologies if the Office hears from the victims that the verbal apologies met the conditions listed in paragraph 1 above. If Raghunatha dasa prefers to send written apologies, he should send them to the ICOCP, and not directly to the victims.
Raghunatha has indicated that he would welcome the opportunity to meet personally with any of the former students of the Vrndavana gurukula, and discuss with them the past and his transgressions against them. Towards this goal the ICOCP is willing to help Raghunatha dasa to locate and arrange meetings with the former students.
In order to comply with stipulation 1, Raghunatha dasa must be willing to offer suitable apologies to any of the former students whom he abused that approach him, through the ICOCP or otherwise, to discuss his behavior at the Vrndavana gurukula.
2) Raghunatha dasa must contribute at least $5,000 to an organization, such as Children of Krishna, the ICOCP, or a gurukula approved by the ICOCP, dedicated to helping the children of Srila Prabhupada’s movement. This $5,000 must be paid within five years, and at least $1,000 per year must be paid from the date of this Official Decision. As soon as Raghunatha pays the first $1,000, then this stipulation will be considered to be fulfilled, though if he does not continue to pay at least $1,000 on an annual basis, then this stipulation will be unfulfilled. Raghunatha must provide documentation to the ICOCP of the monetary contributions that he makes.
If Raghunatha dasa complies with the two conditions described above, then he may lead kirtana and give class at an ISKCON temple or project.
Raghunatha dasa is restricted from holding any positions in ISKCON or ISKCON-affiliated organizations, and he is also restricted from having any service for ISKCON that involves connection with minors. If he would like these restrictions to be lifted, then he must undergo a psychological evaluation conducted by a mental health professional pre-approved by the ICOCP, and he must comply with recommendations for ongoing therapy given in that evaluation and by the ICOCP. If Raghunatha dasa has already undergone therapy or psychological evaluation, then documentation of this may count towards fulfillment of stipulation 2.
If a child abuse victim of Raghunatha dasa is present at an ISKCON function or on ISKCON property, and Raghunatha dasa is also present, then Raghunatha dasa must leave the premises if the former student objects to his presence. This condition is in effect for five years from the date of this Official Decision.
These judgments constitute the minimum restrictions that an ISKCON organization may place on Raghunatha dasa . Any specific ISKCON organization may choose to invoke more stringent restrictions.
According to the ISKCON Child Protection Task Force Report, Section 5, in cases where an allegation(s) of child abuse are determined to be valid, the accused may appeal the Official Decision to the GBC Executive Committee and the ISKCON Minister of Justice within one month of the date of this decision. The Official Decision described in this document is effective immediately, and the perpetrator must abide by its guidelines during the appeal process, should he choose to appeal this decision.
Judges serving on this case were Bhusaya dasa, Maharani dasi, and Sita Thakurani dasi. The Case Manager for this case was Dhira Govinda dasa. The Director of ICOCP at the time of this Official Decision was Dhira Govinda dasa.