To understand the seriousness of a disease it is important to recognise
its symptoms. Otherwise, by minimising or ignoring the symptoms,
the body may be invaded by a terrible, even fatal, illness.
During the following testimonials, we ask that you keep an open
mind, attentive ear, and most importantly, a non-prejudiced heart.
These histories are important because they exemplify the severity
of disregard for women in our society during the middle to late
1970s. At this time, as documented in Jyotirmayi's paper,1
many women were relieved of their services, had to stand in
the back of the temple rooms during aratis and were sent
out of the temple rooms for japa. There was even talk of
asking all the women to leave the temples, and moving to Australia.
In total, there were at least five women's parties operating just
before Srila Prabhupada's disappearance. Each party had approximately
twenty-five or more members. More than sixty women were asked to
serve on Jiva's party. Of these, at least twenty were approached
by Jiva for illicit sex. Five of these women were 'legally' married
to Jiva. There have been reports of at least three abortions.
These women had little or no shelter because the women's parties
were apparently supported by both temple leaders and Governing Body
Commissioners. When women went to temple authorities they were sent
back to the party where they were publicly admonished and punished.
Three GBCs were sent to investigate Jiva's party more than a year
before its final demise but no action was taken, perhaps because
the cash collections were very high.
Many of you have probably wondered why we felt it was so important
to establish the Women's Ministry. Perhaps I can shed some light
on this by sharing a few personal experiences and thoughts. Perhaps
also, through my testimony and what you have heard from my Godsisters,
you will understand that this is not feminism, but rather a sincere
attempt to create an environment conducive to devotional service
for Vaisnavis. I hope that you will also recognise that the seeds
of injustice towards, and prejudice against, women still bear fruit
Within two weeks of my joining the Hare Krsna movement, Jiva's
party was formed. I became one of its initial three members and
remained a member from the day it was formed until the day it ended.
By Krsna's grace and kindness, I was na´ve and thus unaware of Jiva's
sexual intimations towards me or my Godsisters. Looking back, the
significance of many experiences have become apparent and are shocking,
but worse was bearing witness to the suffering of my devoted Godsisters.
Even though unaware of the details, the pain was evident, immeasurable
and unbearable to watch. Clearly, these experiences reflected a
perversion of the edicts of protection for women.
After Jiva's party broke apart, I was given the opportunity to
increase my preaching role. Thus I moved overseas and began preaching
in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaysia and Singapore. By Krsna's
mercy, despite many difficulties, I was able to meet dignitaries
and hold large preaching engagements as I travelled alone, or with
a small team of brahmacarinis, from town to town.
At one point, I and four other ladies maintained a centre in Bagio,
Philippines, which prospered until we were told to leave. Next,
through our own efforts, we were able to open a beautiful restaurant
in Manila. When the restaurant became successful, I was told it
was now time to put someone serious in charge; that a woman's nature
did not allow her to bear the managerial responsibility of such
a project. Unfortunately, the restaurant closed within weeks of
After a pilgrimage to Vrndavana I returned to the USA. Because
I was recovering from malaria, I was not able to go out and collect,
so I was given a van and a younger bramacarini, and told
to go out and do something. Again through Krsna's grace, we were
able in one month to sell many books, including two full sets of
Srimad-Bhagavatam and a complete set of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta.
We had made six new devotees and were offered the opportunity for
radio and television spots, as well as a gift of 100 acres of land.
Upon returning to the Portland temple happy and exuberant, I was
physically assaulted by the Temple President (who had warmly received
us only a few weeks earlier) and told to never come back. After
returning to my home centre, I was told not to mention a word of
my preaching programme to anyone, or I would be asked to leave the
I do not know if the opposition to my efforts was due to a fear
of losing collectors - who may prefer to preach - or to being a
successful woman preacher, or both. I can only tell you that these
were the most empowered days of my Krsna consciousness, and that
every night I went to sleep with a smile on my face; every day having
had a mystical experience in preaching.
In New Vrindaban, I was able to open a bookstore in the basement
of the Palace of Gold. From there, with very little support from
the management, and with my young baby girl in tow, by Srila Prabhupada's
mercy I was able to distribute a sizeable quantity of Srila Prabhupada's
books. This effort was easy because of the grandeur of the Palace
and the sincerity of the devotees. Unfortunately, like so many previous
efforts, it was not to last. I had just completed a Labor Day weekend
of book sales that totalled $10,000 when I was once again informed
that it was now time to bring in a more qualified individual. I
will not dwell here on the demoralising manner in which the transition
took place, but I will say that after my departure from the New
Vrindaban book store, the sales immediately decreased to less than
a tenth of what they had been when it was under my care.
More detrimental to me than the ill fate of being on a women's
party was my arranged marriage. It was determined that the solution
to the numerous fall-downs of New Vrindaban's residing spiritual
leader would be to give many of the men sannyasa and to marry
off all of the women. Upon hearing of this decision, I approached
one of the leading household couples in our community to inquire
about one Godbrother I thought might be interested in marrying me.
Unfortunately he was one of the candidates for sannyasa and
thus I was kicked out of the asrama and forced to live outside,
alone in the sankirtana van.
After returning to the asrama, it became apparent that I
was earmarked to marry a man of very low character. Understanding
the intention, I began fasting and praying to the Lord for understanding.
After several days, I had no answer, so I also stopped drinking
water. After four days of not drinking water and not eating, I received
a phone call. 'Please break your fast, I will not force you to do
anything against your will.' You can imagine my surprise and dismay
when less then two weeks later, my marriage to this very same man
was unexpectedly announced at guru-puja.
I was tired and weak from the fast and had no fight left in me.
I felt that for some unknown reason, Krsna wanted me to surrender.
Thus, after years of ardent service and unflinching dedication to
the regulative principles, book distribution and preaching, I found
myself married to a low-class, disturbed individual who smoked,
drank, stayed out nights roaming the streets of the gay sections
of San Francisco, regularly forced himself upon me sexually, beat
me and tore up everything I owned. He even gave me a disease that
is a known link to cervical cancer, a disease for which I have recently
undergone extensive surgery in what then appeared to be a life-threatening
Finally, I moved to Philadelphia, were I was blessed with mature
and rational Krsna conscious association. Our Temple President never
infringed on my devotional service, in fact he encouraged me and
provided facility in numerous ways.
More importantly, for the first time in my Krsna consciousness,
I had the association of my older Godsisters: Vaisnavis who knew
Srila Prabhupada, who had travelled with him and been given personal
instruction. I felt a sense of belonging. These ladies endeared
themselves to me, reinstated my trust in Srila Prabhupada's movement
and reinvigorated my heart. I was indebted to them in the deepest
sense possible. I came to understand that the unpleasant experiences
of my past were not isolated incidents. In fact, a seeming majority
of my Godsisters had undergone similar experiences, and as I listened
I found each story more unbelievable than the last. It was at this
time that I resolved to do everything I could to help my Godsisters,
whatever the cost.
The stories I've mentioned represent a minute segment of the misfortune
I and others experienced. If you believe these are tales of ISKCON's
distant past, my present service to the Women's Ministry has taught
One vivid and unforgettable impression I have received while in
the service of Women's Minister came from a note scrawled at the
end of a confidential survey which read, 'in dedication to ... Dasi,
a dear friend who has been killed at the hands of her husband'.
I have also been told several heartbreaking stories of forced marriages
that resulted in molestation and physical and sexual assault of
wives and children.
We sit before you now, a ragtag remnant of Srila Prabhupada's female
disciple army. Each one of us had considerable reservations about
making this journey and each of us came at substantial personal
sacrifice. One of the ladies here has even lost her means of livelihood
as a result of taking extended time off work. But we came out of
a sense of duty and concern; concern that extends, in truth, beyond
our compassion for other female devotees.
It is our perception that our movement is becoming more and more
fragmented due to a lack of empathy, understanding, honesty, and
trust amongst our Society's members, and thus our Society's heart
is being torn apart. Perhaps the desire to renounce the object of
sense gratification has led to a denouncement of women devotees,
which in turn results in a denial of the more feminine Vaisnava
qualities that each one of us holds within the core of our hearts
- qualities that may now be needed to re-instil the trust and faith
of our Society's members.
Despite the sufferings of the past, our concern is not for ourselves,
but rather for the health and well-being of our Society. Please
give us the opportunity to serve co-operatively and respectfully
together, so that we may all fully contribute our talents and abilities
in the service of our spiritual master.
1 'Women in ISKCON
in Prabhupada's Times.' Presented to GBC annual meetings in 1997.