The News Agency of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Human Rights Day 2010 and ISKCON

By: on Dec. 16, 2010
Opinion
Photo Credits: hrusa.org
For those of you would keep track of such things, last week’s celebration of Human Rights Day in Reno, Nevada was another indication of the growing acceptance of Vedic Culture around the world.

ThisIsReno.com reported on the December 10, 2010 event: Nevada “Human Rights Day” Event Opened with Sanskrit Mantras.

“Area Hindu leader Rajan Zed opened the event by reading “Gayatri Mantra,” most sacred mantra of Hinduism, from Rig-Veda, oldest existing scripture of mankind dated around 1,500 BCE, and the participants repeated after him.

Standing around the Christmas tree in front of Reno City Hall, participants then read together the preamble and all 30 articles of “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” which was adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948.

Rajan Zed says that international community needs to do much more to show that they are serious and committed to protect human rights.
The theme for Human Rights Day this year was human rights defenders who act to end discrimination.”

This report gives us not only a cause to rejoice, but also the responsibility to reflect on the true meaning of human rights as it applies to our own ISKCON.

It has been twelve years since ISKCON member and Attorney, Radha devi dasi, issued a stirring call for thoughtful examination of ISKCON’s human rights record. Her December 1998 article, “Fundamental Human Rights in ISKCON,” published in the ISKCON Communications Journal, challenged us in ways that I cannot say we have adequately addressed. Her logic is clear and undeniable, “…we must go further than simply identifying the behaviors we wish to change. To some extent, we have been naive in believing that sincerity alone could rectify the abuses which we seek to eradicate. We must address the underlying causes of the abuse if we are to arrive at meaningful solutions…While ISKCON is a society founded on spiritual truth, we are not exempt from material influences that plague other institutions…Human rights provide one measure of protection from abuse of power…Fundamental Human Rights are entirely consistent with
Vaisnava philosophy…Thus, it is not the existence of fundamental Human Rights that are at issue in ISKCON, but the nature of those rights. Nor can we ignore, however, the practical effects of the policies we adopt. The type of rights we integrate into our social fabric will have a profound impact on the type of society we form.”

Therefore, both in celebration of spreading influence of the Vedas displayed at the Reno celebration of Human Rights Day 2010, and in reflection on ISKCON’s responsibility as standard bearers of Vedic culture and our own internal progress toward the ideals of Human Rights Day, I present Radha devi dasi’s Declaration of Member’s Rights for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. All ISKCON members are encouraged to think, speak, and act in accord with the principles described below.


DECLARATION OF MEMBERS' RIGHTS FOR THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS

Whereas, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all living beings is a fundamental tenet of Vaisnava philosophy;

Whereas, compassion and mercy are essential qualities of Vaisnavas;

Whereas disregard and contempt for the rights of living beings have resulted in injurious acts (both inside and outside the Hare Krishna Movement) which outrage the conscience of all compassionate beings; and

Whereas it is essential to the continued existence of ISKCON that we promote loving relations between all Vaisnavas and Vaisnavis;

Now therefore, we adopt the following Bill of Rights for all of the members of ISKCON:

Article 1

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are all members of Krishna's family endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in a spirit of love and compassion.

Article 2

Membership in ISKCON is available to all people who desire such membership and who agree to the conditions of such membership. No one shall be denied membership in ISKCON on the basis of race, national or social origin, language, birth status or gender.

Article 3

Every member of ISKCON is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction on the basis of race, national or social origin, language, birth status, age, gender, or identity of the member's initiating guru as long as that guru is authorised by ISKCON to give initiation.

Article 4

Every member of ISKCON has the right to freedom from violence, torture, cruel or degrading treatment and abuse. It is the duty of ISKCON leaders to provide environments that are free from violence, torture, cruel or degrading treatment and abuse.

Article 5

ISKCON is a voluntary society and no member of ISKCON shall be held in a condition of involuntary service.

Article 6

All members of ISKCON are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the laws which govern our society.

Article 7

Every member of ISKCON has the right to an effective remedy by ISKCON's Governing Body Commission (GBC) for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him or her under this Declaration.

Article 8

No member of ISKCON shall be subjected to any arbitrary sanction or punishment by any ISKCON authority.

Article 9

Every member of ISKCON is entitled in full equality to a fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal in the determination of his or her rights and obligations in relationship to ISKCON.

Article 10

No member of ISKCON shall have his or her membership rights in ISKCON limited or terminated without a full and fair hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal. It is essential to such a full and fair hearing that the accused ISKCON member be given (a) reasonable notice of the hearing, (b) the opportunity to present witnesses and evidence on his or her own behalf, and (c) the opportunity to confront the witnesses and evidence against him or her.

Article 11

Every member of ISKCON shall have the right to freedom of movement and residence. Every temple dependent resident member shall have the right to leave his or her temple ashrama for the purpose of establishing his own separate residence at any time. However, any ISKCON member who seeks residence in a temple ashrama must abide by the rules of that ashram, including the rules of admission to that ashram.

Article 12

1. Every member of ISKCON who is of full legal age, without any limitation due to race, national or social origin, language, birth status, gender or religion, shall have the right to marry and to found a family. Both male and female members of ISKCON are entitled to equal rights under ISKCON and secular law as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. However, this article does not itself create any right to dissolve a marriage.
2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by ISKCON.

Article 13

Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. It is the duty of ISKCON leaders to provide protection to the women and children in their area. It is also the duty of ISKCON leaders to provide resources and programmes for the development and enrichment of the children in ISKCON.

Article 14

Every member of ISKCON shall have the right to freedom of thought and conscience. While ISKCON leaders may place reasonable restrictions on a member's public expression of ideas which conflict with ISKCON's position, no member of ISKCON shall be sanctioned for ideas or beliefs which differ from official ISKCON positions or for ideas or beliefs which contradict those of ISKCON leaders. However, this provision shall not prevent ISKCON from requiring that its members ascribe to ISKCON's official positions in order to hold leadership positions.

Article 15

Every member of ISKCON shall be entitled to such education and service opportunities as will assist his or her full development in Krsna consciousness without discrimination on the basis of race, national or social origin, language, birth status, gender, or identity of the member's initiating guru as long as that guru is authorized by ISKCON to give initiation.

Article 16

Every temple dependent resident member of ISKCON shall be entitled to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself or herself and his or her family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care, rest, and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

While ISKCON leaders are not responsible for the standard of living of non-temple dependent members of ISKCON, they have a duty to foster the development of necessary economic support skills among the members in their care and to avoid setting policies which would interfere with the ability of non-temple dependent members to provide an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families.

Article 17

Each member of ISKCON shall have the right to information about the process by which ISKCON is governed and, in particular, shall be entitled to information about:
a. the nature and content of proposals made at each annual Mayapur meeting of the GBC;
b. the identification of those proposals which are adopted at each annual Mayapur meeting of the GBC; and
c. the nature and outcome of formal disciplinary proceedings undertaken by ISKCON authorities against ISKCON leaders;

Article 18

In the exercise of his or her rights and freedoms, each member of ISKCON shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by ISKCON leaders to be essential for the purpose of securing recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare of ISKCON.


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