Karnataka High Court Says Bangalore Temple Belongs to ISKCON

By Madhava Smullen for ISKCON News on 28 May 2011
After over a decade of court battles, the High Court of Karnataka ruled on May 23rd that the Sri Radha Krishan Chandra Mandir in Bangalore—which had originally been an ISKCON temple but had been run by a breakaway group since soon after its construction in 1997—is officially the property of ISKCON, registered in Mumbai.
After over a decade of court battles, the High Court of Karnataka ruled on May 23rd that the Sri Radha Krishan Chandra Mandir in Bangalore—which had originally been an ISKCON temple but had been run by a breakaway group since soon after its construction in 1997—is officially the property of ISKCON, registered in Mumbai.

ISKCON BangaloreThe history of the Bangalore community goes back to 1978, when ISKCON first began spreading Krishna consciousness there. From this beginning until now, ISKCON Bangalore has legally been a part of ISKCON registered at Mumbai, which is within the international framework of ISKCON under the ultimate managing authority of the GBC Body.

A permanent presence was established in Bangalore in 1981. In 1984, Madhu-Pandit Das, now head of the breakaway group, became temple president there.
The community began to grow, and in 1997, a new temple, the Sri Radha Krishna Chandra Mandir, was built. A large, beautiful South-Indian-style complex, it sits on a hill on a seven-acre piece of prime real-estate in a busy area of Bangalore.

Unfortunately, while on the surface the temple was developing nicely, the local leadership— primarily under the guidance of Madhu-Pandit—became severely at odds with ISKCON over a new philosophy he began to propagate.

“It was around the same time as the new temple opened that Madhu Pandit Das started to express dissatisfaction with the leadership of ISKCON,” says Bhakta-Rupa Das, a member of the Governing Council of ISKCON India and chairman of ISKCON’s national assembly.

The devotees at the Bangalore temple rejected the direction of the international GBC Body, which ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada established as the ‘ultimate managerial authority.’
“They misunderstood the standard and historical process of seeking out and taking shelter of a spiritual master, and concluded that it was not conducive to efficient management,” explains Bhakta-Rupa. “They believed that if the temple management was the highest spiritual authority they would gain the local devotees’ full cooperation.”

Around the same time, a handful of other devotees in various parts of the world had begun to advocate a ‘ritvik’ philosophy, that the Gaudiya Vaishnava disciplic succession ended with Srila Prabhupada. They claimed that there were no bona fide gurus in ISKCON to continue the succession. This differed with ISKCON’s understanding, and Prabhupada’s instructions—that he was the most current representative of an ongoing chain of spiritual teachers. And that his disciples should serve him by continuing the chain and initiating disciples themselves.

“Ritvik advocates came up with a theory of ‘posthumous initiations’ by Srila Prabhupada, and this theory became a convenient way for the Bangalore temple managers to establish themselves as absolute authorities,” Bhakta-Rupa says. “They proclaimed that they were going to follow that ‘ritvik’ system instead of the traditional system continued by the GBC Body.”
In 1999, Madhu Pandit and other officers of the Bangalore temple filed for court protection. They claimed that they were the duly appointed officers and that they were expecting a move by the Governing Council of ISKCON, registered at Mumbai, to remove them.

“It’s important to note that during the court battles, Bangalore leaders coined the term ‘ISKCON Mumbai,’ to give the impression that there are many ISKCONs organized in different cities, so why should ISKCON Mumbai try to take over ISKCON Bangalore?” Bhakta-Rupa explains. “Srila Prabhupada stated very clearly that he wanted only one ISKCON legal entity in India—the one he set up and for which he served as its first chairman—and that all other ISKCON centers in India would be part of that entity.”

A couple of years later, another suit was filed, claiming that the ISKCON center at Bangalore was actually a separate legal entity, ‘ISKCON of Karnataka,’ registered in 1978. The official ISKCON (registered at Mumbai) objected to this claim, and the court battle continued.

A trial in the Bangalore City Court concluded with the judge ruling, on April 17th, 2009, that ISKCON of Karnataka was indeed a separate legal entity and the rightful owner of the property and temple at Bangalore. ISKCON (registered at Mumbai) appealed to the High Court of Karnataka, resulting in the current courtcase.

A panel of judges was selected to hear the case. One of the judges had visited ISKCON Bangalore earlier, and a photograph had been taken of him receiving a Bhagavad Gita.

This judge had a reputation of being very honest, and he proved himself so. He announced in the court that he had received a letter demanding that he recuse himself from the case—in other words, that he refuse to hear it—on the basis that he had received a gift from ISKCON Bangalore.

The letter was alleged to be from the side of ISKCON (registered at Mumbai). When the judge asked in the open court who had sent the letter, both sides denied. This led to the court eventually initiating contempt of court proceedings against devotees at ISKCON Bangalore. This matter is currently before the Supreme Court.

On May 23rd 2011, the High Court bench overruled the City Court’s 2009 decision. The new ruling stated that the temple at Bangalore was a branch of, and therefore the property of, ISKCON (registered at Mumbai). In its judgement, the High Court said that although a society called ‘ISKCON of Karnataka’ was indeed registered at Bangalore in 1978, there are no records that it actually functioned.

The High Court also stated that Madhu Pandit Das had submitted accounts to the Mumbai head office of ISKCON as a duly authorized branch of ISKCON for many years. Later these same accounts were reformatted as the accounts of ISKCON of Karnataka and submitted to the Income Tax authorities in Karnataka.

Finally the Court pointed out that Madhu Pandit Das and others had claimed under oath in their 1999 suit that they were indeed functioning as officers of the branch of ISKCON (registered at Mumbai).

The appeals court judgement didn’t mince its words: “ISKCON, Bangalore, a society registered under the Karnataka Societies Registration Act, 1960, has miserably failed to prove its legal existence as an independent, autonomous body,” it said.

Meanwhile, the Bench observed, “It is found that the ISKCON, Bangalore society, a defunct society, by advantage of the similar name of the Bangalore branch of ISKCON, Mumbai, is falsely claiming the scheduled properties of the latter by fabricating documents.”

The legal battles aren’t over quite yet, however. The Bangalore group has declared that it will appeal the May 23rd High Court verdict to the Supreme Court of India in New Delhi.

“Madhu-Pandit requested the High Court to stay the implementation of its verdict until he has the opportunity to file this appeal,” Bhakta-Rupa says. “But the High Court did not agree to this, which means that ISKCON (registered at Mumbai) now has control of ISKCON Bangalore.”

The High Court did state that, however, that for now Madhu-Pandit and others can continue to function as branch officers, and the employees at the temple cannot be disturbed in their functioning.

“This will last for six weeks, or until the Supreme Court takes any action,” Bhakta-Rupa says, adding, “Unless the Supreme Court overturns the High Court judgement, this temple will again be part of Prabhupada’s international society. ISKCON is prepared to install a proper, spiritually sound, management team at its Bangalore center and use the facilities there for spreading the mission of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.”

ISKCON’s legal team was headed by Dayaram Das, President of the Kolkata branch of ISKCON and co-Director of the Mayapur branch. Other members of the team included Muralisyam Das, Rambhadra Priya Das, and other dedicated devotees.

The 80 plus page decision of the Karnataka High Court is available online for download. Here is the link:

http://judgmenthck.kar.nic.in/judgments/bitstream/12345…
Note: Some people have had difficulty accessing the file in Firefox and Opera. Others report they were able to do so using MS Internet Explorer.

Posted in In the News.