By Shyamal Sinha
A Bodh Gaya police spokesperson said on Saturday that Bhante Shanghpriya Sujoy was arrested last week after boys at Prajna Jyoti Buddhist Novice School and Meditation Centre, managed by the Prajan Social Welfare Trust (PSWT), complained to their parents that they had been beaten, sexually abused, and forced to dance naked.
Police said a preliminary investigation had revealed a number of irregularities at the center. “The child monks had complained to their respective guardians about physical and sexual abuse by their head monk,” said police deputy superintendent Rajkumar Shah. “They also informed us that they were thrashed, mistreated, and sexually abused while staying in the school. We are investigating the matter now.” (The Asian Age)
The boys studying at the school in Bodh Gaya’s Mastpura Village were all from impoverished families in the northeastern state of Assam, more than 1,000 kilometers east of Bihar.
Police said they were also conducting a parallel investigation into the trust that operates the school, adding that charges would be filed against trust members if they were found to be involved. “[The] role of other members of the trust is also being investigated and if any evidence surfaces we will also lodge [a First Information Report (FIR)] against them,” said Senior Superintendent of Police Rajeev Mishra. (The Asian Age)
Mishra said medical examinations would be carried out on all 32 boys resident at the school, which had been placed under the supervision of a magistrate, before their individual cases are sent to the Child Welfare Board, which will decide on their future accommodation.
Police officials were cited by local media as stating that the 15 alleged victims and their families had been placed under police security at Assam Bhawan near Vishnupad Mandir, a Hindu shrine in Bodh Gaya. The other 17 boys studying at the meditation center remained at the school under police guard.
A public prosecutor said that Bhante Shanghpriya Sujoy, also originally from Assam, had since been remanded in custody at Gaya District’s central jail.
“When the shocked guardians of the 15 young monks demanded an explanation from Bhante Shanghpriya Sujoy, he expelled the child monks citing gross indiscipline,” said a police official. “This led to the guardians approach police.” (The New Indian Express)
According to local media reports, statements by the children and their parents to police allege that Sujoy would call the boys into his quarters where he would he would force them to dance naked before raping them. If they refused to comply, the boys would allegedly be beaten or confined without food and water.
The International Buddhist Council (IBC) at Bodh Gaya condemned the allegations as a “heinous crime against the children.” The Hindustan Times cited IBC secretary Pragya Bhante as saying that only 55 out of 160 Buddhist monasteries in Bodh Gaya were registered with the IBC or with the Bodh Gaya Temple Management Committee. (Hindustan Times)
The troubling news is the latest scandal to hit the global Buddhist community after a series of exposés and accusations of impropriety by a number of prominent Buddhist teachers and leaders in around the world, notably the Nyingma teachers Sogyal Rinpoche, founder of the Rigpa international network of Buddhist centers, and Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, former head of the Canada-based Shambhala international Buddhist community. Ven. Seoljeong, the presiding executive of the Jogye Order of South Korea, the country’s largest Buddhist order, is also embroiled in a corruption scandal, while last week, the former head of the Buddhist Association of China was removed from his post as the abbot of Longquan Monastery in Beijing, following a sexual assault probe.