The second annual International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) Law Department conference was conducted May 1st and 2nd, 2021, in a meeting attended by more than 50 devotees, with good representation from six continents. Following formal recognition of the Law Department by the GBC in 2018, the first conference of the Law Department was held in January 2020, in Gainesville, Florida. This year plans to hold the conference in India were scuttled due to Covid-19, and the meeting was held on the Zoom platform instead.
The meeting was under the direction of devotee attorney, Devakinandan das, ISKCON General Conference (Singapore), who was assisted by the Organizing Committee, comprised of Govinda Dev das, Kumari Kunti dasi, Bhaktin Evelina, and Bhakta Devansh, who had worked many months to plan a successful online event. Lawyers, law students, and other devotees who have dealt with legal issues impacting ISKCON, participated in the conference.
The keynote speaker for the opening day was Radhanath Swami, who discussed the importance of lawyers in the spread of the Hare Krishna movement. He said that lawyers are modern-day successors to Arjuna, fighting legal battles to promote the growth of ISKCON. “Lawyers are the warriors who are fighting on behalf of Krishna,” taking on the legal battles necessary to protect our movement. Radhanath Swami encouraged the attendees to understand the importance of their legal skills, and sincerely thanked those engaged in this work on behalf of ISKCON for their service.
Following Radhanath Swami’s remarks, Devakinandan das discussed the way forward for the Law Department, giving his vision for the service that an integrated body of legal professionals can provide to Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON. He said that in addition to his service as General Counsel, others formally serving in the Law Department are its Assistant General Counsel, Govinda Dev das (USA), and Secretary Bhaktin Evelina (Lithuania). Later in the conference, it was announced that highly respected attorney Vinay Tanna Prabhu (London), had accepted the assignment to serve in the important role of Managing Director.
Devakinandan identified the main areas where ISKCON needs legal support as Compliance and By-Laws; Wills and Advanced Medical Directives; Immoveable Property Protection; Intellectual Property; Employment; and (last but not least) Litigation. Devakinandan echoed Radhanath Swami’s call for devotee lawyers to assist in the effort to support and strengthen ISKCON.
In the concluding presentations for the first day, Akshay Ramachandra das and Govinda Dev das discussed the place of ISKCON within the Indian legal system, and the role of temple bylaws in integrating individual temples into Prabhupada’s international society.
A beautiful, melodious kirtan by Havi Das ended the day’s events.
The second day began with the keynote presentation by Sesa das, who shared anecdotes drawing on his career as an attorney who has served ISKCON over the years in many capacities. He urged ISKCON lawyers to always be prepared – especially in times of transition, which are times of vulnerability. He emphasized the need to recognize the rights of devotees and encouraged all in attendance to identify areas important to them and use their talents to give needed service.
Champakalata dasi (South Africa), then gave a thought-provoking discussion of the rights of devotee members and the types of procedures that should be used within ISKCON to resolve disputes involving devotees. She was followed by Madhavi dasi (UK), who discussed data protection, privacy, and cybersecurity. She highlighted areas of concern pertaining to confidential information and steps that can be taken to protect information in cyberspace.
Anuttama das, ISKCON’s Minister of Communications, then spoke about how legal disputes in the past had, for better or worse, affected ISKCON’s image in the court of public opinion. Reflecting on these legal skirmishes, he emphasized how important it is for devotee lawyers to address all issues on a principled basis, with honesty and integrity.
The final discussion began with a presentation from Advaya das (Brazil), who discussed the operation of the ISKCON legal office in Brazil. He was followed by Vinay Tanna, the Law Department’s new Managing Director, who led participants in a discussion of what devotee attorneys can do individually to give support to ISKCON by serving in its Law Department.
Gaura Vani das led the final kirtan and participants logged off, until next year’s conference.
For more information or how to get involved with the ISKCON Law Department, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org