Sex abuse case could ruin Hare Krishnas

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The Independent US

The Hare Krishna movement, which sends its saffron-clad devotees on to the streets of Britain and America to chant its name and collect donations, faces possible financial ruin from a $400m sexual abuse lawsuit filed in Texas by former pupils of its boarding schools.

The Hare Krishna movement, which sends its saffron-clad devotees on to the streets of Britain and America to chant its name and collect donations, faces possible financial ruin from a $400m sexual abuse lawsuit filed in Texas by former pupils of its boarding schools.

A group of 44 ex-students of the schools, which are called gurukulas, allege in the suit filed in Dallas, Texas, on Monday that they were victims during the Seventies and Eighties of repeated acts of emotional, physical and sexual torture by the Krishna teachers and staff. "The lawsuit describes the most unthinkable abuse and maltreatment of little children which we have seen," said Windle Turley, the lawyer for the plaintiffs. "It includes rape, sexual abuse, physical torture and emotional terror of children as young as three."

The gurukulas, most of which have now been turned into day schools, were created by the movement largely to ensure that any of its followers who had children could still be free to do its work, notably selling its writings and collecting cash from the public.

Formally known as the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, the sect was founded in the United States in 1966 by Swami Prabhupada. With its Hindu-based devotional teaching of peace and love, it resonated widely in the last years of the flower power revolution in America and Britain and attracted huge numbers of disciples. Devotees still live in the society's temples and compounds.

The Dallas suit names as the defendants the society itself, 17 members of its governing board and the estate of Prabhupada. Cited in the suit are the 11 Hare Krishna schools that were opened in America by the end of the Seventies and two in India. Prabhupada encouraged his followers to send their children to the boarding schools from the age of five.

The sect acknowledged some years ago that there had been a pattern of sexual and physical abuse in its schools. It published its own documentation about the cases and pledged to spend $250,000 looking into individual claims and investigating what happened.

A Hare Krishna spokesperson, Anattuma, said: "If the events alleged in this suit did occur, we regret that they did and we will make every effort to help address the needs of the young people named in the suit" , adding that the suit, if upheld, could wipe out the sect. "I think the size of the suit, $400m, is excessive. It is far more than the total worth of temples worldwide."

Meanwhile, a society director, Dhira Govinda, acknowledged that incidents of abuse had occurred. "There is no doubt many children did suffer while under the care of the organisation," she said.

Among the acts of humiliation allegedly inflicted on the children were the times when they were forced to sleep in unheated rooms and to walk great distances in bitter cold without coats or shoes.

According to the suit, the children were beaten, raped and forced to stand for hours in darkened cupboards. It also claims that the plaintiffs were sometimes scrubbed with wire wool until they bled, deprived of medical care when afflicted with malaria, hepatitis and broken bones, forced to sleep in urine-ridden bed clothes, and sometimes moved to unfamiliar schools without any notice being given to their parents.

One plaintiff, Greg Luczyk, an American who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, says he was beaten by wooden boards five times a day every day while attending one of the Indian schools. The staff, he added, ignored appeals by his mother to have him moved elsewhere, tearing up letters she sent with the request. "The parents were trying to get us out, but the ring of molesters had tight control," Mr Luczyk suggested.

Only one Hare Krishna boarding school now operates in the US, in Alachua, Florida, which has the highest concentration of Krishna followers in North America.

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