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Religious Affairs Correspondent Jane Little
"The former pupils allege a catalogue of abuse"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 13 June, 2000, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Krishnas face huge abuse claim

Former students of the Hare Krishna religious movement have filed a $400m claim against the organisation for alleged sexual and emotional abuse.

The most unthinkable abuse and maltreatment of little children we have seen

Windle Turley, lawyer for the plaintiffs
They say children as young as three were abused at boarding schools in America and India in the 1970s and 1980s.

The lawsuit alleges offences including rape, sexual abuse, physical torture and emotional terror. It says young girls were given as brides to older men who donated to the religious community.

The current Hare Krishna leadership has carried out its own investigations and promised a compensation fund for any victims. Only one of its schools now takes boarders.

Established in 1966 by AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
196,000 devotees
350 centres
60 rural communities
50 schools
60 restaurants

Source: ISKCON
More than 1,000 children could have been affected, said a lawyer for the 44 former students who filed the charges in Dallas, Texas.

Windle Turley said the case covered "the most unthinkable abuse and maltreatment of little children we have seen".

Beating claim

The incidents are alleged to have started in 1972 at the International Society of Krishna Consciousness's (ISKCON) first school in Dallas - and continued at six other schools in the US and two in India.

The lawsuit claims that children were:

  • Forced to sleep in unheated rooms and walk great distances in bitter cold without coats or shoes
  • Deprived of medical care for malaria, hepatitis and broken bones
  • Scrubbed with steel wool until they bled
  • Moved to schools in different states without parental consent.

Plaintiff Greg Luczyk, 30, said he had been beaten four or five times a day at a Krishna school in India in the early 1980s.

He said his mother had tried to remove him from the school and sent him plane tickets to come home, but teachers tore them up at school assemblies.

Pure devotees

"The parents were trying to get us out, but the ring of molesters had tight control," said Mr Luczyk, who now lives in Vancouver, Canada.

Thousands of westerners joined Hare Krishna in the peace and love era
The lawsuit names ISKCON as lead defendant, along with members of its governing board and the estate of the movement's founder, AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

He brought his form of Hindu devotionalism to America in the 1960s, at the height of the love and peace era and rejection of the war in Vietnam.

Thousands of westerners joined Hare Krishna, donning the trademark saffron and orange robes, chanting mantras and collecting donations on the streets.

Prabhupada said children should be sent to boarding schools at the age of five so they could learn to be pure devotees, freeing parents to sell devotional books and do other jobs.

By the end of the 1970s, 11 schools, known as gurukulas or houses of the guru, were operating in North America with several more around the world.

Counselling offer

Now, the only boarding school in the US is in Alachua, Florida, home to the largest US Hare Krishna community.

There is no doubt many children did suffer... while under the care of the organisation

Hare Krishna director Dhira Govinda
Hare Krishna director Dhira Govinda said Krishna leaders wanted to provide counselling and financial support to victims.

"There is no doubt many children did suffer... while under the care of the organisation," he said.

Krishna leaders had pledged $250,000 a year to investigate past child abuse and aid survivors.

ISKCON formed its own Child Protection Task Force in 1998 and had compiled the names of 200 people who allegedly inflicted abuse in the 1970s and '80s.

Windle Turley's Dallas law firm won millions in damages against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Dallas in 1997, after the jury found it had ignored evidence that a priest had sexually abused boys, and had tried to cover up for him.

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