BBC's "Sunday Religion and Ethics" did a February 10, 2002 report on ISKCON's Chapter 11 Bankruptcy as their response to the lawsuit Children of ISKCON vs. ISKCON filed in Dallas last October. You can listen to the broadcast on the Internet: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/tv_radio/sunday/index.shtml (sixth item from the top on this page - this URL might change, as they update the archives) or go directly to the Real Player file: http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/realmedia/sunday/s20020210f.ram They quote Raghunatha Anudasa (a former gurukula student), Anuttama Dasa (ISKCON Communications director), Nori Muster (author of Betrayal of the Spirit), Dr. Burke Rochford (a prof. who studied the gurukula), and they interview Kripamoya Dasa, a devotee in England.
Following the scandals of child abuse in predominately Roman Catholic schools, the Hare Krishna movement now faces similar accusations. Indeed, the movement in the States could face extinction if the lawsuit alleging child abuse succeed. The organization, whose most famous member was George Harrison, is filing for bankruptcy protection under U.S. law. In the 1970s and 1980s there were many alleged cases of child abuse at the movement's boarding schools around the world. The $400 million lawsuit filed in Dallas is said considerably to exceed the value of the movement's assets. This report by Stephen Perry begins with one of the alleged victims of abuse.
Raghunatha: A worst case scenario of abuse, whether it's starvation, sickness, sexual, physical and every scenario that you can come up with, I'm one of those lucky few who happened to catch the brunt of every one of them and that was because I'd pretty much gone to every school that the Hare Krishna movement had back in the seventies and eighties.
Raghunatha Anudasa is one of hundreds of people now claiming he was seriously abused as a child, when between the ages of seven to eighteen he attended five of Hare Krishna's boarding schools in America, one in France and two in India. In June 2000 a $400 million lawsuit was filed in Dallas, Texas by former boarding school students. The leaders of Hare Krishna acknowledge there have been many cases of child abuse but say the plaintiffs are asking far to much by way of compensation. To protect themselves, they're planning to use a piece of U.S. bankruptcy law called Chapter 11. This would provide some shield from their creditors. Anuttama Dasa, Hare Krishna's international director of communications, thinks this step will prove to be in the best interest of the plaintiffs, because by protecting their assets from some creditors, they can continue with their efforts to help those harmed by the abuse.
Anuttama: If the suit went through, it could shut down the Hare Krishna religion in North America. The amount of money they're asking for is far beyond the value of these temples. It's worth far more than these American communities combined. So it's a tremendous threat.
[sound of chanting]
Hare Krishna, a form of Hindu devotionalism, originating in East India, successfully transferred to America in the 1960s at the height of the love and peace era and rejection of the war in Vietnam. Burke Rochford, a professor of sociology and religion at Middlebury College in Vermont, says the movement created a specific spiritual setting for the education of their children.
Rochford: The schools themselves were called gurukula, which is basically the school of the guru. The schools themselves would allow children to learn practices of renunciation and they would remain disentangled from the outside world and the material world and that they would receive a spiritual education in these schools that certainly couldn't be found in public schooling. By the end of the late part of the eighties and nineties, people became aware of the abuse that had taken place in these schools and the gurukula boarding schools have essentially, with a few exceptions, have collapsed.
Nori Muster was a devotee for ten years but left the movement disillusioned in 1988. She went on to write a book about the decline of the Hare Krishna movement in North America and the scandals that enveloped it after its founder A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada died in 1977. Although some members like Anuttama Dasa acknowledge that some reform is needed, she believes many of ISKCON's temple leaders do not share his views.
Nori: The organization has to learn that it's wrong. They do have to function within the rules of society. They cannot abuse children, they cannot abuse women, they can't beat people up. If they could learn those things, then yes, I think that the organization should survive. But if they're going to go on with their attitudes that they're above the law, then no, I on't think it should survive, because it doesn't represent Krishna, it doesn't represent Hinduism.
In America, Hare Krishna's annual income has fallen sharply in recent years and it has far fewer monks than it used to. Its devotees are no longer seen at airports selling its books. But even before the lawsuit, the organization was facing financial difficulties. But Anuttama Dasa says they deserve to survive.
Anuttama: Other people's rights to worship and congregate should not be threatened, especially for something someone else did twenty years past that was clearly in violation of our religious principles and the importance we place on caring for children and protecting children.
Anuttama Dasa ending that report by Stephen Perry. And now I'm joined by Kripamoya Dasa, senior priest at Bhaktivedanta Manor near Watford.
Have there been any actual incidents of child abuse in your country?
It's highly unlikely. We've had over the last fifteen years two reported incidents of child abuse that were immediately reported to the police and other authorities. We actually have one of our congregational member who is a child protection specialist and works for Scotland Yard, who has been advising us for the last ten years. These two cases that I mentioned weren't in connection with the schools, either, and we don't have boarding schools, a situation in which the child abuse seems to have gone on in America.
Nevertheless, this is very damaging for the movement, isn't it?
It's awful. I mean, it's awful. I joined the movement in the 1970s. I think there's two factors that probably led to it being disguised. One is that in the 1970s, sixties and seventies, child abuse was relatively undiscussed. The second was a certain naivety of the younger members of a spiritual movement that had no history in America; nothing like this had taken place. It was a transplantation if you like, of Hinduism with no history in the modern world.
But might I suggest that there might have been something wrong with the culture of the movement, particularly in its attitude toward sexuality. I mean you believe for example that sex for pleasure, not for procreation, is wrong. Do you think, I mean is it possible you may have been over zealous in the implementation of that view?
Well, of course it's only wrong for those persons who elect to choose to follow that discipline in their life. We fully understand there's a broad range of sexuality in the world, however the scriptures do recommend that if one wants to progress in spiritual development, then celibacy or partial celibacy in married life is something that may help one. But I think it's unfair to say that celibacy per se predisposes a person toward deviant sexual activity.
Now I wasn't suggesting that, but I was suggesting that sex in itself is somehow wrong, unless it's specifically for procreation, you know, can in some instances have damaging consequences.
Well if a person is obviously an unhappy celibate, then I suppose there are so many things that can go wrong with one's sexual behavior. Repression is certainly wrong, but we have many happy celibate monks and many happy married couples who are observing these disciplines.
What do you think the consequences will be for the movement? It's a disaster in America, but will it affect you over here?
I don't think so. I think mainly we're affected over here by the reputation the movement has gained by all of this. Financially, we're legally we're separate as an entity.
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