Holy abuse

By Peter Brandt
Salon.com, July 2, 2001

Five years after the last U.S. Hare Krishna boarding school closed, 79 former students are suing, claiming widespread physical and sexual abuse. Their attorney wants to take down the Krishnas gangster-style.

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July 2, 2001 | How do you compensate an adult who, as a child, felt bones in her hands shatter while she vainly tried to shield herself from a violently abusive teacher?

Seventy-nine former students of Hare Krishna boarding schools, known as gurukulas, are seeking $400 million from the religious sect in compensation for enduring a range of physical, sexual and emotional abuse -- abuse the Krishnas have acknowledged in the past. The plaintiffs' attorney, Texas trial lawyer Windle Turley, filed suit last year in federal court using the civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) statute; it is a bold gambit that, if not dismissed, could put the former students in a good position to financially ruin the Hare Krishna movement. Any day they could learn whether the suit will be knocked out of federal court. If that happens, former students will have no choice but to pursue individual abusers and criminally negligent gurukula administrators rather than the entire Krishna establishment.

"I was a three-and-a-half [year-old] girl, mother away in India," reads one anonymous posting on a Web site for former students. "He [a teacher] took me into the boys shower room, stripped off my clothes and beat me until I was unconscious."

The allegations are horrific. Turley describes the Krishna students' suffering as "the most unthinkable abuse and maltreatment of little children which we have seen. It includes rape, sexual abuse, physical torture and emotional terror of children as young as 3 years of age." According to the Turley legal complaint, there were beatings with boards, branches, clubs and poles. In some cases, children were stuffed into trash barrels for two to three days, with the lid on, as punishment for their "sins." In a few schools, children were forced to lick up their vomit from any foul food they may have thrown up.

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