Hare Krishnas declaring bankruptcy
Many U.S. temples to be wiped out as former boarding school students sue over sexual assault: Reaction to $400M suit

Marina Jimenez, National Post
Max Nash, The Associated Press

At least a dozen Hare Krishna temples in the United States are declaring bankruptcy in response to a US$400-million lawsuit filed by former U.S. and Canadian devotees who attended the movement's controversial boarding schools.

The 89 U.S. and five Canadian plaintiffs detail widespread physical, emotional and sexual abuse at the boarding schools, set up in India, Canada and the United States in the 1970s and 1980s to "cut the ropes of affection" between parent and child.

The allegations include: raping, kicking and beating children with clubs; denying them medical care; forcing students to sleep in tubs and eat insect-infested food; scrubbing them with steel wool until they bled; forcing them to swallow their own vomit; "promising" 13-year-old girls to older men for marriage; placing children in trash barrels, cellars, barns and closets for hours at a time; and forcing them to work.

"Because of near-total isolation from the outside world and lack of education, the children who remained in the schools for extended periods of time were totally unequipped to enter outside society," alleges the lawsuit, filed by Windle Turley, an attorney, in Texas.

"They have experienced extreme difficulty in earning a living, marrying and adapting to laws ... of society. Many are in need of ... care."

A spokesman said the lawsuit will bankrupt the Hare Krishna movement, which was brought to North America in the 1960s by guru A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.

"This would wipe out the Church," said Anuttama Dasa, director of communications with the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon), as the religion is formally known.

"You carry God in your heart, but as far as having a place of worship, this lawsuit would wipe us out.

"We don't believe innocent members of the congregation should be held accountable for people who acted independently of our teachings."

Today, there are 65,000 U.S. and 10,000 Canadian followers of the movement, which has assets of about US$8-million, said David Liberman, Iskcon's lawyer and a long-time Krishna devotee.

He acknowledged there is a moral obligation to help the former students. By declaring bankruptcy, the movement won't waste money on lawyers and instead will be able to dedicate its limited resources to the establishment of a compensation fund for complainants, he said.

"Our goal is to work out a compensation plan. The lawyer for the complainants thinks we have millions squirrelled away," said Mr. Liberman.

"By going to bankruptcy court, we will be able to reveal our finances professionally and they'll be scrutinized. He will be surprised."

None of Canada's eight Hare Krishna temples are named in the lawsuit, although two Canadian members of the movement are listed. Hare Krishna's Canadian assets are protected because they are incorporated separately.

Allegations of sexual abuse have plagued other mainstream religions during the past 10 years, including the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches.

The Hare Krishna movement has been more candid than some faiths in acknowledging past wrongs. In 1998, the movement published an expose of the abuse suffered by many of the children sent to live in the boarding schools.

The religion encouraged its followers to forego their material possessions and devote their lives to "Krishna Consciousness." This included soliciting donations from travellers at airports, chanting in the streets and selling Krishna literature. Adults were encouraged to embrace celibacy, renounce their parental duties and place their children in the schools, known as gurukulas.

The schools were not monitored and some donors with questionable pasts, including sex offenders and other criminals, were given teaching positions there, the lawsuit alleges.

Today, there are no gurukulas in operation in Canada or the United States and most Krishna children attend day school and public high school. "We have learned from the mistakes of the past," said Mr. Liberman.

He said the majority of today's devotees do not live in spiritual communities, known as ashrams, but in the secular world and are involved in congregations only.

They have also modified their dress code; while women do wear saris, men are no longer expected to don orange robes -- except inside the temple -- or shave their heads.

The religion is growing most quickly among Asian immigrants and not among North American converts, reversing the trend of the 1970s, when nearly 10,000 devotees lived in American ashrams. The Krishna movement remains most popular in India.

BBC's "Sunday Religion and Ethics" did a 10 Feb. 2 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.

To read a transcript, click here.

Hare Krishnas to declare bankruptcy to avoid abuse lawsuit
Ananova Ltd., 2002

Hare Krishna congregations named in a lawsuit alleging sexual and emotional abuse of boarding school students will file for bankruptcy to avoid being sued.

A spokesman for the Hindu sect said about a dozen congregations will start filing for bankruptcy reorganisation next week in several states.

The group hopes that if their plan is approved by federal bankruptcy judges, the $400 million (280 million) lawsuit filed in Dallas by former boarding school students will be dismissed.

Anuttama Dasa, a Maryland-based spokesman for the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON, said: "We don't believe that innocent members and congregations should be held accountable for the deviant behaviour of individual acts committed 20 or 30 years ago."

ISKCON also plans to set up a fund to compensate children who may have been victimised in Hare Krishna schools during the 1970s and 1980s.

The Texas lawsuit alleges young children at Krishna schools in India and the United States were terrorised by their instructors.

There are 94 plaintiffs in the lawsuit, according to the office of Windle Turley, the Dallas attorney who filed the lawsuit.

They allege that young girls were given as brides to older men who donated to the religious community. Children were also allegedly deprived of medical care, scrubbed with steel wool until their skin bled, and prevented from leaving the schools.

Mr Turley says the abuse started in 1972 at ISKCON's first school in Dallas, and continued in six other US schools and two in India. He says ISKCON knew that sex offenders were working in their schools.

ISKCON formed a "Child Protection Office" in 1998 to investigate allegations of abuse and some members have been removed from the Krishna community as a result of the probes, Mr Dasa said.

link to original posting of this story: http://www.ananova.com/news/story/sm_514838.html

Hare Krishna Movement files for bankruptcy
Dallas Business Journal, 7 Feb. 2:

The International Society for Krishna Consciousness said Wednesday "at least a dozen temples, related entities and individuals" affiliated with it will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection later this month.

Better known as the Hare Krishna Movement, the Potomac, Md.-based group said the filing is in response to a Texas lawsuit alleging children were abused at the religious society's boarding schools during the 1970s and 1980s.The suit was filed in federal court in Dallas in June 2000 and was dismissed in September. But the group said a similar suit seeking $400 million in damages was later filed in Texas state court. The lawsuit seeks "far more money than the financial value of all the Krishna temples in North America" and "threatens to shut down an entire religion," the group said.

"Rather than wasting millions of dollars to fight this suit, Chapter 11 reorganization will help ISKCON communities to establish a substantial, yet reasonable, fund to help any young person who may have been abused," Anuttama Dasa, ISKCON's spokesperson, said in a prepared statement.

Through the reorganization, the organization said it hopes to assure that all victims of past abuse, including those who may have chosen not to join the suit, are compensated according to the severity of their grievance. "Chapter 11 protection will also assure that innocent families and congregations do not have their places of worship sold out from under them," said Dasa. "We believe that innocent people should not be punished for the deed of individual deviants who acted in total violation of our religious principles and teachings."

Filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection also carries protections against future litigation.

Bankrupt in US, Iskcon fights for assets in India
New India Press, 10 Feb. 2 [newindpress.com now offline]

BANGALORE: The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) might have filed for bankruptcy in the US, but in India it is a fight for assets between its Bangalore branch and Mumbai headquarters.

The power struggle, intrinsically linked to the huge assets of the Bangalore branch, is already in the second phase of the court battle. As an offshoot of this struggle, the devotees of Lord Krishna have to contend with the unusual sight of a posse of policemen at the entrance to their temple.

"The Bangalore Iskcon authorities apprehend that their Mumbai counterparts would physically storm and take over the temple. We do not expect anything to happen as of now, but once the matter goes to the high court next week, we expect some trouble here," a senior police officer told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Iskcon Bangalore had sought an injunction from a city court to restrain Iskcon Mumbai from interfering in the day-to-day administration and management of its temples at Bangalore and Mysore.

Judge A.P Murari dismissed the plea and ruled that Iskcon Bangalore was "prima facie" a branch of Mumbai, which has "every right to regulate the affairs of its branch." The properties acquired and developed "are done so (by Iskcon Bangalore) as a branch (of Mumbai) and not in its capacity as a separate entity."

Iskcon Bangalore has seven days time to appeal in a higher court.

An official of Iskcon Mumbai, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that in the "last one year, all the assets, including the funds, have been transferred to a trust set up by the local president.

"But we cannot discuss details of the assets and properties right now because this could be used as evidence in the next stage of the court battle," said the official.

"We have registered in Bangalore as a separate entity and we have filed all our accounts before the relevant authorities here," countered an official of Iskcon Bangalore.

"The accounts for 17 years were filed on a single day," alleged an Iskcon Mumbai official.

Even so, judge Murari had an interesting observation to make: "I am constrained to observe that the plaintiff (Sloka Krishna Dasa of Iskcon Bangalore) has abused the process of the court" by misleading it into believing that the Bombay High Court had directed him to file a suit for protection of Iskcon's interests in Bangalore.

This could have a bearing on future hearings in court, legal experts said.

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