Faith & Fear: The Children of Krishna
KCTS Connects
Special Report
Faith & Fear: The Children of Krishna
Original airdate: May 22, 2001

Known to many Americans and Canadians for their shaved heads, saffron robes and solicitations on street corners and in airports, the Hare Krishnas were mainstays of the Flower Child generation of the 1960s and '70s. Decades later, dozens of young adults have come forward with chilling allegations of systematic abuse by teachers and caretakers at Hare Krishna boarding schools across North America. The alleged abuse is now the subject of a landmark $400 million lawsuit filed in Dallas, Texas. Plaintiffs include scores of former students; defendants include the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) and dozens of former teachers and officials at now-closed boarding schools in cities including Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. If successful, the lawsuit could strip ISKCON of most or all of its North American assets.

The KCTS Connects Special Report, Faith & Fear: The Children of Krishna, explores one of the darkest secrets of the 1970s and '80s-the reported abandonment and abuse of children raised as Hare Krishnas. The 80-minute documentary combines in-depth interviews with exclusive archival footage to explore the history of the Hare Krishna movement and the childhood experiences of some of the former members who joined the lawsuit.

The documentary will be followed by a short studio conversation in which KCTS' Enrique Cerna and Faith & Fear writer/co-producer Jack Hamann update viewers on the status of the lawsuit and people featured in the program, and discuss related topics including the Seattle/Vancouver connection to the story and whether there is any evidence that the Hare Krishna movement has changed since the abuse occurred.

Faith & Fear producers Jack Hamann and Laurel Spellman traveled to Florida, California, Vermont and British Columbia to interview current and former Hare Krishna members. Viewers hear from young adults who were raised in Hare Krishna boarding schools as well as from their parents, who joined the Krishnas in the halcyon hippie days of the late 1960s and '70s. The program includes the insights of two of the world's leading experts on Hare Krishnas - Dr. Burke Rochford, professor of religious studies at Middlebury College in Vermont, and clinical psychologist Dr. Arnold Weiss of Los Angeles, who conducted a landmark study of Hare Krishna initiates. Also interviewed is Anuttama Dasa, a leading member of, and spokesman for, ISKCON.

Faith & Fear explores the history of the Hare Krishna religion, inaugurated in North America by a brilliant and charismatic Indian guru named Prabhupada. Viewers learn of the movement's surprising genesis in New York's Bowery district and its meteoric climb through American pop culture. Also examined are the Krishnas' proselytizing and fundraising activities. Plaintiffs in the lawsuit claim they were sent to boarding schools in order to allow their parents to spend most of their time raising money for the movement. They charge that the result was substantial and repeated physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

The current ISKCON leadership admits much of the abuse but has decried the overwhelming size of the claim, offering to pay the plaintiffs a much smaller sum to assist with counseling and rehabilitation. ISKCON paints a picture of a modern religion, substantially transformed, serving millions around the world.

Faith & Fear compares the former Hare Krishnas' allegations with similar experiences in other religious faiths and asks whether, at their core, the abusive behaviors that have been reported are an inseparable part of Krishna teachings, or simply a disturbing element of some religious organizations. Ultimately, viewers are asked to consider whether ISKCON deserves the "death penalty" for its past actions. Can its spiritual core continue if its property and buildings are taken away? What are the implications for other North American religions?

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Click here for more ISKCON gurukula information.
Click here for an index of all child abuse information available through this site.