Krishna's Closing The books On Abuse Scandal
by Hector Becerra/ Times Staff Writer
Sunday June 26, 2005

Leaders of the Hare Krishna faith last week began carrying out terms of a $9.5 million settlement that closes the books on a long running scandal. Under the plan, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness Organization has filed for bankruptcy in Los Angeles while it determines how to compensate 535 former students who say they were abused in the 1970s and 1980s by adults at boarding schools run by the society. The settlement covers abuse at Krishna temples and schools across the US and India that resulted in a 2001 class action lawsuit. Some Hare Krishna devotees and gurus, including at least one from Los Angeles, were subsequently convicted of child abuse, and others barred from visiting temples, said Anuttama dasa, spokesman for the society.

* The Krishnas also closed all the boarding schools in the United States, where much of the abuse allegedly occured.

* Last week, the organization began paying off attorneys, accountants and others involved in the case, a first step of eventually making payments to the alleged victims. "It is heartbreaking to know that many of our children were abused in some of our schools and communities," Dasa said. "Hopefully this decision allows us to reach out to these young adults, these former students, and provide as much support as we can." Though the scandal is far smaller in scope than the sexual abuse allegations facing the Roman Catholic Church, it has roiled the hindu-based society with 100,000 members in North America and brought about much soul searching.

* The plaintiffs attorneys had originally sought $400 million but say that the settlement, thought much smaller, is important because the organization admitted that widespread abuse had occured.

* "It's a kind of therapy," said attorney Windle Turley, who originally represented 95 of the alleged victims. "This bankruptcy, where the defendant explicitly apologizes and acknowledges their wrong, and arranged some compensation for the victims, is a type of validation that will have strong therapuetic effect."

* The Hare Krishna movement was founded in New York City in 1966 by an Indian guru Srila Prabhupada. He preached about non-violence, vegetarianism and celibacy under a theology known as God consciousness. His teachings won popularity during the counterculture movment of the 1960s and 1970s. Members are best know for chanting Hare Krishna while wearing saffron robes and shaving their heads. Prabhupada said that children as young as five should be sent to boarding schools so they could learn to be pure devotees. This also freed the parents to sell devotional books and perform other duties in the society. Schools known as ashram gurukulas sprang up acors the county, including Los Angeles. Plantiffs later charged that much of the abuse occured in the boarding schools and the organization now admits that the arrangement made children particularly vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse.

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