|In Memory of My Friend Ananda McClure|
By Nori J. Muster
Editor's Note: The full interview is now posted at this site: click here.
I am saddened by the news that my friend Ananda committed suicide last Thursday, May 18, 2006. Although I had not been in contact with him recently, he was the only gurukula survivor who would allow me to tape record an interview when I was studying the situation in the late 1990s. In his memory, I would like to share some of what he told me.
Ananda was born in 1968, in Maui, to a devotee mom. He attended Dallas gurukula from 1973 - 1975; L.A. gurukula from 1975 - 1977; and Vrindavana, India gurukula 1977 - 1982. He was among the most severely abused, made to stay in India for five years without being able to go home or see his mother.
Of his gurukula experience, he told me: "I had it worse than anybody else in Vrindavana. Every other gurukula kid can tell you that. . . . Danudhara and Naragadev were very vindictive people. They would do whatever they could to break you, no matter what it was."
From our interview:
NM: To your knowledge, did your parents make any attempts to get you out?
A: My mom made a lot of attempts. A lot.
NM: How come she couldn't get you for five years?
A: Because x-das went into her room at four in the morning and stuck a .38 in her mouth and took my brother and sister from her, and said if she didn't keep her mouth shout it was her brains on the wall.
NM: Do you know approximately when that happened?
A: Yeah. It was 1979. . . . My mom told me about all of this like in the last few months of her life. And I'll tell you, it was hard for me not to just go and blow the entire Watseka Avenue off the face of the earth.
[Editor's note: Ananda alleges that x-das kidnapped his younger brother and sister, frightening his mother into silence. Due to her status within the group, she was powerless to rescue Ananda from the gurukula in India.]
After India, Ananda was sent to several temples, landing in Denver, where he witnessed a beating. As a result, he feared for his safety and went to the police to have himself removed from the organization. He lived in foster care until tenth grade, then a boys' home until the end of high school (approximately 1986), then he joined the Army in December 1988.
He told me that he was doing okay until 1993, when he attended a gurukula reunion in Los Angeles. Reconnecting with ISKCON brought a flood of emotions that tormented him, probably for the rest of his life. Also in 1993, his mother died. I asked if his mother ever got her other children back. He said: "No, she didn't see them from that time  until one month before she died. I drove her up north to see them."
Here are a few more excerpts from our interview:
NM: Did you ever have a chance to talk to your mother about what you had been through? Do you think she understood?
A: No. I tried to tell her but no matter what I'd say she would start saying, "I'm so sorry that that happened."
NM: She would block it out?
A: Yes, she just wanted it to go away.
NM: When you were growing up did you ever have any toys?
A: Not one that I remember.
NM: Did you ever have time to play?
A: In the afternoons, in Dallas.
NM: What would that consist of?
A: It was a free-for-all in the back yard. There were a lot of rules. It's funny because I was really young then, but it's like it's right there. From what I remember the afternoon time that was your time for like an hour, or sometimes they would load us up in the van. They'd take us out to this old park somewhere that had an old merry-go-round. There's actually a picture in some of the magazines of us on the merry-go-round. You can see me right in the front.
NM: How was the rest of the day structured?
A: Morning time get up, same routine devotees follow. Get up, go to mangal-arotik, then they'd give a class after that. But for us, hopefully, especially at the end of mangal-arotik, we would try to fall asleep in class. The older kids, Jagaman and them, used to say, that's the time to get some sleep. Try to sit in the back of the class, and some of them would try and teach themselves to fall asleep with their eyes open. Like if you nod off, that was dangerous. That meant that they would come up either behind you or on the side of you, and they would cup their hand like that and slap your ear. That was there in Dallas. My ears bled once.
NM: Did you ever have your ears twisted or bend as discipline?
A: Ripped back. My neck choked so hard from my beads that it cut into my neck. That's what that scar's from. He pulled so hard on my beads it cut into my neck.
NM: Did they take your ear like this and bend it?
A: No, they would twist it and pull it back. Or they drag you by it. Or they pull you by your ear and your sikha.
NM: Do you feel the authority figures ignored the kids' suffering?
A: Put it this way, I think we all pretty much gave up the idea of somebody coming around the corner any day to save us.
NM: So you felt helpless?
A: Yeah, I tried to run away from there once. They used to do this thing they would call "dog week." The thing you had to do for your punishment was you had to walk around on your hands and knees like a dog. They spoke to you; you couldn't speak in return, you had to bark. You couldn't eat with everyone else. You had to wait until they were done, then they sent you out, you had to go on all fours and lick their plates clean.
NM: You had to do it for a week? Did that happen to you?
A: About seven or eight times. I was a little kid back then, so I don't remember everything. I do remember that it was enough to where I tried to run away from there.
NM: Do you think some of the people on the staff at the schools disliked children?
A: Have to be, otherwise they wouldn't have an M.O. of handiwork as they dished it out.
NM: Do you think ISKCON in general had a bad attitude toward children?
A: The still do.
NM: Can you describe that?
A: They didn't care one bit. It didn't start out real punishing, it kinda got that way as more kids showed up. The parents would show up, I remember that. My mother came out to Dallas once. About a week before they got there, they kind of prep you up for it. They say, "If you say anything you're going to get it," or a week before they would make an example out of somebody, so you knew for a fact to just keep your mouth shut. That was a time when the bruises heal up or the black eye goes away, or your ear doesn't bleed after a while. The parents still showed up and the GBC (or not the GBC, but sannyasis) and whoever else came into Dallas still showed up. Either they suspected it and didn't do anything about it or they didn't care either.
NM: So they would hide it from the parents and others by coercing and intimidating you?
A: They'd find somebody to make an example out of and they'd say, "If you tell them this, this is what's going to happen to you."
NM: Were you ever made an example?
A: Yeah, I was kind of rebellious as a kid. That's why even throughout Dallas and India I took the brunt of a lot of their anger. I actually used to take beatings for other kids in India. I would stand up in front of them when the teachers would hit them. I'd stand there and I'd look at the teacher and they'd say, "Oh, so you want some too," and I'd just stand there and look at them and they'd come over and bam, hit me. They were bigger than all of us little kids that were there.
NM: So the parents were tricked into thinking the schools were safe for children?
A: Yeah. They got money for each kid, I found that out from my mom. Each parent was required to send a certain amount of money to gurukula to pay for the school each month. So they were making their money, so you lose money whenever kids leave.
NM: Do you think people in ISKCON protected the child abusers?
A: They still do to this day.
NM: Are a lot of the child abusers still around?
A: The most prominent ones are. Now they have titles like "maharaja."
NM: How does that make you feel, that someone who was an abuser now has some big title in the organization?
A: Not so good. It's almost to the point where I need to walk away from this thing or I need to take it into my own hands. I'm sure that's not what they would want because I don't think they'd like it.
NM: How often did you have to fear for your life, or fear that one of the teachers would seriously hurt you?
A: In India, a lot. I ran away a whole bunch of times. But I wouldn't run far, I would just go and sit by the Jamuna River. I'd always go back because there was nowhere else to go. This one guy who was there in the ashram, his name was Dr. Sharma, he was this Indian guy, and he took a real liking toward me. I guess he really saw how rough it was for me there, so he actually tried to get me out of there at one point. He was really fed up with it, I guess. So he lived up in Hardwar, he had a house up there, so he took me out of there one time and took me on the train up to Hardwar with him, and they sent people back out to take me back. That was the time where me and another kid were in the train station in Delhi and they had sent Naragadev to collect us. Naragadev had epilepsy and so he started having a seizure and he fell down in the train station and he busted his head open on some stairs. I remember he was just bleeding everywhere and I remember we just stood there staring and we just laughed at him. But of course his response to that was as soon as we got back to Vrindavana, after that it was just like a year of sheer brutal terror from him. That was '79. . . .
NM: Do you remember seeing Srila Prabhupada?
A: Yes, I have pictures of me next to him. I remember him very well.
NM: Do you respect him?
A: Only man on this earth, or who was on this earth, that I say I put my head on the ground for. No one else.
NM: When you were in school in ISKCON, do you remember studying Sanskrit?
A: I remember when I came back from India, I actually spoke Hindi fluently, and Sanskrit, too, but no matter how hard I try I can't remember more than a few words to save my life. I've never been able to figure that one out.
NM: The adults in ISKCON often preached that the demigods are lining up to take birth in ISKCON, and that all you kids who were born into ISKCON were actually demigods. You remember that? What did you think of that, did you think you could have been a demigod in a past life?
A: Yeah, actually I do remember that. I don't know if I was, I don't see how I could have been. I think if that's the case, then the biggest joke was on us. These supposed saints come, so let's get together and kick the shit out of them all the time. If that's the case and that's our welcoming party, it doesn't say much for us.
NM: Do you feel that ISKCON has in any way made up for what happened to you?
A: No. I've never even gotten a letter of apology from them, but I see why. It's kinda like plausible deniability. "We know about it, but if we don't say it, then we didn't know about it."
NM: Do you think you would ever turn to ISKCON or any of ISKCON's gurus for spiritual advice?
NM: Do you think that ISKCON treats you better now?
NM: Do you see Krishna consciousness as your religion?
A: No. I don't call it a religion, that's why. I call it taking some of the theory that makes the most sense to me and just try to incorporate that into my life.
NM: Do you think that you got anything positive out of it, or did anything about your experience make you a better person?
A: Yeah, I don't take shit from anybody, but that's not exactly the kind of strength that was taught in the right fashion.
NM: Do you consider yourself a victim?
A: Do I consider myself a victim? Um, it's an interesting question. Not a victim, more or less as somebody who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. . . . I'm all that I've got left and I think I'm worth something. I'm tired of being taken from. Everything has been taken from me. Everything.
Editor's Note: The full interview is now posted at this site: click here.
These excerpts are from our 1997 interview, which I transcribed and have on tape. The entire interview is twenty-eight pages, so this is just an overview of what we talked about. Ananda leaves behind a young son and daughter, as well as a brother and sister. I invite his siblings and children to contact me, as well as any of his god-sibs from the organization. Sometimes it helps to ask someone to listen to your story. You can always find me though my website, Surrealist.org.
Editor's Note: Ananda leaves behind a son and daughter, as well as a brother and sister.
In 2009 film student Erica Bardin made a video about Ananda, while at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Click here to watch the video.
Click here for more ISKCON gurukula information.
Click here for an index of all child abuse information available through this site.