Hare Krishna reveals abuse of members' children Sect's boarding schools lacked competent staffs

October 09, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

In its own official journal, the Hare Krishna movement has published an unusually candid expose detailing widespread physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children who were sent to live in the group's boarding schools in the United States and India in the 1970s and 1980s.

Parents were often unaware of the abuse because they were traveling around soliciting donations in airports and on the streets, leaving their children in the care of Hare Krishna monks and young devotees who had no training in educating children and often resented the task, the report says.

The movement's leadership was first forced to confront the victims of abuse at a meeting in May 1996, when a panel of 10 former Krishna pupils testified that they had been regularly beaten at school, denied medical care and sexually molested.

"I remember being made to sleep naked in a cold bathtub for a month," Jahnavi Dasi, who lived at a Krishna boarding school in ** Los Angeles at age 4, said yesterday. "I had wet my bed, and it was easier for them to make me sleep in the tub than to change my sheets."

Dasi, 26, told the leadership meeting in 1996 that she wound up in a diabetic coma for three weeks after her teachers insisted that her health problems were a ruse to avoid work.

"They neglected to take me to a doctor, so I ended up in a coma," at which time she was taken to a hospital, she said.

The Hare Krishna movement, a Hindu sect brought to the United States by the Indian guru A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami in the 1960s, is now acknowledging that the legacy of abuse and the leadership's failure to grapple with it earlier have led many Hare Krishna children and their parents in this country to abandon the faith.

"They don't trust the movement, and people have become estranged as a consequence," said E. Burke Rochford Jr., a sociologist of religion at Middlebury College in Vermont, the author of one of the two studies published in the latest Krishna journal.

"The children who in all probability would have been more likely to embrace the movement in the long term, some of them have withdrawn," Rochford said.

The movement now claims an estimated 90,000 followers in the United States, of whom only about 800 live full time in the group's 45 American spiritual communities, called ashrams.

The Hare Krishna no longer maintains boarding schools in the United States.

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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