'Authorities trying to hush up case'

Hindustan Times, Calcutta, December 13, 1999
By Ashis Chakrabarti

For the beleaguered International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), rattled by schism and revolt within, the death of a disciple at its "spiritual headquarters" at Mayapur in West Bengal's Nadia district last month could not have come at a more inopportune time. It has sparked yet another row within the cult, with the rebels accusing the authorities of trying to hush up the "suspicious death."

The facts of the case are fairly simple. Madhava Krishna Das, a disciple of Gopal Krishna Maharaj of ISKCON's Delhi temple, visited Mayapur last month. A day after his arrival there, he was found hanging from the ceiling of a guestroom in the ashram's "long building." The story from Mayapur is that Madhava had been accused of stealing from other devotees at the Delhi temple and confessed to his crime while in Mayapur. He ended his life in shame and left a confession letter, which became his suicide note.

"It seems very unlikely that a devotee who has just stolen from other devotees would immediately go and visit Mayapur. It seems the 'thief' story is merely a cover for something else," alleged Adri Dharan Das, one of the leaders of the rebel group, who is also the president of the ISKCON temple in Calcutta.

Adri Dharan was among the six senior functionaries who had been expelled from the organisation by its Governing Body Commission (GBC) in a resolution last year. The rebels, who had formed the ISKCON Reform Group (IRG) the world over, challenged the GBC resolution in the Calcutta High Court and got a stay order. The rebels had questioned the present "guru" system in ISKCON, which, according to them, was never authorised by cult founder Srila Prabhupad.

The founder, they said, wanted not gurus, but "ritwiks" (priests) to initiate devotees into the cult. While the controversy raged in ISKCON ashrams, journals and websites, the death seems to have opened another Pandora's box. The accusations have virtually unleashed a wave of queries on the cult's websites.

Adri Dharan alleged that the devotee was "already dead and the hanging incident was then staged to make it appear as suicide." The devotee, according to him, had been locked and beaten up in a room soon after his arrival from Delhi. He also wondered why it had taken so long to get the autopsy report from the police.

At least two American devotees - Hare Krishna Dasi from Brunswick, Maine, and Madhusudani Dasi from Mill Valley - also suggested that the death be properly investigated.

In a message on Dec 6, ISKCON's co-director at Mayapur, Hari Sauri Das, however, replied to the charges, saying that he was trying to get the autopsy report as soon as he could. But he denied Adri Dharan's charge that the body was burnt without an autopsy.

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