Lawsuit may destroy Hare Krishna, official says

Columbus Dispatch/June 14, 2000
George Myers Jr.

A spokesman denied the latest allegations that Krishna children were abused in the sect's community boarding schools.
One day after a $400 million child-abuse lawsuit was filed against the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, the group's U.S. spokesman said the case could destroy the Hare Krishna movement worldwide.

"The size of the lawsuit is larger than the combined assets of all the Krishna temples and communities throughout the world,'' Anuttama, a spokesman for the society's national offices in Washington, D.C., said yesterday.

Windle Turley, a Texas attorney who filed the federal case Monday in Dallas, said yesterday, "If they have to sell off a few temples to make payment to the children whose lives they've totally destroyed, that's appropriate.'' Turley said "several dozen'' more abuse victims from around the country contacted his office after learning about the suit.

Anuttama expressed pain that many of the Krishna children were abused in the sect's community boarding schools, called gurukulas, in the 1970s and '80s. But the latest allegations are "exaggerated and grossly false,'' he said. A temple cat purring yesterday at the quiet Krishna House at 379 W. 8th Ave. belied the international turmoil that could shut down the temple and its 20-year-old community food pantry.

Anuttama said Columbus' residential temple could be hurt by the suit, even though it isn't a defendant in the case. About 12 devotees live in the house, which never ran a boarding school. In the suit, 44 plaintiffs say they were sexually abused or beaten and tortured. Some say they were deprived of medical care, scrubbed with steel wool until their skin bled or moved to out-of-state schools without their parents' consent.

None of the plaintiffs or defendants are Ohio residents. In 1998, Turley represented eight former altar boys who won a $23.4 million settlement from the Catholic Diocese of Dallas. They said the diocese failed to protect them from the sexual advances of priest Rudolph Kos, now defrocked and serving a life term in prison for the abuse.

The eight plaintiffs in that case were awarded a $119 million jury verdict in 1997. They chose to settle for less rather than risk a declaration of bankruptcy by the diocese. Turley yesterday said he expects his suit against the Krishnas to "turn up 1,000 more abused individuals.''

The 2,000-acre New Vrindaban community outside Moundsville, W.Va., is one of 17 entities named as defendants. Turley said New Vrindaban was "the worst offender.''

In the mid-1980s, several New Vrindaban leaders were arrested on murder and racketeering charges. Community residents these days talk openly about its imprisoned ex- leader, Swami Bhaktipada, and his alleged sexual relationship with several young males who lived there at the time. The Krishna society excommunicated Bhaktipada in 1986, and the community a year later.

A spokeswoman for New Vrindaban didn't return calls yesterday. The community is now back in the Krishna society's good graces. Seventeen individuals -- all of them members of the society's current governing board -- also are defendants in this week's Dallas suit, as is the estate of the movement's late founder, Swami Prabhupada.

The swami believed youths, beginning at age 4, should be separated from parents and turned over to gurus. Abuse occurred within the guru-child relationship, the Krishna society acknowledges. The boarding schools have been closed or turned into "day schools'' so that children can live with their parents.

The only exception, Anuttama said, is a small boarding school for high-school girls in northern Florida.

About 75,000 believers in Krishna consciousness congregate at 45 temples nationwide. Worldwide, devotees number 1 million, most of whom live in India.

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