abcnews.com, June 12, 2000
Hare Krishna Schools Sued--Federal Suit Involves 44 Plaintiffs Alleging Abuse
By Julia Campbell
NEW YORK, June 12 — Greg Luczyk was 9 years old, attending a Hare Krishna boarding school in India when he made what the religious community’s leaders apparently considered a grave mistake: He found money on the streets of Mayapur and spent it on chocolate for himself and his fellow classmates.
His punishment: Luczyk, now 30, says he was locked in a room for three days without meals and subjected to regular beatings by a Krishna minister.
Luczyk, who lives in Vancouver, is one of more than three dozen former students of Hare Krishna boarding schools to file a $400 million lawsuit today against leaders of the religious organization. The 44 plaintiffs allege years of sexual, physical and emotional abuse at the hands of their religious teachers at boarding schools in the United States and abroad.
“We had so much innocence at that time,” said Luczyk, who was placed in a Dallas school at age 4 and later transferred to a school in Mayapur, India. “It was just robbed from us. We’ll never experience childhood again.”
Allegation: Closets With Rats
The federal lawsuit, filed in Dallas, names the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) as well as several members of the organization’s governing board and the estate of the movement’s American founder, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Among the allegations are charges of bizarre cases of emotional torture in which children were made to stand in dark closets they thought were crawling with rats.
“This was some of the worst mistreatment of children that I have seen in working with cases of this nature,” said Windle Turley, the plaintiffs’ lawyer who has also represented alleged victims of sexual abuse by Catholic priests. “This went far beyond sexual abuse and rape. There was extensive daily and physical abuse and beatings.”
A Hare Krishna spokesman in Washington, Anuttama, told The Associated Press today that Krishna leaders have acknowledged abuse in the boarding schools and have worked to provide counseling and financial support to the victims. ISKCON’s Child Protection Task Force, formed in 1998, has investigated 50 cases of alleged abuse and raised $250,000 to aid victims, the spokesman said. Turley said he believes the abuse could have involved as many as 1,000 children.
One Hare Krishna devotee who asked not to be identified said she thought many of the movement’s members are now relieved that victims of the abuse are speaking out. “For the last 20 years it has been kept under the covers,” said the devotee, a 53-year-old mother of a child she says was verbally abused at an upstate New York ashram. “There is a lot of fear involved in telling about these things. It takes a lot of strength to go through this and to tell about it.”
The woman said her son was continually belittled, controlled by his teacher at the ashram and that he was kept from interacting with her as he grew up. “He said he felt like he was in a prison,” she said. He is not a plaintiff in the federal lawsuit.
The Hare Krishna spiritual community took off in the late 1960s when Prabhupada brought his form of devotional Hinduism to the United States. Prabhupada said children should be sent to Hare Krishna boarding schools at age 5 so their parents could devote their time to selling devotional books and chanting on street corners. By 1978, 11 of the schools, known as gurakulas or houses of the guru, were operating in North America.
From 1972 to 1990, the lawsuit alleges, children were subjected to repeated abuse at many of the schools. Children often went without food or were forced to eat spoiled food and did not get proper medical care or basic clothing during the winter months, Turley said. In some schools, children were forced to lick up their vomit from any foul food they may have thrown up, the complaint said.
“Among the worst things,” Turley said, “was the terror that little children were forced to live in. For years at a time they were literally tortured.”
Turley said the adults charged with caring for the children were often the devotees who were deemed unfit for other duties in the movement, such as selling devotional books and proselytizing on the street.
“Some of the people running theses schools had no earthly idea what they were doing. They had no idea how to manage children, how to discipline them or how to take care of them.”
“The philosophy is pure,” the Hare Krishna woman said of the movement to which she still belongs, “but the people have misused it and gone to the extreme and even perverted it. (My son ) just feels like he has been betrayed by his authorities. They are preaching the philosophy, which is to be pure. We take vows of no illicit sex and no intoxication. You can see the dichotomy: They are preaching one thing and than breaking that principle.”
Schools Now Shut
Today, the Hare Krishna boarding schools in the United States have been shut down and many Hare Krishna children are home-schooled, the Hare Krishna devotee said. The younger generation of devotees, she said, is committed to making the movement safe for its children. The gurakulas Luczyk attended in Mayapur and Vrindaban no longer exist as children’s facilities.
“For leaders of the movement it is very painful,” the devotee said of the lawsuit. “In their own ways, they tried to rectify things — but they didn’t. People have gone to the leaders and said ‘Please, do something’ and there hasn’t been any significant result from that. That is why these people are taking action.”
Luczyk said that until a few years ago he could not speak about the horrors he says he experienced at the hands of the Hare Krishna teachers. He said the abuse has had lasting effects: He is unemployed and has trouble finding work because of what he describes as a lack of self-esteem. “I just have a fear of people,” he also says.
“I always thought that this stuff would never come out,” Luczyk said. “A lot of suffering and internal pain does not always come up to the surface. For me, it was just blocked right out.”