Chakra Discussions

A Tragic Suicide And a Possible Redemption

by Zondre Watson (Kona, Hawaii)

Posted May 27, 2006

I was in Vrndavan at this same time as Ananda McClure in 1978-80 and I was also abused. All of the people who have spoken up so far are correct; you never walk away from these feelings. Even though I have finally pulled my life back together and I am preparing to finally graduate from college after all these years, there still isn't a day that goes by that we are not burdened by the baggage we carry.

Even the settlement is not coming close to repaying us. Close to 27 years were taken from my life and I don't know if I will ever fully recover (that is not my current age, but I was 27 before I started to come out of the drug-induced haze after getting out.) I am writing this so people will understand that there isn't one person to blame; everyone is to blame.

I was in Baltimore for 6 months before going to India. I was paddled there, but I was not drastically harmed. There wasn't a single other temple I went to where I wasn't abused. Was this because there was a bad apple at every temple? I hardly think so. It was because children were callously taken and shipped across the country or around the world without adequate supervision. No one protected us. The teachers didn't protect us; our parents didn't protect us; ISKCON didn't protect us. The entire system was flawed, and if it continues to deny this truth and protect the abusers, then it is still flawed. And even if you weren't involved or weren't around then, if you continue to turn a blind eye, then you are little better than the abusers.

I hope this letter will help some of you to realize that these were no isolated incidents; they go to the heart of the foundation of your religion. That is the truth which needs to be understood before any meaningful steps can be taken to fix the system: not only are the abusers to blame, but a system that allowed the abuse to take place is just as much to blame.

It's as if you allowed a child molester to use your apartment to abuse a child and then said: "It's not my fault that it happened." Even worse, that you then tried to help him or her cover it up, because you didn't want any one to find out it happened in your apartment. Then, when the truth came to light, you said: "I tell you what. The abuse took place for a week in my apartment. I don't want to completely lose my apartment. What if I give you one month's rent? That should make everything better -- right?"

Something more needs to be done to really compensate the abuse victims, in a comparable manner to our suffering. I don't want to personally speak to why Ananda took his life, since I don't personally know him, but obviously the settlement wasn't enough to fix the pain he felt.

It is hard for me to say what will actually fix us, because I feel guilty asking for anything. I want to be entirely responsible for my own life and my own fate, but someone needs to step up and say: "I really want to make it better. I am going to do something for all of your lives that can make the rest of it truly better." The person who does so has to be truly selfless in the act. They can't say: "I will do whatever I can as long as it doesn't require me to go out of my way, or as long as people realize it wasn't my fault."

I guess the question you have to ask is: how much is 20 to 30 years of someone's life worth? It is a little like asking what an arm or a leg is worth. There really isn't any easy answer. You would hope the person who lost it could learn to work around the loss, but is it okay to tell them: "It's your life, you have to start writing left-handed. Don't expect me to help"? The only way to truly make up for the loss, is to give them something that will make it workable. For the person who lost their arm, it would have to be a prosthetic one; for the person who lost a leg it might be a wheelchair. Then you also have to give them therapy so they can learn to use it.

For us it needs to be that many years back, plus enough therapy to help us live them successfully. Since this is not possible, I would argue that a comparable monetary value should be given. This might be to pay off our houses or to buy us all a house. Or it might be to pay us a salary for 20 to 30 years, so we can use the time to heal. Whatever it is, it should be something that will truly make a difference in our lives. For those who have lost their lives, their families should be compensated for that loss, and who could possibly know what that is worth?