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In the News:
Texas man in Krishna lawsuit

by Adrienne Nettles
Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Posted June 9, 2005

WATAUGA, Texas -- A 39-year-old Watauga man is among 540 plaintiffs who won a $9.5 million settlement after claiming they were physically and sexually abused as children at Hare Krishna boarding schools during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The man, who asked not to be identified, said he and his sister were abused for three years at a Dallas boarding school until their mother rescued them. "We were made to sleep on concrete floors, in urine, and take cold showers," the Watauga man said. "We would eat you don't know what. It was pretty rough."

In response to a lawsuit, federal bankruptcy courts in California and West Virginia simultaneously approved a plan this month providing the $9.5 million settlement. Each victim will receive between $2,500 and $50,000 based on the severity, length of time and type of abuse -- sexual, physical or emotional. The victims were in the United States, Canada and England.

An additional $15 million to $16 million could be provided to the victims by the Hare Krishna insurance carriers, said Dallas attorney Windle Turley, who represented the plaintiffs. Krishna officials said their insurance companies have declined to pay.

Officials for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, also known as Hare Krishna, say they hope that the settlement brings some closure for all involved. "We wanted to come up with a fair settlement because these were our children," said Anuttama Dasa, director of communications for the society. "As leaders, it was our responsibility to assure our children's safety. We failed them, and for that we are sorry."

The Hare Krishna movement began in 1965 when Prabhupada, the religion's founder, brought his devotional Hindu teachings from India to the United States. Westerners embraced the religion by shaving their heads and wearing saffron robes. Hare Krishna parents were encouraged to send their children to boarding schools to give them more time to raise money for the religious group, according to the suit filed by Turley, with "the outward or stated purpose being to indoctrinate the children." The organization's first "gurukula" boarding school opened in Dallas in 1972. By 1978, 11 gurukulas had opened in North America, the complaint states.

The Watauga man said his father sent him when he was 7 to the Dallas Krishna boarding school for three years, from 1974 to 1977. His sister was almost married off at age 11 by the school, he said. He also remembers being fondled, forced to pray to idols and chant on beads. If he and other students didn't chant, they were beaten with bamboo poles, he said.

His mother later removed them from the school, he said. "School after that wasn't real important to me anymore," he said. He dropped out of high school at age 16.

Turley called the bankruptcy plan a step toward vindication for the victims. "Some of the very worst abuse that occurred at these Krishna centers was in West Virginia and in a Dallas boarding school operated by Krishna," Turley said.

The bankruptcy plan covers 12 Hare Krishna temples -- six in California and six in West Virginia -- and affiliates of the religious organization, such as the Dallas temple, that filed for bankruptcy after Turley sued in 2001/Turley's 2001 suit originally named 92 plaintiffs and sought $200 million. But the list of plaintiffs grew because of publicity after the Hare Krishna bankruptcy filing, both sides said.

The bankruptcy plan allowed the Hare Krishna to avoid a costly trial in Texas and to focus on reaching a monetary settlement, said California attorney Sanford Frey, who represented the Hare Krishna's bankruptcy. "This way we were able to publish notices in newspapers about the settlement, and this allowed more victims to come forward," Frey said. "We went worldwide and asked our affiliates and individuals to contribute to the plan and told them this would release them from any further liability."

A number of individuals and temples -- including one in Washington, D.C. -- pledged contributions, Dasa said. "The bankruptcy plan protected the innocent temples and provides money to the victims," he said. "The key message here is that we have to be very vigilant because child abuse is something that cuts across social, economic and ethnic lines."

Under the $9.5 million settlement, victims would begin receiving payments this year, and all compensation must be distributed by 2011.

Despite the Hare Krishna abuse scandal, Krishna temples still thrive worldwide. North America has about 50 temples. Krishna temples no longer have boarding schools but several operate day schools, including temples in Dallas, California and Florida, Dasa said. Officials at the Dallas temple did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

"Where the real problem came in is where we had children attending schools and staying overnight," Dasa said. "At that time, nobody could have imagined this abuse could happen. Today everyone's conscious of this, when 30 years ago it wasn't something people heard of."

The Watauga man said painful memories remain for him and his sister, who is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit. His sister, now 42, lives in Washington state, he said. The Watauga man is married and works at an area Wal-Mart as a department manager. "I don't feel the settlement is enough, but I'm glad it's over with and some of us are getting closure," he said.

Reposted from the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram