Cultural bias against Krishnas: As both a journalist (and former contributor to the Dallas Observer) and a former resident of the Dallas Hare Krishna community, I would like to address Mark Donald's article ("Tortured Souls," December 6). It is a sad reality that religion can be used as an instrument of evil, and no one doubts that justice should be served. Yet there are crucial differences between how this case is being treated versus, for example, how cases of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church have been handled. One is ISKCON's own determination to publicly recognize the issue.
Another--as the July 2, 2001, article "Holy Abuse" on Salon.com notes--is that attorney Windle Turley is aiming for nothing less than to wipe out the Hare Krishna religion, implicating even the innocent. Donald might have also toned down the rhetoric a bit in his portrayal of a lawyer on a purely humanitarian mission by pointing out that Turley stands to personally gain $160 million from the $400 million lawsuit.
Nevertheless, when I first learned of the crimes perpetrated against the children of the former Hare Krishna school, it literally made me ill--I felt angry and deceived. How could I have not seen the abuses committed by people I knew so well and regarded as my closest friends? The answer, of course, is that these aren't the same people.
The events Donald describes happened 20 to 30 years ago, and those responsible are either now in jail or no longer associated with the Hare Krishna temple. While living in the community, I read exposé books like Monkey on a Stick, thus even then I wasn't naïve to past allegations against Hare Krishna. But I also knew that reforms within the movement in the mid-1980s had purged most of the bad elements, making serious efforts to regain respectability. Furthermore, even the Rolling Stone investigative reporters who wrote Monkey on a Stick go out of their way to portray the founder, Srila Prabhupada, as a selfless and exceptionally good-natured man ("one in a million") whose greatest fault was that he had too much faith in people. The authors also correctly state that, by Indian standards, he was quite progressive in his views toward women (women participate at all levels of the organization). Prabhupada made every effort to lead a humble life, adamantly maintaining until his death that God alone is worthy of worship and that he himself was unworthy even as a servant. That is precisely what won him the lasting admiration of people such as George Harrison, John Lennon, Allen Ginsberg and countless others around the world.
Unfortunately, I think some of the sensationalism surrounding this case has less to do with the legitimate grievances of the children and more to do with a cultural bias against what Hare Krishnas represent. They are, after all, strange people who run around in orange sheets with shaved heads, singing about God. Never mind that a billion people in India (as do many Europeans) prefer to use water, Krishnas are against toilet paper! And television, and hamburgers, and alcohol, and everything else that is materialistic. This is the point at which papers like the Observer put sensationalism above balanced reporting and play on people's cultural prejudices.
What you fail to mention is the immeasurable loss that would result if the Dallas temple were to disappear. It is a vibrant community that has built an oasis of beauty in a once-desolate neighborhood, consistently helped the poor and served as an important meeting point for the Indian community of Dallas, as well as spiritual seekers and ordinary people from all walks of life. Now multiply that loss by the number of temples around the world.
There is an enormous lesson to be learned from this tragedy--not only for Hare Krishnas, but also for anyone who loses the capacity to think for himself, or who commits evil in the name of God. I think the changes that Donald mentions at the end of the article are proof of that realization within the Hare Krishna community today. It is these people that I remember as having a profoundly positive impact on my life. They are the friends who showed me kindness and support for over two years without ever once pressuring or mistreating me in any way. The ones I walked with in India, where I was treated respectfully by Hindus who share the same cultural and religious beliefs. They are the people I encourage you to visit and see for yourselves. Not the people discussed in the article, who wildly misrepresent Krishna Consciousness.
The gurukula (now a day school, where I once sat and read to students) has operated without incident for more than 16 years and produced scholarship-earning students. The Dallas temple is a different temple today in almost every sense: physical, spiritual, philosophical and legal (the Texas Hare Krishnas were incorporated in 1986).
I hope that all of those estranged and victimized young adults can make that distinction (as indeed, some of them already have) and that the present Hare Krishna community does all it can to bring them healing and justice.
New York, New York
A debt to the victims: Amber Rollins of Fort Worth (Letters, December 20) attempts to vindicate current-day ISKCON, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, claiming that the people in today's ISKCON are against child abuse and "as innocent as you or me." I disagree.
If people choose to join ISKCON knowing that horrific child abuse took place in the 1970s and 1980s, then they must accept the consequences for the history. If they claim ignorance of the extent of the child abuse, then they need to find out what happened. ISKCON may encourage corporate amnesia, but it still owes a debt to its victims. To make amends, the organization needs to compensate all the victims and turn in all the abusers, including the conspirators.