Hindu row

London, England - BRITAIN’S first state-funded Hindu faith school is mired in controversy.

Campaign groups Hindu Human Rights and Vivekananda Centre are worried about the involvement of International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) as an affiliated faith partner of the school.

They are concerned about allegations that the president of Bhaktivedanta Manor in Watford – the biggest ISKCON temple in Britain – Gauri Dasa, hit children when he was teaching at an ashram in India. Dasa will be the spiritual head of the school’s affairs when it opens in Harrow in 2008.

Arjun Malik, spokesman of Hindu Human Rights, said: “We have received emails for a while now, expressing concerns about allegations that Gauri Dasa used to beat children. Parents will obviously not feel safe sending their children to a school which has such a man involved.” Mr Dasa claimed that corporal punishment was part of the disciplinary structure of ISKCON schools in 1970s and 80s.

He said: “All these allegations stem from an anonymous email sent out to some website. Its contents are full of half-truths.

“In the 1970s and ’80s corporal punishment was part of the disciplinary plans of ISKCON schools in India and the US. It was stopped over a decade ago.

“We run a very successful school as part of the Bhaktivedanta temple.”

Harrow Council has received £9.8 million in Government funding to build the first Hindu faith school. Hindu charity I-Foundation, which is setting up the school for the council, is awaiting approval from the School Organisations Com-mittee before it can begin building the school in Edgware.

Gurukuli Dasa, a former member of ISKCON’s Vrindavan ashram in India, claims in an article on www.harekrsna.com: “Asram teacher Gauri Dasa, formerly Gudakesa, used to beat the kids with slaps and sticks...”

Jay Dilip Lakhani is co-ordinator of Vivekananda Centre, an academic body that promotes Hindu studies in schools in Britain. Mr Lakhani said: “None of the allegations against Gauri Dasa have been proven, but ISKCON has a poor reputation due to the child-abuse lawsuits filed against it in the US.”

Ramesh Kallidai, secretary-general of Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB), is an initiated member of ISKCON. Mr Kallidai said: “Gauri Dasa is our spiritual ambassador. We are yet to see any hard evidence against him. We are glad ISKCON is associated with the first faith school.”

Nitesh Gor, spokesman for I-Foundation, said: “As for child-abuse allegations against ISKCON in the US, there have been paedophilia charges against the Roman Catholic Church as well, but that doesn’t mean the entire institution must be boycotted.”