Controversy dogs Britain's first state-funded Hindu school

London, England - Plans to set up Britain's first state-funded Hindu school are mired in controversy following allegations of racism, threat to environment in Harrow and child abuse against a key member of an affiliated body.

The Department of Education and Skills had announced the faith school in November 2005 and earmarked 10 million pounds for the project. Britain has many faith schools for Muslims and Sikhs.

The Hindu faith school is to be set up in the London borough of Harrow, which has a 20 percent Hindu population. To be called the 'Krishna Avanti Primary School', it was expected to open in 2010.

However, initial plans have been marred by allegations of child abuse against Gauri Dasa, who will be the 'spiritual head' of the school.

He is currently the president of the Bhaktivedanta Manor in Watford - a large temple of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISCKON).

The school is to be opened by I-Foundation, a charity associated with ISCKON. I-Foundation is reported to be awaiting approval from the School Organisations Committee before beginning construction of the school in Edgware.

Das is alleged to have beaten children while running an ashram in India years ago.

According to Arjun Malik, spokesman of Hindu Human Rights: "We have received email for a while, expressing concerns about allegations that Gauri Dasa used to beat children.

"We do not wish to defame any organisation, but parents will obviously not feel safe sending their children to a school which has such a man involved."

Dasa, however, 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 1980s corporal punishment was part of the disciplinary plans of ISKCON schools in India and the US. It was stopped over a decade ago."

Jay Dilip Lakhani, coordinator of the Vivekananda Centre, 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 past."

But Ramesh Kallidai, secretary-general of the Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB) and described as an initiated member of ISKCON, 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 child abuse charges against the Roman Catholic Church as well but that doesn't mean the entire institution must be boycotted."

Meanwhile, residents around the proposed site have opposed the school due to the threat it posed to environment and the increase in traffic it would bring. Anonymous leaflets have been circulating in the area.

Residents have warned that the school could also generate racial tension. Recently, councillor Chris Mote faced tough questions at a public meeting to discuss plans to locate the school in the William Ellis playing fields.

Ravi Saran, who lives near the playing fields, told the local media: "I am not against a Hindu school. I have been living in this area for 40 years and enjoy a happy life but we Asians have already started getting dirty looks from white people.

"I fear what is going to happen when the bulldozers start. Does the council want to have riots? Why is Harrow Council ... destroying the environment and segregating the community?"

However, Yuvraj Rana, who supports the school, said: "Everyone has come in here with their own concept and ideas. This was a process by which local residents are involved before it even goes to planning.

"Quite frankly, I think this is racism. These people are very greedy and they should be ashamed of themselves. We are being given the chance to have the first Hindu school in the whole country and they want a better view from their back garden."

Dilip Patel, who is opposed to the school, said: "Already the thought of the school is causing tension in the community but because it is called a Hindu school it is a target for resentment. I think the community is strong enough to overcome it.

"The consequences of the development are more noise and more pollution. The first thing our religion teaches about is to protect the environment we live in."