Hindu school is first to make vegetarianism a condition of entry

London, England - A row has broken out after the UK's first Hindu state school announced a strict admissions code, which critics say favours followers of the Hare Krishna tradition over mainstream Hinduism.

The Krishna-Avanti school in north-west London will be the first school in Britain to make vegetarianism a condition of entry. To get their child a place at the primary school, parents of pupils will also be expected to abstain from alcohol to prove they are followers of the faith.

The policy is proving controversial within Hindu groups. Mainstream Hindus are claiming the policy favours the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) - also known as the Hare Krishna movement - which is backing the school and whose members follow strict vegetarian diets.

The 240-pupil state funded school will open next September in Harrow, where 40,000 of Britain's 1.5 million-strong Hindu community live, comprising 20% of the town's population. Competition for places at the school is expected to be fierce. The government is funding £10m of the £12m building costs.

The new admissions policy sets out how the school will allocate places when it is over subscribed. It gives priority to looked-after children from Hindu families and children with special educational needs, before next prioritising the children of "practising Hindu families".

Nitesh Gor, director of the I-Foundation, the Hindu charity which is backing the voluntary aided school, said: "In common with other faith schools - which may require letters from priests or proof of church or synagogue attendance - we want to give priority to those that are most active in their faith. The definition we have arrived at includes regular home and temple worship, as well as vegetarianism and avoiding alcohol."

Ten places at the new school will be reserved exclusively for children of families at Bhaktivedanta Manor, the temple headquarters of Iskcon in Letchmore Heath, Hertfordshire.

Jay Lakhani, director for education at the Hindu Council UK (HCUK), claimed the school's admissions policy was unfair:

"While HCUK has no problem with the I-Foundation reserving a stated 10 places out of 30 at the school for children of families at Bhaktivedanta Manor, we believe it is unfair to rule out other Hindus by imposing on them the strict rules of one particular, minority Hindu group in order for their children to attend.

"Because the Krishna-Avanti school was offered state funding and is being allowed to open as a 'Hindu' rather than an 'Iskcon' school, that is what it should be, a truly Hindu school that serves and reflects the wider Harrow Hindu community with its kaleidoscopic Hindu diversity."

Mr Gor defended the policy: "We recognise that some Hindus may eat meat in very specific prescribed circumstances and the criteria are not intended to exclude them. Broadly these criteria reflect practices which are common to all mainstream Hindu movements in the UK including the Swaminarayan temples, Iskcon and Jainism as well as all the other branches of Hinduism that have large congregations in Harrow."