Scandal heat on Iskcon India
Air-India on Tata radar screen
Shakila in Shah Bano rerun

Washington, June 14: 
The Hare Krishna schools in Mayapur and Brindavan may face the worst indictment within the International Society of Krishna Consciousness (Iskcon) empire if the $400-million lawsuit against the organisation is taken to its conclusion in favour of the 44 plaintiffs who are alleging child abuse in these schools.

This is because the plaintiffs, residents of the US, Canada and the UK, have alleged in the federal court in Dallas that though child abuse occurred in virtually all Iskcon schools, the worst incidents took place at the institutions in Mayapur and Brindavan.

Half of the plaintiffs were students of these two schools and they have alleged in the suit that �in a conscious effort to avoid policing and scrutiny by US child protection agencies, Iskcon took a large portion of its boarding school activities overseas to India. The Indian schools were among the worst offenders and abusers of minor boys and many of the Indian school teachers and leaders were also teachers, leaders and abusers in the US schools.�

The schools in Mayapur and Brindavan may face the worst music also because at least some of the Iskcon schools in the US, cited in the suit, appear to have more credible arguments in their defence than the two institutions in India.

Vinod Patel, president of the Iskcon temple in Dallas � where the court battle is expected to begin in about two months � has already said the suit is aimed at a Hare Krishna organisation which no longer exists. He said it had long been replaced by a new one with a membership of 300 families.

�The organisation that existed in the early 1970s is no longer here,� Patel argued. �This organisation took over in the 1980s. It has different bye-laws, different management... a completely different situation.�

Also in defence of the Iskcon schools in the US will be the organisation�s claim that it had made �considerable efforts in recent years to prevent abuse and, when necessary, to provide counselling and financial assistance for past victims.�

Anuttama Dasa, director of Iskcon communications here, said two years ago the organisation set up the Iskcon Office Of Child Protection. He said professional staff at this office now work at Hare Krishna temples on child protection programmes, provide financial support and counselling for abuse victims and investigate and adjudicate allegations of past abuse.

These child protection programmes cover all countries where Iskcon has temples or schools. But, in a US court, where the legal system in India is seen as lacking speed or teeth, defending the Indian schools against allegations of abuse will be an uphill task.

It will be also argued in court that boarding schools set up by Iskcon in the US in the 1970s, when the abuses were allegedly widespread, have all been either closed or converted into day schools, leaving less scope for perversions.

Iskcon�s strategy appears to be to soften the blow from the court. It is not denying the charges, but only arguing that these are exaggerated.

Dasa said in a statement: �If the events alleged in this suit did occur, we regret that they did and we will make every effort to help address the needs of the young people named in the suit.�

Iskcon will claim in court that every Hare Krishna temple is independently incorporated and that the $400-million claim is, therefore, well beyond the assets of any of the Iskcon institutions.

The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Windle Turley�s firm won millions of dollars in damages three years ago against the Roman Catholic diocese of Dallas in a case which concluded that the church had not only ignored evidence against a priest who abused boys, but also tried to cover up.    

Mumbai, June 14: 
Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata group of companies, is keenly watching the government�s plans to divest its equity in Air-India.

Tata, who scrapped his plans to float a private airline along with Singapore Airlines in disgust over the government�s dithering over an approval, told reporters here today: �We will be interested to see what the Cabinet committee on divestment has to offer.�

That echoes exactly what Singapore Airlines chairman Cheong Choong Kong said immediately after the government announced last month that it would be offloading a 60 per cent stake in the state-run airline which has accumulated losses of over Rs 1,000 crore.

Out of the 60 per cent, the government will offer 40 per cent to a strategic partner who will be allowed to take management control of Air-India and bring in a foreign airline with a 26 per cent stake.

The committee had decided that out of the 100 per cent equity in Air-India, a minimum 74 per cent at any given time will be in Indian hands.

It is not known whether the Singapore Airlines and the Tatas will bid jointly for the government stake in Air-India, which has an annual turnover of Rs 3,000 crore.

The Tatas have an emotional attachment with the airline because India�s first aviator and the Tata group patriarch JRD Tata had founded Tata Airlines which was nationalised to form Air-India. JRD had served as Air-India chairman for a number of years and Ratan Tata too was on the board of directors in the early nineties.

�Emotionally speaking, because of my own interest in aviation, we are curious to know what they have to offer,� Tata said. However, there is nothing definite as of now.

He said that given the Tatas� relations with Air-India, he would definitely take a hard look at the possibility of bidding for the government stake in Air-India �as and when the divestment takes place�.

It was evident that despite the bitter experience with the private airline plan, the Tatas are not foreclosing their options for another attempt to conquer the Indian skies.

The airline, which made a loss of about Rs 75 crore in the last financial year, badly needs to replace its ageing fleet of 26 aircraft and revamp its battered image. Air-India requires an equity infusion of Rs 1,000 crore to start with a clean slate but the government has demurred on such demands.

The airline has been unable to service many of the destinations to which it has flying rights because it does not have the requisite planes.

That is why the government has been keen to find a strategic private partner to nurse the ailing airline back to health.    

Calcutta, June 14: 
In a judgment rekindling memories of the politically charged Shah Bano case, the Calcutta High Court today ruled that a Muslim woman could be allowed to demand and receive alimony from her divorced husband till she remarries.

Under Muslim law, a divorced woman gets alimony during the �iddat period� only (which is just three months and 13 days after divorce).

Passing the judgment, Justice Basudev Panigrahi observed: �I find the expression �during iddat period� to be inadequate. It should not be strictly construed for only that period. It should be extended till the time the divorced Mohammedan woman remarries.�

In 1985, Shah Bano had appealed to the Supreme Court saying she should be paid maintenance beyond the �iddat� period. In a judgment that had created a storm across the country, the Supreme Court had upheld her appeal.

However, in 1986, when Rajiv Gandhi was in power, Parliament passed the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act 1986, which said: �All reasonable and fair provisions and maintenance be made and be paid� to a divorced Muslim woman. In effect, this handed discretion to the husband to interpret the word �fair�, which has more often than not been taken to mean three months.

The present judgment was passed on an appeal in the high court by Shakila Parveen, who was denied maintenance after the Sealdah sub-divisional judicial magistrate ruled on May 18, 1993, that she was not eligible for alimony after the iddat period.

Shakila married Hyder Ali according to Muslim rites and customs on May 5, 1991. The marriage was entered into nikah nama in the office of the Muslim Marriage Registrar and Kazi.

The couple resided on Narkeldanga Main Road for a little less than two years. Then, trouble started and one day, Hyder Ali divorced Shakila by saying talaaq thrice. Shakila was forced to leave her husband�s house in February 1993.

A case was then registered at the Sealdah magistrate�s court by Shakila for the return of den mehr (dowry) of Rs 2,500 as well as for alimony beyond the iddat period. The magistrate ordered the return of the dowry amount and ruled that a maintenance of Rs 800 per month be given by the husband for three months (18.5.1993 to 15.7.1993) only.

But, on advice from lawyer Manas Kumar Barman, Shakila appealed before the high court. No one appeared for Hyder Ali.

The judge referred to two earlier judgments, after the Shah Bano case, which interpreted the 1986 Act to allow a divorced Muslim woman maintenance for longer than three months.

These judgments had shown that there was no contradiction between the relevant sections of the CrPC, which allowed a divorced woman maintenance, and provisions made in the 1986 Act.

Unlike the previous rulings, today�s judgment clearly demarcates a period for maintenance for a divorced Muslim woman.

The judge observed: �There is no section in the Act which nullifies the order passed by the Magistrate under Section 125 of the CrPC. Further, once the order under Section 125 of the CrPC granting maintenance to the divorced woman is passed, then her rights are crystallised and she gets vested rights to recover maintenance from her former husband.That vested right is not taken away by Parliament by providing any provision in the Act.�    


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