Horror Show Friday: The Kisses Got Weird

Might as well throw in some Hindu sexual abuse this week, as a case out of Austin, Texas comes to light.

Back in the 90s, lots of people lived at Barsana Dham, the Austin, Texas ashram of the International Society for Divine Love.  Plenty of kids lived with their parents, following Prakashanand Saraswati and many considered him a god on Earth.  Saraswati was very affectionate with the children, giving them hugs and kisses, but then, according to some who lived there, the “kisses got weird“.

Many girls began to be molested about the time they were 12.  “The first time that he put his hand up my shirt, I thought it was an inappropriate touch, and it was, uh, pretty devastating to me,” said Kate Tonnessen, a former member.  Saraswati would visit girls in the middle of the night and they were told that if they told anyone, they would be condemned to hell.

But even when accusations came to light about the swami, often parents sided with their religious leader over their own children.  “I had considered telling somebody; telling an adult outside of the ashram,” Tonnessen said. “But the idea of what would happen if I did was just too painful to accept.”  Many girls stayed at Barsana Dham only until they were 18 and could finally free themselves from the abuse.  The adults tried to convince them to stay, but they had to get away from the swami that had molested them.

In 2008, three women brought charges against Saraswati, alleging sexual abuse against them as minors.  Prosecutors took it seriously, but the swami’s followers never stopped believing in their earthly god.  Saraswati was eventually convicted of 20 counts of indecent behavior with a minor and was sentenced to 14 years for each of the 20 counts, but Saraswati was in the wind.  Authorities think he crossed the border into Mexico and from there, fled back to India to spend time with his own guru, Kripalu, who had also been accused of rape and molestation in India.  To date, he has still not been apprehended.

His former followers at Barsana Dham have changed the name of the ashram to Radha Madhav Dham and claim to have changed their ways, but their experience with a child molesting guru hasn’t changed their feelings about the religious teachings. At least kids are safe from the wandering hands of this pedophile, but he still wanders free, perhaps inappropriately touching other young girls in the New Delhi area.  It’s shameful what people will allow in the name of religion and that’s what lands Saraswati squarely on Horror Show Friday.


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