By Anuttama dasa
Jahnavi Jennifer Haggard
(May 27, 1972-August 9, 2008)
Religious movements are historical, sociological, philosophical, and hopefully, divine phenomenon. They are also the sum total of the contributions, influence and sacrifices of many men and women, both big and small.
In the history yet to be written of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, (ISKCON) many persons will be noted for their contributions, both positive and negative, to this great social enterprise. Many persons may be forgotten. I would like to offer a few words of appreciation for one young woman whose contribution should not be lost in the pages of time. She is the stuff great societies are made of.
Jahnavi Haggard died Saturday at her home in Alachua, Florida, at 36. Born on May 24, 1972, this daughter of young American spiritual seekers, was transported into the culture of Krishna Consciousness at the age of 4, when her parents became Krishna devotees in Los Angeles, California.
Raised as a Hare Krishna, Jahnavi was educated in the Los Angeles “gurukula,” or day school, until she and her mother moved to the Krishna community in Northern California, called Bhaktivedanta Village (BV). Bhaktivedanta Village’s raison d’etre was its parochial school, which offered a country experience for its resident families, their children and Krishna kids from up and down the American west coast. However, when she was
14, BV closed and Jahnavi transferred to public schools where she remained while completing high school.
When she was only 12, Jahnavi was diagnosed with diabetes, a disease that would haunt her with increasing severity throughout her life. Though married twice, she died as a single mother of Abhimanyu, her 14-year old son from her first marriage with Bengali-borne Rasaprakash das.
Jahnavi’s calling in life surfaced during improbable times, such as in Alachua, in 1996. It was there that she was one of 10 former gurukula students who spoke before seventy-five North American ISKCON leaders. One by one, in an exchange that lasted four hours, nine of the ten young Krishnas ranging in age from late-teens to early 30’s described in tormenting detail their personal histories of neglect, mistreatment, and physical and sexual abuse as students in the Krishna schools.
That now famous meeting was the catalyst that would, eighteen months later, generate ISKCON’s Central Office of Child Protection (CPO). Building on previous pioneering efforts against abuse, the CPO, through its investigative, adjudicative and educational efforts purged the society of any abusers, or abusive policies, still lingering in the shadows of doubt as to whether, and how badly, Krishna children had been abused.
While the CPO was to be the formal institutional response that continues today to prevent abuse, another organization took birth that exact same day. It was through Children of Krishna (CKI) that Jahnavi would leave her mark on her generation, and the ISKCON society of her time.
At the conclusion of the Alachua meetings, Jahnavi became a founding member of Children of Krishna, an organization conceived to provide support, counseling and financial grants for second-generation Krishna youth, especially those who had been abused. In CKI’s ten years of service to the Krishna society, she was its longest serving Executive Director.
Jahnavi was a tireless fund-raiser, friend raiser, organizer and promoter of Children of Krishna. More than one-quarter million dollars would be provided in grants to Krishna youth by CKI, much of it raised by her.
Yet, Jahnavi’s greatest contribution was her work to help heal the wounds of abuse that had occurred in the 1970’s and 1980’s in ISKCON schools in the US, India, and other countries. As a fellow Board member, she reported to me the countless days and late nights she spent counseling, and listening to angry and disturbed youth who questioned their faith, their family, their God, and their own self worth.
Jahnavi served as Executive Director of CKI, in the days leading up to and during, what became a $10 million dollar international legal settlement involving more than 400 Krishna youth who had suffered mistreatment and abuse.
Throughout that ordeal, Jahnavi strived to assure the movement’s response to past abuse was ongoing, and proactive. She helped many young people find their voice, and she helped countless others keep their faith in Krishna and the ISKCON society, despite the trauma many of them had undergone.
Jahnavi was known and trusted by the youth, as well as by elders in ISKCON leadership. She used that integrity and genuine concern to serve both, and thus helped to build bridges during a time of great tension within the society.
The only one Jahnavi loved more in the world than Children of Krishna, was her own son, Abhimanyu, who is now 14. Jahnavi was acutely aware of the childhood crises that many of her peers endured, and she wished to provide the best and most loving environment for her son. I pray that while her time with him was cut short, he will find solace knowing that his mother loved him most dearly, and that certainly she will continue to offer that love to him in his years to come.
All members of ISKCON owe Jahnavi our deepest thanks. Despite tremendous physical challenges, she served and gave her full heart to her youthful peers, while never losing faith in her flawed, yet sincere, parental generation-and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Those of us fortunate enough to have known and loved her, will keenly miss her presence.
I pray that Lord Krishna may kindly continue to look after her, and all those she looked after in His name.
Anuttama Dasa ISKCON Governing Body Commissioner Minister of Communication Former Chairperson, Children of Krishna