Violent discipline was acceptable in ashram culture: Ex-member

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Melbourne, Dec 5: A former member of Australia's oldest Yoga ashram founded by an Indian, where children as young as four were allegedly subjected to horrific sexual and physical abuse, described violent discipline as an acceptable part of ashram culture.

Repeatedly breaking down at a public hearing today into the sexual abuse case during the 1970s and 1980s, the former member, known as Shishy, apologised for the pain and suffering she had caused, including the slapping of children at the Satyananda Yoga Ashram at Mangrove Mountain in New South Wales, Australian media reports.

The woman, who is now in mid-50s, however, said she could not recall some of the more vicious assaults described in evidence. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse had previously heard evidence from former child residents that Shishy allegedly subjected them to fierce beatings and summoned teenage girls for sex with the ashram's leader, Swami Akhandananda Saraswati, who came to Australia from India in the mid-1970s to spread the word of Satyananda's teachings.

"I would like to say that I deeply, deeply regret and feel quite desperately sorry for anything that I did or didn't do that has caused these people and their families any pain whatsoever," the woman said during the hearing.

Shishy told the commission that she was forced to initiate a sexual relationship with a 14-year-old boy at Akhandananda's behest when she was 24, describing it as the "most shameful thing of my life". "He told me that I should start initiating him in the same way he did the girls. He became extremely violent toward me when I refused," she said.

Shishy told that she later left the ashram, fell in love with the boy known as APQ and they had a daughter. Shishy said that while sex was banned under the teachings of influential Yoga teacher Swami Satyananda Saraswati, she began a sexual relationship with Akhandananda.

"Swamis were celibate ... so at the time I did become involved with him I was surprised that it could happen," she said. She said that she left the centre in 1985 when she became aware that what was happening at the ashram was abuse.

The commission heard that she reported the abuse to Satyananda in 1986 but he responded: "Well, you know, pretty much, it's always been thus." When Shishy returned from India she cooperated with police and gave evidence against Akhandananda in court proceedings. Akhandananda was convicted over sexual offences relating to former child residents in 1987 but the conviction was overturned in 1991. He died from alcoholism in Cairns in 1997. Satyananda died in 2009. The hearing, before Justice Jennifer Coate, is still continuing.

PTI

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