The 3HO Boarding Schools

Since its inception (3HO Kundalini Yoga), a critical component from Yogi Bhajan’s edicts to all followers was (and still is) something they call “Distance Therapy”. This entails separating children from parents and sending them away; to far-away host families (child-swapping); extended summer camps in remote place;, and to India for nine months of boarding school.

These are the schools:

  • Guru Nanak Fifth Centenary School (GNFC) located in Mussoorie, Uttarakhand, 1981 – 1988. Girls and Boys were separated into two campuses.
  • Guru Ram Das Academy (GRD) located in Dehra Dun, Uttarakhand, 1989 – 1993
  • 4S (familiarly known as D-Block), located in Amritsar, Punjab in the early 1990’s
  • Miri Piri Adacemy (MPA) located in Amritsar, Punjab, mid 1990’s – present

There was also a period in which groups of 3HO children were schooled here in the U.S:

  • Amritsar Academy located in Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • New Mexico Military Institute, Roswell, New Mexico (unaffiliated with 3HO, but accepted a number of 3HO students for a brief period in the early 1990’s, and made exceptions for 3HO dress and uniform to allow the turban and uncut hair and beard).

I attended GNFC, GRD & NMMI.

GNFC was a traditional Sikh boarding school that had a British influence, and had separate campuses for girls and boys, Shangri-La and Vincent Hill respectively. The majority of the students were Indian Sikhs, with some Thai Namdhari Sikhs, and the American 3HO Sikhs. The majority of faculty and staff were Indian, and there were about a half-dozen American “guardians” with us (incuding the notorious Nanak Dev Singh). Of those, three were actual teachers while the rest were just assigned to watch over us. One of the guardians was appointed head-nurse by GNFC, and was in charge of the infirmary.

In 1988 a conflict arose between the 3HO organizers of the India “program” (called Sikh Dharma Foreign Education, or SDFE) and GNFC. It is possible that SDFE was withholding payment from GNFC, and that GNFC asked us not to return. SDFE told the students, however that GNFC was scamming us on the cost of textbooks.  In 1989 SDFE began plans for a co-ed school in Dehra Dun, called GRD Academy.  It was to be structured around ideals of Yogi Bhajan’s 3HO vision. SDFE maintained that it had always been the goal to form a school in their own ideals (or as they said “to have a school of our own”).

GRD Academy was backed by Raja Singh who was a wealthy capitalist from Delhi. The school was constructed from the ground up on a small patch of property in Rajpur, Dehradun.  Once construction began, we were sent there, and we attended class and lived in the dorms throughout this construction. Food supply was often short, and class was often haphazardly organized. Some of the “guardians” who were with us at GNFC stayed along for GRD and played more important roles in the shaping of the school, and many more young adults were brought in from the US, some of whom had attended GNFC and graduated from there. Our Principal, Mr. Waryam, was recruited from GNFC as well. Waryam had a dependency on alcohol, and his moods swung from utter disdain (or checked out), to pure cruelty and vindictiveness. He was not an effective school leader.

There were two guardians with US Military backgrounds, and they were brought in to teach us military style drills, something that Yogi Bhajan was particularly fond of at the time. For some reason, the Indian students at GRD were exempt from the military training. The 3HO children were to remain at GRD only for a couple of years, and I really don’t know why it didn’t work out, because I was back home by then, attending a new experiment for 3HO youth, the New Mexico Military Institute, which also did not last much more than three years. Also in the time of the last years of GNFC and GRD, a state-side school in Albuquerque, NM was founded, called Amritsar Academy, and where Nanak Dev continued his tenur after leaving GNFC in 1986.  This school shut down sometime in the early nineties.

When Punjab became more peaceful and opened up to visitors, SDFE took on the task of moving all the 3HO children to another new, privately owned, and purely 3HO school environment, and that is what Miri Piri Academy is today. MPA is owned by Sikh Dharma-3HO. I never attended MPA, and never visited either. According to alumni of that school, it is heavily focused on the legacy of Yogi Bhajan and his cult of personality, his brand of yoga, Kundalini Yoga, with some Sikhism and Sikh Culture, all with a lower priority on academics. It’s organizational non profit goes by SDEI (Sikh Dharma Education International) and operates the same way that SDFE organized sending guides over:  inexperienced, very low (or no) pay, in exchange for room and board. They recruit individuals with no knowledge about childcare, or experience with teaching, oftentimes recruiting right out of the MPA graduate pool. They plunk these people, who already have no business being there, in positions of authority over large numbers of children. The teachers or guides at MPA who graduated from GNFC, GRD or MPA, and went straight into these positions, with no training or higher education, and certainly no education about childhood development or education. It is difficult for graduates of MPA to pursue higher education after graduation because of the unmet academic standards.

Abuse was regular, normalized and took nearly every form. Children beaten and slapped by the teachers and guides at GNFC, were given corporal punishments for long periods of time in awkward, painful positions akin to torture. At GRD Academy, children were neglected, beaten, punished, and even placed in solitary confinement. There was ecxessive corporal punishment which was often inflicted by the American 3ho guides, much of it being made to do excruciating “yoga” as punishment. Amritsar Academy in the US was abusive too, with it’s own “seva” style, or “karma-yoga” type discipline, often involving unpaid child labor. The abuse at Miri Piri Academy was, and continues to be rampant. In addition to neglect, corporal & physical punishment MPA is known to ignore children’s physical and mental health needs, insisting on homeopathic remedies to treat serious illness. Miri Piri Academy is not safe for any child of any age or background.

Since keeping this blog for over a decade, I have listened to stories about excessive bullying at MPA, of sexual abuse on children from American 3HO “guides”, and sexual abuse on children from staff members of these schools. Much of the punishments and harms were so normalized that they went unreported, yet there is sufficient evidence now that even when incidents were reported, they were ignored by the caretakers.