Three weeks ago she was Donna Seidenberg, a former Krishna devotee and reluctant product of "deprogramming." Yesterday she emerged as Megha Devis Krishna, draped once more in a flowing silk sari and visibly triumphant about defeating her de-programmers.
"I'm here to stay," said the smiling 24-year-old Hare Krishna cultist who was lured from her Krishna temple two months ago to a Baltimore motel room and then to New Hampshire rest home.
Megha had been handed over by her mother and the courts to "deprogrammers," who tried to force her to disavow her new religion and way of life.
During three days locked in a scheduled Baltimore motel room and one month in a Bradford, N.H. rehabilitation center Megha says she faked it. She said she pretended to be converted in order to leave and return to her temple and her fiance.
Yesterday she made first public appearance since that odyssey. Standing beside her was the fiance Edward Bavis, who waited for her and married her last Saturday. Her one telephone call from New Hampshire was to Bavis, a fellow devotee, to assur him that her loyalty to him and her religion never wavered.
The couple was surrounded by other devotees at the Krishna's 15-acre headquarters in the posh Potomac estate country for an outdoor press conference."
There she detailed the story of her deprogramming as proof, she said, that nothing could erase Krishna consciousness from her heart."
It began on Feb. 26. Megha and Bavis went to Baltimore to attend a bridal shower for them, hosted by her windowed mother and sister.
"They welcomed me and told me how well I looked," Megha recalled yesterday. But Megha had walked into a trap.
Instead of a shower, Megha was treated to a three-day stay at a Baltimore motel where "the deprgrammers locked me in a room with the windows nailed about . . . (with) a lot of big men around."
There she also was told that her deprogrammers had legal custody over here. Her mother had secured a conservatorship order from Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge Richard R. Latham on Feb. 24. The young woman had not been notified of the hearing and there had been no psychiatric examination or adversary hearing in open court.
The deprogrammers - she was vague about how many there - "yelled and screamed" at her, she said. "They very much blasphemesized my spiritual master . . . they burned my scared prayer beads right in many face."
They also forced her to exchange the traditional long skirts of the Krishnas for blue jeans, which, she complained, "gave me an infection after not wearing them for so many years."
She said she was also required to "read things about mind control" and told repeatedly that the Krishnas had controlled her mind. "I was treated exactly like a prisoner. It reminded me of what it must feel like in the Iron Curtain Communist countries, where freedom of thought is so limited . . .
There was, she said over and over again, "a lot of yelling; a lot of screaming." She spoke of "being physically abused." The only example she could cite was one time when one of the deprogrammers "grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me."
Three days later, she convinced her captors that her loyalty to the Krishnas was shaken and she was deemed ready for the next step, called rehabilitation. She was taken to a private home in Bradford, N.H.
"They kept telling me I should adjust to the real world, but their real world was all these meaningless activities," she said, like knitting and sewing.
"I guess these things are right if you need to do them," she continued, "but my life is devoted to service to God" through prayer and chanting.
After about two weeks, her stay at the rehabilitation center was interrupted by an emergency. "A boy who had been a Moonie (who was also being deprogrammed) escaped and Donna and five other ex-cult members were hustled off to Connecticut, she said. "I can't remember where."
The operation was moved, she said, because "they were afraid people would find out where we were . . . they were afraid the American Civil Liberties Union would come and get us."
The ACLU's national board has taken a stand against deprogramming and local units of the civil liberties organization have taken on individual cases.
Barbara Mello of the Maryland ACLU is representing Donna now, but she was not approached until the young woman's release from the rehabilitation program.
On March 27, after nearly four weeks, Megha was permitted to leave the rehabilitation center. "I kept begging them: 'Let me go home! Let me go home!" when all the time I wanted to go back to the (Krishna) temple," she recalled yesterday.
She went to Baltimore to stay with a sister. Deprogrammers routinely advise families of ex-cult members to keep an eye on their young people for a while after deprogramming.
The next day, March 28, her mother's attorney, J. James McKenna of Montgomery County, took her into court to have the conservatorship dissolved.
ar "HE (McKenna) asked me two questions," she recalled. "He asked me, 'Are you here of your own free will?' I said 'Yes.'
"He asked, 'As of today, do you plan to return to the Hare Krishna movement?" I said 'No' because I wasn't planning to go back that day; I was going to do it the next day.
She was asked in the press conference if she felt her response in court was dishonest. "No," she said, "the trickery was on his part."
The conservatorship was dissolved and the following day, March 29, "i was finally left to go shopping in Baltimore with a girl friend," Donna recalled. "I left her trying on dresses in a dressing room and took a bus to the (Krishna) center in Baltimore where I called my fiance and he came and got me.
"That was the end of it, I was free at last, or nearly a week she and her fiance "stayed in the mountains . . . we just stayed in different motels" because, she said "I was afriad they were coming to come get me."
On April 4, they returned to the Potomac Center and were married last Saturday - the day after her 24th birthdy.
She has had no contact with her family since March 29. She said yesterday she would make no effort to communicate with her mother or sisters."I expect them to come to me," she said. "The fault is one their part, the mistakes are theirs . . . they didn't understand my religion."
In a prepared statement, Megha said she was "hurt that my family could put me through such degrading and exhausting ordeal, but I do not hate my mother or hold it against her."
Both Megha and Rupanaga, president of the Krishna temple in Potomac, said some sort of "legal action" is contemplated in an effort to combat deprogramming attemps.
Megha, meanwhile, was "very happy" to be back at the Potomac temple where, she said, her days are spent in "ironing-cleaning house, distributing literature, cooking and chanting."