UPDATE: Thai yoga school accused of sexual abuse reopens to the frustration of many residents

Photo courtesy of former student who wishes to remain anonymous
Photo courtesy of former student who wishes to remain anonymous

Phangan Island’s Agama Yoga School, buffeted for months by allegations of sexual assault, has reopened for business, with classes once again being conducted by the man at the center of those accusations, school founder and self-styled “swami” Narcis Tarcau.

Roughly a week after Coconuts Bangkok first reported on the years of alleged abuse at Agama in September, the school announced their temporary closure to “change” their internal operations as well as “critically review” both their sexual tantra and yoga curricula to assess any potential gender bias.

RELATED READING: Being Broken: Years of sexual abuse alleged at Agama yoga school on Koh Phangan

During the closure, an investigation into the allegations against the school was conducted by independent consultant Helen Nolan.

While the school publicly promised to “publish the reports and Agama management’s decisions based on their conclusion,” they have yet to do so.

Speaking with Coconuts Bangkok last night, Nolan expressed her “extreme disappointment” regarding this. However, bound by a confidentiality clause, said she was unable to discuss her findings or interactions with the school with anyone.

The fact that the report was not published speaks volumes,” she said.

The Guardian has reported that they understand the report to be “very critical” of Agama and could open the school up to lawsuits.

Courtesy of Mihaela Lakshmi
Courtesy of Mihaela Lakshmi

Both Agama Yoga and Tarcau remain stripped of their certification from the Yoga Alliance — a nonprofit association with a mission to “promote the integrity and diversity of the teaching of yoga.”

The school’s reopening has been met with anger and disbelief from those seeking to see it disbanded.

A former student who has accused Tarcau of rape on social media, speaking on condition of anonymity with Coconuts Bangkok, expressed deep frustration at recent developments.

“I feel intense outrage and anger… hearing that he had returned to the school without any recognition of what was exposed by all the women, no acknowledgment of the victims’ pain and trauma, no explanations, no apologies,” she said.

“I was in a complete state of shock, and the distress was so high that I could no longer function. I was unable to eat… I lost a lot of weight, I was unable to sleep properly, and I was in a deeply dissociative space whereby I wouldn’t move off my couch for many hours of the day, just staring into nothingness.”

Her intense personal reaction to the news stems from a sexual assault she alleges Tarcau carried out in 2016.

“Without asking [Tarcau] grabbed my body and tossed me onto the bed, then he physically forced me to lie face down, removed my underwear but left my blouse on and… used his force to insert his penis into my anus, from which I felt great pain. I kept telling him he was hurting me” she alleged, adding that they’ve never discussed having anal intercourse nor was this ever consented. 

“I asked what he was doing to me… [but] he did not reply.” 

Narcis Tarcau in 2008. Photo: Facebook Page/ Swami Vivekananda Saraswati
Narcis Tarcau in 2008. Photo: Facebook Page/ Swami Vivekananda Saraswati

Afterwards, the student described years of PTSD symptoms including hypervigilance, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and social isolation.

Her attempt to take her story to local police in September was met only with skepticism, she said. An official affidavit of the report shows police questioning why she didn’t “flee,” “fight back,” or file a complaint sooner.

“They also made sure not to use his birth name in the police report even though I said his real name over three times,” she said.

At least one other alleged rape victim also filed a police report last year. However, due to the three-month statute of limitations on rape cases in Thailand, police have carried out no investigation into the claims.

An officer at the Phangan police investigation unit who spoke to Coconuts Bangkok this morning was reluctant to discuss anything regarding Agama.

“Yeah, I’ve heard about the scandal a while ago, but it’s never been treated as a case… We visited the school after a woman filed a police report last year, but the accuser was not on the island,” said the investigator, who refused to reveal his name but said he oversaw the police visit to Agama.

“I have no idea whether or not he’s [Tarcau] back on the island, because it’s not our responsibility to keep track of who comes in and out.”

When pushed for more information, he abruptly hung up.

Thailand’s criminal justice system has often been regarded as “not victim-friendly” when it comes to sexual abuse cases. Police have been known to ask offensive questions that reflect their own biases.

As a result, 90 percent of rape cases in Thailand go unreported to authorities, according to a recent study by U.N. Women.

As of press time, residents of the island claim that Agama Yoga is a “ghost town.” We were told that only 20 students were present in a “Level One” yoga class this morning — a course that usually draws upward of 100 people in the high season.

Given that the school has begun renting out their yoga halls, many Phangan residents believe the school to be on its last legs.  

An anonymous collective of foreigners, locals, ex-students and other concerned residents, meanwhile, has recently been established with the goal of shutting down the school permanently. The group has reportedly been using peaceful protest tactics they say have been “approved by authorities,” including posting flyers to raise awareness throughout the island.

No photo description available.
Photo: Facebook/ Reese Delancy

“We will not stop until Agama is shut down,” they declared in a recent missive posted to the Boycott Agama Facebook page.

Related Story: 

Trial of Rape: Thai survivors share experiences of abuse and seeking justice at empowering event (PHOTOS)

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CITY: BANGKOKCATEGORY: NEWSSUB-CATEGORIES: CRIME

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