If sections of the Sikh community were at daggers – or kirpans – drawn just a few weeks ago, can their Hindu brethren be far behind?
Passions at Brampton’s Hindu Sabha Mandir, the largest in the region and reputedly the oldest in Canada, spilled over once again last weekend, with security personnel patrolling the premises 24 hours a day.
A very public rift within the incumbent management now has at least four factions vying for control of the temple.
The dispute is, as ever, over control of the money the temple commands from a faithful congregation.
Temple insiders say the lure of lucre plays only one part; the other is personal ego.
“All want to do God’s work. But the prevailing feeling by all is: ‘This is God’s work I’m doing. But let’s do it my way – else it’s the highway!’” is the other factor at play, as one observer put it.
Visits by Peel Regional Police have become a regular occurrence. “Your visit is now the 55th by police,” was the ironical greeting with which a police patrol called to the temple was met with this Sunday, just after the aarti.
Peel Police itself is at its wits end about the long-pending dispute. “You know, I’m sick and tired of it – when are you going to stop all this,” one exasperated officer was heard by Focus yelling in the temple’s very public foyer at a board member, even as curious members of the congregation filed past to take their tirtha from a temple priest alongside.
Asked by Focus if there is indeed nothing the police can do, an officer responded: “It’s really a private matter for the congregation or the temple management to decide. We’re only here to preserve law and orderâ?¦ any further dispute has to be settled by themselves. We can do nothing about such issues.”
Or it’s for the courts to decide – a route that continues to be taken till today, prompting one presiding judge to vent his frustration at the ongoing disputes, as one issue leads to another, and another, and yet anotherâ?¦ and for another judge, a Caucasian non-Hindu, to observe in an aside he’s becoming something of an expert on Hindu temple affairs.
While issues have been on an ill-tempered slow boil for several weeks now, the latest dispute appeared to have been precipitated last week by the temple’s board of trustees effectively firing the president of the board of directors over charges of financial irregularity and, for good measure, one of their own fellow trustees as well.
Simultaneously, the trustees brought in private security guards to guard the entrance to the main administrative office from the main entrance foyer. Since then, until as at the time of going to press, the guards have continue to patrol the temple 24 hours a day.
“This is unfortunate, and it isn’t personal,” Prabhat Kapur, chairman of the board of trustees, told Focus. “But as trustees we have a moral obligation, particularly when things are not going the way they should and procedures are not being followed.
“As per our constitution there’s a disciplinary procedure, which we’re following,” Kapur added, while indicating the trustees are waiting to hear from the suspended president.
‘Judge, jury and executioner’
Mahendra Gupta, the ‘suspended’ board president, begged to differ.
“They’re trying to be judge, jury and executionerâ?¦ but actually it is as per the court order of Hon Justice Lemon that I am the elected president and member of the Hindu Sabha board,” he said.
Gupta was referring to the latest court order that mandates the current board manage the temple’s affairs until a further court decision is taken on the matter.
He has also already responded to the allegations in a letter, circulated among the congregation publicly on Sunday.
In the letter, he rejects the allegations as “simply baseless and unfounded,” while responding to the four allegations made originally.
In it, the finger of blame regarding financial impropriety appears to point directly at the trustees themselves.
It also alleges: “In fact treasurer Purshottam Dhupar, secretary Bipen Kakkar, vice president Parveen Sharma and you together with S. Kumar Agarwal and Sat Malik have been violating the constitution many a times.”
The allegations and counter-allegations could not obviously be verified by Focus. But it is perhaps pertinent to note that Gupta’s car was torched on his driveway one night not so long ago, even as the family slept within.
The incident, which happened in March 2009, is still under investigation by Peel police.
In his letter Gupta adds: “Until the court order changes it is my duty to take care of the temple affairsâ?¦. Do not attempt to participate directly or indirectly ie changing locks, etc.”
But Focus has learnt the doors to the administrative office today bear the locks of both the board and the trustees. Effectively, neither group can now enter, deepening the impasse.
The 24-hour security also continues. Gupta contends this alone will cost the temple at least $2,500 per day.
He last week sought to take his appeal directly to the congregation, to present his side of the story. Interestingly, as he was making his pitch, the microphone went silent. Someone had obviously pulled the plug.
The plug is being pulled on other counts as well, as the deadlock has meant the temple’s affairs are grinding to a halt. For instance, the congregation’s offerings in the donation box have yet to be counted this week, as per information as at the time of going to press.
Only on one count have things moved. Ajit Pahwa, the trustee who was fired along with Gupta, has since been reinstated as a trustee. “They (the trustees) found it was unconstitutional to do so,” was one explanation put forward by a board member. The statement could not be independently verified.
Meanwhile the two other factions are awaiting developments with interestâ?¦ even as their own cases grind on in the courts.
The ongoing dispute continues to embarrass the wider Hindu community.
Lamented the congregation member of another Peel area temple: “As usual, the actions of a small minority will determine the way we’re viewed by mainstream Canada.”
Article posted in Communities, Hindu community, South/Southeast Asian community