Vandalism at Hindu temple in California riles community

Ritu Jha-

Graffiti on a Hindu temple in Hayward, California, sign board had upset the community.

Sherawali Temple in Hayward, California

According to Romiel Vijay Chand, owner of the Vijay Sherawali temple, the graffiti he saw on Dec 26 had a political message, written in black: “Modi is a terrorist” and “Khalistan.”The modus operandi is similar to the one seen at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir temple in Newark, California, which was vandalized on Dec 22.

Chand said that though he called the Alameda County sheriff’s office immediately, they did not come. They later told him they were understaffed.

Chand is yet to file a police report and the sheriff has promised to visit the temple on Tuesday, Jan. 9.

When indica reached out to the Alameda County Sheriff’s office about why police had not visited the temple, Captain, Tya M. Modeste, Public Information Officer said through an email, “On December 25, 2023 someone from the temple contacted our dispatch center and requested deputies for vandalism. Due to the high volume of calls, deputies were unable to respond immediately. When they were able to respond, there was no one at the temple to meet with them.”
“On January 1, 2024, someone from the temple placed another call to our dispatch center but canceled the call before deputies arrived. No one has called since that time to provide specific information or request a report, ” Captain Modeste said, “To get a report, someone from the temple has to call to make a report and then be available when deputies arrive to investigate/take a report.”
Romiel Vijay Chand

“I built this temple in my father’s memory. I built it with no donation, no funds… It’s shocking and I am hurt,” said Chand, 34, who left his job at Adobe to fulfill his father’s dream.

“What they did is a serious crime. These people lit the Indian consulate in San Francisco on fire. What if they try to [burn] the mandir,” he asked.

Sounding sad and angry, Chand described how his father, Vijay Chand, came to the US in 1979 from Fiji with whatever money he had and bought a grocery store in San Francisco.

“When I was two years old, my parents visited Vaishno Devi temple in India,” he said. “Every year, they visited India.. [My father] fell in love with Vaishno Devi and visited all Shakti pith. It was like an enlightenment for him.”

Chand said his father bought a commercial building in the city of South San Francisco, hoping to set up a temple there, But he did not get a religious permit.

Vijay Chand

“One day he told me, ‘If anything happens to me, you have to open a temple for the community,’” Chand said. His father died Aug 12, 2020 at the age of 64. To work on his father’s pet project, Chand left his job at Adobe in June 2021.

He tried to buy old churches because the premises already have religious licenses that ensured he would not have to apply again.

“I got lucky during the pandemic and talked to the church board,” said Chand. “I have spent over one year constructing a mandir, and have spent more than $2 million.”

“So when I saw the vandalism, it broke my heart,” he said. “We painted it with the special material that will last and spent a lot of money,” Chand said. He said that, among other things, the temple offers health and immigration services.

“How can anyone … vandalize our temple when we are doing good for the community,” he asked, sounding sad and angry.

“We worship Indian gods and speak Hindi,” said Chand, explaining that his great-great-grandfather left for Fiji from India. While his temple is open to all, also drawing people from Guyana, 70 percent of the devotees are Fijian.

Asked about taking extra security to protect the temple, he said he has applied for a security grant, and that an alarm system was in place.

He thanked the Hindu American Foundation for stepping up. Chand said he got calls from the Indian consulate in San Francisco and many other temples.

Meanwhile, the Newark police told indica that an investigation is ongoing on Dec 22 vandalism at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir but that no arrest has been made.

Samir Kalra, managing director, of the Hindu American Foundation, told indica, “These attacks demonstrate the hate-driven agenda of Khaliatani extremists who are trying to intimidate and harass the Hindu American community by desecrating Hindu places of worship.”

He said that Khalistan supporters try to hide behind the veil of free speech but engage in violence, hate, and intimidation against Hindus and other members of the Indian diaspora.

“These incidents need to be investigated and prosecuted for what they are – hate crimes,” he said.


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