Monday, March 18, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Gurdwara arson: story of repentance
Sarbjit Dhaliwal
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 17
Hundreds of persons were killed in Gujarat. Places of worship were damaged or destroyed there. But none of those who inspired the violence or participated in such heinous crimes has uttered a word of remorse or repentance.

But here is a story of five American youth involved in the burning of a Sikh temple (gurdwara) in November last year. These youth not only want to apologise but also work at the gurdwara for some days to seek pardon from God for their sin. They have approached the management of the gurdwara through the district attorney to do so.

On November 18 last, a gurdwara, known as Gobind Sadan, USA, was set on fire in Central Square of Palermo, near Syracuse, about 350 km north-west of New York. An American woman who, along with her daughter was returning from work shortly after midnight, reported the matter to the police, the fire office and the Sikh priest, Mr Gurbachan Singh, who is also the Chairperson of Gobind Sadan.

The fire office, after investigation, found that the gurdwara was deliberately set on fire. It engaged the FBI and other agencies in the investigation to trace the culprits. After sustained investigation, five white young persons were detained. And they admitted the crime. The reason: they were under the impression that the gurdwara was being run by followers of Osama bin Laden.

One of the detained youth has become an approver in the case. A girl, who was accompanying them, did not participate in the crime and remained sitting in the car. The police has let off the girl. The other three have been released on bail. The names of the youths are Joshua Centrone, William J.Reeves and Cassie J. Hudson.

Revealing this story, Mr Gurbachan Singh, who was here today, told TNS that he had told the district attorney that he would welcome the young persons if they wanted to come to the gurdwara to serve. Religion was all about forgiving. They would be treated as Sikhs are treated in the gurdwara. They would not be hated by anyone.

This issue had been highlighted on the front pages of most of the city papers published in the area in the USA. He said that the management of the gurdwara had told the police that it would not interfere in any manner in the legal proceedings going on against the young persons.

However, the story does not end there when, Mr Mark Lichtenstein, president of the Mexico School Board, came to know that one of the persons involved in the incident belonged to a school functioning under the board, he was shocked beyond words and started investigation to find out what had gone wrong in his institutions. Mr Lichtenstein told the gurdwara management that there must be some drawback in the imparting of education in his schools, otherwise his student would not have participated in such a shameful act.

On February 17, Mr Lichtenstein flew to Delhi to be at the headquarters of Gobind Sadan, located at a short distance from Delhi. He stayed there for about two weeks. His mission was “ to educate himself first-hand about Sikhs and the culture that surrounds them to help him, in turn, to educate his community about the Sikhs”.

Mr Gurbachan Singh said that Mr Lichtenstein had been impressed so much with the Sikh faith and its teachings that he planned to send students in groups from his schools to Delhi and Punjab for regular study of the Sikh religion.

A leading city paper in the USA quoted Mr Lichtenstein, before he flew to Delhi, as saying : “I am going as an ambassador of our community, to express our sorrow about what happened. I want to tell them that there are great people here. I want to tell them about the outpourings of the support after the fire”.

The management of Gobind Sadan had been requested to come to churches to address congregations of whites to tell them about the Sikh faith. Certain churches had also allocated 60 hours in the churches for akhand path and the serving of langar to educate American whites about Sikh religious ceremonies.

India needed many Mr Lichtensteins to end communal hatred, said Mr Gurbachan Singh.


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