Armed private security officers have been hired to protect worshippers and keep the peace at the Sikh Temple in Hughson because of rising tensions between two factions that disagree over management of the facility.
An 11-member executive committee charged with managing the financial affairs and operations of the temple was overthrown earlier this month and replaced by 11 other temple members who appointed themselves the interim committee.
During a temple meeting Sept. 7, a dispute ensued between members of the committee and people who soon after formed the takeover committee. The dispute centered around the bylaws of committee elections and the manner in which the elected committee was spending the temple’s money, according to Dupinder Bajwa, a member of the takeover committee.
Bajwa said the confrontation even became physical, punches were thrown, and the meeting was terminated. Since then, verbal disputes have erupted at Sunday worship and some members have been seen carrying baseball bats and hockey sticks, according to both sides.
The morning after the meeting, takeover committee members changed locks at the temple, took possession of the collection box and appointed itself the interim committee, according to Jagtar Singh of the elected committee.
But Bajwa said his committee has no control over the temple’s bank accounts, which he claims the elected committee continues to maintain and has used for personal gain. He said he spent his own money paying an electric bill and a priest’s salary since the takeover.
Michael Ijams of law firm Berliner Cohen’s Modesto office is representing the temple in a lawsuit against it by one of its members. The lawsuit and a countersuit by the temple centers around the bylaws in question.
“The bylaws that they presently operate under were drafted by non-lawyers 25 to 30 years ago,” Ijams said. “The bylaws are contradictory as to who votes and how the committee is elected. … The bylaws are, A, ambiguous and, B, outdated.”
Ijams sent a letter to the takeover committee on behalf of the elected committee demanding that it cease operations and return the cash box, but he hasn’t received a response.
Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said deputies responded to the Sept. 7 dispute. “We mitigated a verbal disagreement between two parties but we are not going to get involved in a civil problem,” he said.
Since the takeover, friction between the two groups has mounted.
Christianson said he was asked by members of the temple to assign deputies to provide security during Sunday services to prevent violence between the two groups. Christianson said no.
Bajwa hired Ontel Security, which Sunday will provide armed security officers whose primary responsibilities will include “protecting property and life, as well as ensuring the peace,” according to Chief of Security David McCann.
Typically, more than 500 members of the congregation – which draws from the Modesto-Hughson-Ceres area – attend Sunday services.
Christianson said he encouraged the groups to get together and settle their differences.
There is no indication from either side that will happen in the near future.