Priest at Sikh Temple near Hughson assaulted in apparent hate crime

An intruder at the Sikh Temple Modesto Ceres broke windows late Thursday at a priest’s home on temple grounds, punched the priest, shouted obscenities and told him to go back to his own country before fleeing, according to the priest and others associated with temple.

Amarjit Singh, with the help of temple members who translated some of his comments, said he was in his bedroom about 9:30 p.m. when the glass in two bedroom windows was broken. He said he lifted the blinds of one of the windows to look out and was punched in the neck before his attacker, who he said was wearing a mask, fled.

It was “country, country, country, go back, go back, country,” he said without the help of a translator. He said his attacker also yelled obscenities at him and had something in his hand to break the windows. Singh assumes the intruder ran off in the temple’s nearby overflow, dirt parking lot.

Singh is one of two head priests at the temple, which is at Santa Fe Avenue and East Hatch Road, near Hughson. Singh’s brother, Manjit, is the other head priest.

Modesto councilman Grewal says its a pattern

Modesto Councilman Mani Grewal, who is a member of the temple and has served as its secretary, considers this a hate crime and said it is part of pattern going back a decade or longer of attempts to harass and intimidate temple members, though this was the worst incident.

He said the incidents include motorists slowing down and shouting insults and slurs as they drive by, motorists pulling into the parking lot to peel out and then drive off, and people making threatening phone calls. The calls got so bad that the temple removed its phone number listed on the temple sign about two years ago.

“We’ve seen that this has been going on for a while now,” Grewal said, adding it has increased in the past couple of years. The temple in the last couple of years has had an armed guard patrol the parking lot on weekends.

Grewal’s brother, Raj, who is the temple’s secretary, said the insults and slurs from passing motorists occur weekly and drivers peeling out in the parking lot or people making insulting phone calls occurs monthly. He said temple has nearly 3,000 members in its congregation.

Singh’s daughter-in-law and sister-in-law were the only other people in the home when the incident occurred. The two were in the living room.

“It just sounded like basically broken glass all over the house,” daughter-in-law Miracle Felix said. “We did not know which windows it was coming from. We were just casually talking and then all of sudden glass started breaking, and it was crazy, and it happened so fast, like two minutes.”

Singh filed a police report with a Stanislaus County sheriff’s deputy. His nephew who works for the California Highway Patrol helped him.

“It’s too early to go down that road,” Sheriff Jeff Dirkse said when asked whether this is a hate crime. “We had the initial investigation last night. Detectives are now working on it. Until we know more, we cannot say whether it is or isn’t.”

Dirske said he expected it would not be until next week that there would be “anything of consequence” in the investigation.

Rep. Josh Harder speaks out on attack

But U.S. Rep. Josh Harder, D-Turlock, issued a statement condemning the incident and calling it a hate crime.

“I stand with my friends in the Sikh community at this terrible time,” Harder said. “Every American – regardless of faith – should be able to practice their religion freely and without fear of violence. This disgusting attack is not representative of who we are, and we must find the person responsible.”

Grewal said unfortunately because the nation’s political climate has changed in the past couple of years too many people feel emboldened to express their hate and intolerance of those they consider different from them. “I feel all communities feel threatened with the (political) temperature,” he said.

There are security cameras in the temple and the paved parking lot, but none for the house where the windows were broken. Temple officials said until Thursday’s attack they had not seen the need but will add cameras there.

The Central Valley has one of the largest and oldest Sikh populations in the United States. The first Sikh temple, or gurdwara, in the United States opened in Stockton more than a century ago. There are an estimated 500,000 Sikhs in the United States and 25 million worldwide making it the fifth most popular religion. It originated in the 15th century in the Punjab region of India and Pakistan.