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Graffiti At Ashland Temple Treated As A Hate Crime

Ranjani Saigal
11/05/2003

(Please read correction at the end of article)

A message containing racial slurs and the word "beware" was spray-painted in red on a rock near the Hindu temple's driveway and on the parking lot on Friday night. There were toilet paper on the trees.

"It's not something people are really concerned about," said Jay Srinivasan, President of the New England Hindu Temple. "This is some kids' stuff, a Halloween prank." Srinivasan said minor vandalism is found at the temple occasionally, perhaps once every six months, but no significant threats have been made against it" Srinivasan said in an interview with the Metro West Daily News.

Ashland Police are investigating the incident. Lt. Scott Rohmer, the acting police chief said that the police are treating it as a civil rights crime and taking it very seriously. "That's a very serious crime. We are aggressively investigating.These are hate crimes" Rohmer said in an interview with the Metro West Daily News.

The priests who live in the temple premises are not disturbed by the event. "We did not know anything had happened until the police and the news channels showed up. The rains had washed out everything so we did not see anything" said Krishna Bhattar, the temple priest.

The news of the incident appeared in the Metro West Daily News. Lokvani requested comment on the incident from Attorney Neil Sherring, who is a member of Hate Crimes Task Force for the Attorney General of Massachusetts. "I view this unfortunate incident that was initially reported by the MetroWest Daily news as a very serious matter. Indeed, in Massachusetts, it is a crime to willfully engage in religious vandalism. Specifically, the law states that whoever "willfully, intentionally and without right, or wantonly and without cause, destroys, defaces, mars, or injures a church, synagogue or other building .... shall be punished." Sadly, this is not the first time such a bigoted act against a Hindu Temple has occurred in Massachusetts. In 1992, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals ruled on the case of Commonwealth vs. DiPietro. In that case, the Defendant, in conjunction with others, hurled eggs against the outside wall of a Hindu Temple. For this conduct, the Defendant was convicted of religious vandalism. In affirming the conviction, the Appeals Court stated that the purpose of this law is to "deter any physical attack of vandalism specifically against religious institutions, schools, and other facilities by increasing the penalties for such acts...." I was therefore encouraged to learn that the Ashland Police are treating this as a civil rights crime and I hope that the perpetrators are aggressively prosecuted." said Sherring.

Dr. Vanita Shastri, President IAFPE on hearing the incident said " The forum will definitely take it up with the Attorney General's office as well as the Police department of Ashland. Issues such as these need to be addressed since they are happening more frequently. The community should be aware of it and take some action and be prepared."

(Lokvani regrets reporting the misquoted statements of Jay Srinivasan. Lokvani was able to speak to Jay Srinivasan (who is the Chairman of the Board and not the President) on November 7 2003. His comment to Lokvani is as follows

My exact words to Metro West Daily were

"This APPEARS to be some kids Holloween prank , but we are NOT sure and authorities have been notified for proper investigation". Several toilet rolls were hung on several trees and plants.

The word “appears” and "we are not sure" from my comment was removed in the Metro West Daily publication. Regarding temple security, about 6 weeks ago, we had contacted about installing the security cameras all over the temple and have obtained quotations and this proposal is on the agenda for the upcoming NEHTI board meeting in Mid- November. We hope to get the board permission and install the security cameras in the temple campus as soon as possible.
. )



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