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N.J. Gurdwara Altercation: Factions Wanted Control

The authors may be reached at and The elitist nature of the Khalsa Darbar of South Jersey, Inc. is evident from the "initial membership fee of $1125" and an "annual membership fee of $225" per the gurdwara's constitution.

Burlington County Times, Springfield, Apr. 26, 2005

Photo: Paramjitinder Singh Dhillon, president of the executive committee at Khalsa Darbar of South Jersey, Inc., Burlington, New Jersey

A massive brawl at a Sikh temple here Friday night was the result of an ongoing dispute between rival factions of congregants over temple leadership, authorities said yesterday.

Meanwhile, the temple has been closed since Saturday by order of Superior Court Judge Ronald E. Bookbinder in Mount Holly.

The judge is overseeing a lawsuit dating to December between the two rival factions vying for control of the temple. Both sides agreed to the closing for security purposes, Bookbinder said.

The two parties to the lawsuit are scheduled to appear in court tomorrow for a hearing on the order.

According to state police, approximately 100 people were involved in the melee at Gurdwara Khalsa Darbar temple on Old York Road on Friday evening.

Five people suffered wounds from ceremonial knives during the dispute, which began inside the temple following evening services, then spilled out into the parking lot. The wounded were treated at Virtua Memorial Hospital Burlington County in Mount Holly on Friday and released that night, police said.

The crescent-shaped knives, called 'kirpans,' are a part of the religious dress of some Sikhs.

Two men were charged with aggravated assault.

Sgt. Stephen Jones, spokesman for the New Jersey State Police, said yesterday that detectives plan to review surveillance video recorded by 16 security cameras at the temple to see if additional charges should be filed.

'We have video recordings that we have seized,' Jones said. 'We have not been able to view them yet because the feed went to a computer. Our forensic computer experts are working to make a copy, but it may take some time. We don't know what it will show.'

Investigators believe the fight was the result of an ongoing dispute between two factions vying for control over the operations and finances of the 3-year-old temple.

One faction is made up of members of the existing Khalsa Darbar of South Jersey board of trustees, which now operates the temple. The rival group consists mostly of former board members who claim they have been unjustly removed from their positions.

The two sides have been fighting in court and at the temple since December when the Khalsa Darbar board filed a lawsuit against 14 members of the rival faction seeking to bar them from the property, according to court papers.

In the lawsuit, the board claims members of the rival group threatened violence when they disrupted a Dec. 1 committee meeting to review applicants for officers for the board of trustees. A fight broke out during services four days later when one of the defendants and 20 of his supporters attempted to take over the temple by force, court documents state.

The man was taken into custody by Springfield police, according to court documents. Court papers do not say whether he was charged.

The Sikh religion started more than 500 years ago in Punjab, a region in northern India. Based on the teachings of 10 gurus, its fundamental principles include belief in one God, equality of mankind, elimination of social inequality and the value of family and honest work.

The temple opened in December 2002 with about 150 members.