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N.J. Gurdwara Altercation: Temple Remains Shut


The Courier-Post, Mount Holly, Apr. 28, 2005

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

The Sikh temple in Springfield, the site of a knife fight last Friday, will remain closed for at least two more weeks until a court-appointed 'security receiver' sorts out the cause of the internal dispute.

At a hearing in Superior Court, Judge Ronald Bookbinder said Gregg A. Shivers, a former Burlington County assistant prosecutor, will oversee the security and finances of the temple until about May 11. Shivers will then recommend a plan for reopening the temple.

A mediator will ultimately be appointed to make recommendations on resolving disputes on finances and by-laws, and a civil trial to determine rightful membership and leadership will begin in July, Bookbinder said.

In the meantime, Shivers will use temple funds to pay its bills and will review surveillance tapes from Friday's incident.

In December, Khalsa Darbar of South Jersey, the organization that operates the temple, sought a temporary restraining order against a faction of members it said failed to pay membership dues.

Bookbinder issued the order but has tried to mediate the dispute between the leaders of the 200-member temple and the dissidents.

The dispute erupted in violence Friday when the factions clashed, using kirpans, long, crescent-shaped ceremonial swords worn on belts. Five members were injured; all were treated at local hospitals and released. Two were charged with aggravated assault.

The dissident faction says the current leadership rose to power in 2004 by violating temple by-laws forbidding Sikhs outside certain Burlington County areas from joining the temple and voting.

At that point, the current leadership ousted the original priest and installed a 'fake priest' related to the temple president, they said. Now, they said they want to leave the temple and take half the temple's financial resources with it.

'It's like the Mafia,' said Sukhdarshan Singh, the former general secretary of the temple, who was ousted. 'If you're not with us, then you're out.'

But the current president, P.J. Dhillon, said the ousted members have failed to pay dues or give donations since 2003. He acknowledged they were involved in building the temple but said they had not done anything since.

'If you want to play, you have to pay,' Dhillon said. 'Once you build a home, you think you're done after that?'

Court documents allege the dissident faction threatened church leaders and attempted a violent take-over.

Both factions said the temple, or gurdwara, should remain closed.

'In the safety of all the congregants, it's the best idea that the gurdwara stay closed until the court has made sure it's safe for everybody,' said Dr. B.S. Sandhu, spokesman for the dissident faction.