NEW DELHI, Dec 23: India has expressed serious concern and has sought an investigation after a prominent Swaminarayan temple was vandalised with pro-Khalistan slogans and anti-India graffiti in Newark in California in the United States on Friday.
The incident came to light when images were shared on X by the Hindu-American foundation on Saturday. The photos showed walls of Newark’s Swaminarayan Mandir Vasana Sanstha spray-painted with hateful slogans against India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Reacting to the incident, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said such ‘extremists’ should not be given space. He underlined that the Indian Consulate in San Francisco has already taken up the matter with the US authorities and an investigation was underway. “I have seen the news. As you know, we are concerned about this. Extremists and separatist forces outside India should not get space. Our consulate has lodged a complaint with the (US) government and the police there over whatever happened, and I believe the matter is being inquired,” Mr Jaishankar told reporters.
The Indian embassy in San Francisco strongly condemned the incident and said it had hurt the sentiments of the Indian community. “This incident has hurt the sentiments of the Indian community. We have pressed for quick investigation and prompt action against the vandals by the US authorities in this matter,” they wrote on X.
According to the temple administration, the incident took place on Thursday night. “One of the devotees, who lives close to the shrine, discovered anti-Hindu and anti-India graffiti in black ink on an exterior wall of the building, and the local administration was immediately informed,” Bhargav Raval, the spokesperson for the temple administration said.
The City of Newark Police Department in Newark, California said in an emailed statement that on Friday at approximately 8:35 a.m., they received a report of graffiti at the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir Hindu Temple. Officers responded and met with temple leaders who described the vandalism as meant to intimidate them. “Based on the content of the graffiti it is believed that the defacement was a targeted act, and the vandalism is being investigated as a possible hate crime,” the statement said.
Newark Police are investigating the matter, which they believe was a targeted act. “It’s going to be investigated with full thoroughness. I can also tell you that as a member of the Newark Police Department and the Newark community, we’re deeply saddened when these types of acts occur, and we think they’re senseless and they have no room,” Jonathan Arguello, a captain in the Newark Police Department said.
According to images posted on social media, the word ‘Khalistan’ was spray-painted on a signpost outside the temple along with other objectionable graffiti. Newark police further said any acts or threats of violence, property damage, harassment, intimidation, or other crimes motivated by hate or bias are considered very serious and given very high priority.
“Officers are investigating, collecting evidence, and reviewing surveillance footage from nearby businesses in order to establish the chain of events and bring those responsible to justice,” the police said. The department said, “We stand united with our community and are urging community members with any information regarding this incident to come forward and speak with investigators.” The police are asking anyone with information regarding this investigation to contact the Newark Police Investigations Unit.
This is not the first time a Hindu temple has been targeted, as similar incidents have occurred in the past, both in the US and its neighbouring Canada. India has earlier expressed concern over escalating activities by Khalistan supporters and clamped down on organisations and individuals trying to stoke separatist sentiment in different countries.
In August, a temple in Canada’s Surrey was vandalised allegedly by Khalistani supporters. Pro-Khalistan posters were put up on the walls and the gate of the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir, in Surrey – one of the oldest temples in British Columbia. Some of the posters called for Canada to investigate India’s “role” in the death of Khalistani terrorist Hardeep Singh Nijjar in June.
Canada accused India of having a role in Nijjar’s killing but hasn’t yet provided India with evidence for the allegations. The US has also arrested an Indian for alleged involvement in a plot to murder Khalistan terrorist Gurpatwant Singh Pannun.
India has called the allegations false and baseless, claiming that they will investigate if the countries provide proof. “If someone gives us any information, we will definitely look into it,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently said.
India has been asking its partner countries such as Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. to not give space to “extremist Khalistani ideology.” Khalistan supporters have increased their anti-India activities after the death of Canada-based Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) chief Nijjar.