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April 26th, 2011
Ah, That Religion of Peace and Love

(Reuters) - A leadership dispute that turned violent at a Sikh temple in New York, interrupting prayers with swinging swords and cricket bats, landed congregants in court on Monday on criminal charges, a prosecutor said.

Amid screaming, yelling, punching and the swinging of weapons, followers of the two men who each claim to be the rightful president of the Baba Makhan Shah Lobana Sikh Center in Richmond Hill set upon each other on Sunday morning, according to court documents filed by the Queens District Attorney's office.

Eight men were arrested on various charges of assault, criminal possession of a weapon and disruption of a religious service, police said. A police officer suffered minor injuries during the brawl.

"It's shameful for everybody," said Gurmej Singh, who said he was elected as president effective at the beginning of the year. "This is a religious place where we go for peace and people are ready to be killing each other. I feel bad."

He said that his rival for the presidency, Jarnail Singh, arrived with a gang of followers carrying weapons early on Sunday morning and waited inside the temple and started shouting at and attacking worshipers as they arrived, threatening to kill them.

Jarnail Singh denies initiating the violence. By his account, he and his supporters had arrived early at the temple for "peaceful prayer." He had notified police in advance after hearing rumors that there might be a confrontation.

"Everybody got bleeding, everybody got stitching, everybody got to hospital, but they arrest my side only," he told Reuters. He said five of the eight men arrested were on his side.

Jarnail Singh, who was the undisputed president of the temple, or gurudwara, in 2010, says his term continues until the end of this year. He has filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court.

He says he is facing opposition because he wants to make the gurudwara more democratic and give everyone a vote in important matters typically decided by a small committee.

Gurmej Singh says his opponent wants to stay in office because of the power and influence the leadership position holds.

An officer in the community policing department that covers the neighborhood said the police would not make any public comments on the dispute.
 


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