Priests and devotees at temples in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) of Canada are in a state of fear as half-a-dozen temples have been vandalised and burgled over the past ten days, with cash stolen from donation boxes and even ornaments adorning murtis stolen.
According to a Hindustan Times report, these incidents targeting temples started on January 15, with an unsuccessful break-in at the Shri Hanuman Mandir in the GTA town of Brampton. Undeterred, the miscreants appear to have gone on a rampage since then.
On January 25, another temple in Brampton, the Maa Chintpurni Mandir, was broken into, with a series of similar episodes being reported in the days following at the Gauri Shankar Mandir and Jagannath Temple, both in Brampton, as well as the Hindu Heritage Centre in Mississauga and the Hamilton Samaj Temple.
At the Hindu Heritage Centre (HHC) in Mississauga, the incident occurred on January 30, as two individuals broke in and rummaged through donation boxes and ransacked the main office. “Devotees and priests have been left traumatised with this incident,” a release from the temple said.
Each of these break-ins, according to security camera images appear to involve two persons and they have taken place between 2 and 3 AM. Images of the intruders show masked individuals in winter gear, with a backpack, and they appeared to spend a fair amount of time within the temple premises, searching for cash in donation boxes or other valuables like jewellery adoring the deities.
The release from the Hindu Heritage Centre in Mississauga said, “Peel Police have confirmed to Hindu Heritage Centre that it is the same group of individuals who are breaking into temples early morning.”
The temple has enhanced security with volunteers taking graveyard shifts to safeguard the premises. “Police have also promised to increase patrols around the temple. The community is very shocked and appalled with the high number of break-ins at temples,” the statement said.
“I feel scared when preparing for early morning prayer and keep looking around to make sure no one is there. I turn on all the lights and make sure to look out the windows before opening the temple,” Pandit Yadu Nath Sharma of the HHC said.
Devotees are equally concerned. As one of them Shubham Bharadwaj said, “I am very disheartened to hear about temples being broken into. I was very surprised to see this type of activity happening in Canada. With the number of temples broken into in a short time, this is becoming a serious law and order issue that I hope the police will be able to solve soon.”
This is not the first attack on a Hindu temple in Canada. In 2013, the Laxmi Narayan Temple in Surrey, British Columbia was vandalized by two men armed with baseball bats. They smashed three windows at the front entrance. According to reports, a bat with a Sikh last name and a ‘khanda’ was recovered from the scene.
In 2015, Shri Ram Dham Hindu Temple in Kitchener in Ontario was attacked by vandals with large rocks who smashed windows.
Growing hate crimes against Hindu temples in Western countries
Such attacks on Hindus and their temples are growing rapidly in Western nations, especially the Anglosphere. On January 26, the Swindon Hindu Temple and Cultural Centre in UK was vandalized and burgled for the sixth time in under an year. Local Hindus called it a targeted religious hate crime. In one of the earlier incidents, deities were desecrated, sacred altar and rooms vandalized, and cash & valuables worth thousands of pounds were stolen. On January 31, police finally arrested someone on suspicion of carrying out these attacks – the 39-year-old suspect (identity not revealed) from London was however released on conditional bail while ‘enquiries continue’.
In September last year, signboards proclaiming “No Dotheads” (a derogatory slur used for Hindus) sprung up in a residential neighborhood in Atlanta, USA. The appearance of these hateful signboards coincided with local Christians protesting a plan to construct a Hindu temple in the area. A proposed Hindu temple in Minneapolis also faced a hate campaign through anonymous letter full of evangelical bigotry such as – “God does not want false religion in our community, or anywhere else….Hindu Gods are false Gods.”
In 2019, a Swaminarayan Temple in Louisville, Kentucky, USA was vandalised by Christian supremacists who sprayed crosses and black paint on the deity, wrote graffiti like ‘Jesus is the only Lord’, and left a knife stabbed into a chair in the main hall. A 17-year-old white male, believed to have acted alone, was arrested for this hate crime.
In 2018, the Bhartiye Mandir situated at Regents Park in Sydney, Australia was set on fire and all murtis (embodiment of Hindu deities) and icons were smashed while local Hindus were celebrating the 9-day long Navratri festival dedicated to the feminine divine Maa Durga. Police ruled out hate crime, and it is not known if any arrests were made.
What is also notable is the asymmetry in narratives concerning Hindus vis-à-vis powerful global majorities. In 2015, a few random incidents at churches in Delhi involving short-circuit, drunkards breaking a window pane, and one incident of petty theft were blown up to drive mass hysteria of ‘Christians under attack’. International leaders called Bharat’s PM to ensure well being of Christians in Bharat! Bharat was maligned as an unsafe country and Hindus as an intolerant community.
But repeated attacks against places of worship of law-abiding, non-proselytising Hindu immigrants in the West invite no censure from top leaders, either of Bharat or the West. But in a positive development last month, Bharat’s Ambassador TS Tirumurti called for recognition of hatred against Hindus, and other Dharmic communities like Buddhists and Sikhs, at the United Nations, similar to how phobias against the three Abrahamic religions are officially recognized.