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August 31, 1999
Cops Suspend Voting in Vancouver Gurdwara
Arthur J Pais in Vancouver
The continuing feud between fundamentalists and moderates in the gurdwaras of British Columbia once again led to scuffles during a vote on Sunday, and the police halted the vote even as many participants decried their action.
Police spokesperson Anne Drennan justified the action, saying "tempers were running just a little too high" among the 3,000 people at the Ross Street gurdwara.
The police issued a statement yesterday that they are prepared to go to court to have their action validated.
Sunday's vote was meant to support or defeat a resolution that would have limited voting at the Ross Street gurdwara to residents of the Vancouver area. About 500 votes were cast when scuffles broke out between the moderates and fundamentalists.
Many violent incidents have taken place at gurdwaras in Vancouver and Edmonton in recent years, not to forget the Fremont gurdwara in California.
"Many of us, the people who are creating the violence, ostensibly fled India because of alleged police interference in religious institutions," said a moderate Sikh who wished to remain anonymous. "So how is it that the actions of these men are bringing police into our temples in Canada and America?"
The police have interfered to stop scuffles between feuding Sikhs at the Richmond Hill gurdwara in New York as well as the Fremont gurdwara several times in the past five years.
The Ross Street gurdwara president, Jarnail Bhandal, said the police stopped the voting when about 500 ballots had been cast.
Calling the police action "undemocratic", he said gurdwara officials counted the 500 votes and found them overwhelmingly in support of the resolution.
Bhandal said only nine were against the resolution, and when the opponents saw the trend, they began to push and shove the voters. The temple has over 52,000 members who were eligible to vote till Sunday's election.
The resolution is aimed at fundamentalists, many of whom live in significant numbers outside the Vancouver area.
Bhandal said the gurdwara considered the resolution adopted. But the police questioned that assertion, and said the courts could take a different view of the temple officials' stand.
Ranjit Singh Khalsa, a leader of the fundamentalist and fiercely pro-Khalistan Sikh Youth Federation, which is usually opposed to the police, welcomed their action. He said Bhandal and other gurdwara executive members were not "playing fair".
His group is not against the vote, he asserted, and blamed Bhandal for trying to control the vote. There should be equal protection to both sides, he said.
The voting began at 10 am and was ended by the police about two-and-a-half hours later. By then a dozen people had received minor injuries. But no one needed hospital attention, and no arrests were made.
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