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The Hindu priest attacked in New York

July 26, 2019 11:25 IST

New York City Councilman Donovan Philips, who visited Swami Harish Chander Puri to express support, put it down to the surcharged environment created by President Trump.
P Rajendran reports from New York.

IMAGE: Swami Harish Chander Puri, who was assaulted in New York last week. Photograph: P Rajendran for

Swami Harish Chander Puri, a Hindu priest in Queens, New York, who was the victim of a vicious attack July 18, said at press conference on July 23 that he forgives his attacker and only seeks peace.

Puri, 62, had left the Shiv Shakti Peeth temple on 264th Street and Hillside Avenue in Glen Oaks, New York, at around 11 am.

His walk took him a few blocks south to 85th Avenue, where Sergio Gouveia, 52, who lives a few blocks farther down the street, came after him.

Early reports described said Gouveia had shouted, 'This is my neighbourhood' before repeatedly hitting Puri with his fists and an umbrella.

Puri told that the man said nothing at all beyond 'I'll kill you.'

Puri does not remember how many times he was hit -- or whether anything other than fists were at play.

He said he only knew he was on the ground with blows raining down on him.

Fortunately, he said, someone called the police, who came in a two to three minutes.

Puri said of Gouveia: "He's not normal. He did not run when the police came."

In fact, the police dragged Gouveia off him, Puri said.

IMAGE: Swami Harish Chander Puri with New York City Councilman Donovan Richards. Photograph: P Rajendran for

In a press conference on Tuesday, July 23, Puri described his condition after the attack: "After that (there) was bleeding inside the mouth, nose, the ear."

Puri had to be taken to the Long Island Jewish Medical Center for treatment.

The priest still has bruises on his face and body, and a particularly angry red wound on his left knee.

Puri said he is gratified by the response he has received -- from sympathetic and horrified people worldwide, politicians, activists, and community members.

Ambassador Sandeep Chakraborty, India's consul general in New York, visited the temple to express India's support.

'Met with Swamiji of Shiv Shakti Peeth who was attacked by a miscreants', Ambassador Chakraborty tweeted. 'He is at home, recovering well and resumed his spiritual duties. Thanks to the Police for quick arrest of the assailant. Many thanks to @RepGraceMeng & @RepTomSuozzi & the Indian Community for their support.'

Puri, who is originally from Kurukshetra, in Haryana, came to the US first in 1988, and was a priest first at the Geeta Temple in Corona, New York, and established the local Shiv Shakti Foundation ten years later.

The Shiv Shakti Peeth temple in Glen Oaks opened in April.

Puri said he had never had a remotely similar experience in all his years in the US.

Councilman Donovan Philips, who was visiting him to express his support, put it down to the surcharged environment created by President Donald J Trump.

Despite being available in the temple, where he handed out Hershey's chocolates to the children of visiting families, Puri was clearly not well yet.

For when Councilman Richards hugged him on his way out, he winced and said, "It hurts."

New York Attorney General Letitia James sought that the attack be treated as a racist attack.

"It's clear to me that this should be treated as a hate crime, so I'm urging NYPD (New York Police Department) to investigate it as such," James said at the press conference.

"To the individuals who may have witnessed it, I urge them to come forward."

The NYPD has not yet charged Gouveia with a hate crime, going perhaps by what witnesses and the police personnel on the scene told them, Puri's description of his demeanour, or both.

A call to Gouveia's listed phone number got a response saying it was not in service.

Robin Levinson Zaleswki of the Legal Aid Society and Gouveia's attorney declined comment.