By Ivan Pereira
Instead of repeating last week’s violent melee over the power struggle for the presidency of a Richmond Hill Sikh temple, worshipers took to prayers Sunday to find a way to sort out their differences.
About 30 members of the religion ï»¿staged a peaceful rally outside the Baba Makhan Shah Lobana Sikh Center, at 114-13 101st Ave., as worshipers waited in a long line to get into the temple for their service. The protesters, led by an unidentified man, prayed in Punjabi and asked god to end the escalating dispute over two factions within the temple in a civilized and respectful manor.
The April 24 fight erupted over the status of President Jarnail Singh, who was supposed to end his one-year term as president of the temple in January but has remained in power. Gurmej Singh, who was elected the new president, said he did not arrange the rally outside the temple and did not know who the people praying were, but he supported them because the angry confrontation embarrassed the Sikh community and disturbed the holiness of the temple.
“Anybody who is here for peace, I support,” he said.
Following the brawl inside the temple last week, where eight men were arrested on charges of assaulting others using cricket bats, box cutters and swords, the FDNY issued new rules for the building that restricted the gurdwara, or main prayer room, to only 10 people at a time.
Visitors were also barred from going to the second floor.ï»¿ Several officers were on hand as worshipers were allowed in one at time to adhere to the new building rules.
Jarnail Singh could not be reached for comment as of press time Tuesday.
Longtime temple member Surkret Singh, 31, said he and his family were shocked at the violence that took place while they were in there.
“They disrespected the temple,” he said.
Many of the worshipers said they did not think another violent incident would happen again because the arrests and the videotape of the brawl created a negative image of the community.ï»¿
“This is a fight for ego. This is a spiritual place. We come for peace, not for fights,” said a Richmond Hill worshiper who declined to give his name.
It was not known which president the rabble rousers who were arrested and later released on their own recognizance supported, according to police.
Raghbir Singh, Community Board 9 member and former president of the temple, said no matter who started the violence, it was still mandatory that Jarnail Singh give up his post and observe the rules of the election.
“I used to be president long ago, but I ended it when my term was rightfully up,” he said. “I’m still a member [of the temple] and I still give my respect to everyone.”
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4546.