Fistfight Breaks Out Over Sikh Temple Leadership

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Brawl Involved More Than 100 Congregation Members

BEDFORD, Ohio — A feud among members of a suburban Cleveland Sikh congregation has erupted into fistfights and has brought police to the temple 11 times in the past nine months.

Members of rival factions disagree over how to run the Guru Gobind Singh Sikh Temple and how its leaders should dress.

Hostilities boiled over Sept. 18 with a brawl involving more than 100 people, resulting in four being taken to a hospital, police said.

Gursharan Gill, who identifies himself as the temple’s president, is cleanshaven and wears a bandanna called a “patka.”

That riles some members, who say temple leaders should wear traditional dress that includes a turban, long hair and beard.

“He must look like a Sikh,” said Kamaljit Singh Janda of Solon, who has a beard and wears a turban.

Sikhism was founded nearly 500 years ago in the Punjab region of India. There are about 2.3 million Skihs worldwide and 2,000 in northeast Ohio.

Paramjit Singh of Strongsville said temple leaders must wear the “articles of faith,” which also include a hair comb under a turban, a steel bracelet on the right wrist, a sword, and they must wear baggy, cotton underwear as a symbol of purity.

“They’re trying to vanish the identify of the Sikh,” Singh said. “We want somebody with a full turban and full faith to represent us.”

Janda and others say Gill and his followers have hoarded power among a small group and have denied the congregation an open vote on the leadership.

“By not giving the rights to the congregation, they are deceiving the community, they are deceiving the religion,” said Hari Singh Dhillon of Maple Heights. “Sikhism promotes democracy and equality. They don’t want that.”

Gill is one of three men in control of the temple who do not wear the traditional dress of Sikh leaders. He said he was elected in January by a vote of the temple’s founding members.

He declined to further discuss the issue or talk about his choice of dress.

A lawyer for Gill, Nicholas Phillips, said he’s examining the temple’s constitution and legal structure to figure out who should hold power.

The temple, which began in 1992 with about 90 people now has more than 300.

Hoping to alleviate the tension, Gill’s group announced Friday that it was closing the Temple until Oct. 10. Phillips said the executive committee decided to lock the temple doors on Friday night after consulting with the city.

Police said a small group met peacefully outside the temple on Sunday.

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Associated Press, USA
Sep. 26, 2004

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This post was last updated: Monday, November 30, -0001 at 12:00 AM, Central European Time (CET)