Thursday, January 14, 2010

Melbourne Sikh temple arson 'an attack on religion'

AN elder at a Melbourne Sikh temple suspected to have been torched by arsonists has described the early-morning vandalism as an "attack on religion", placing further strain on diplomatic relations already damaged by a spate of serious assaults on Indian students.

The partially built Nanaksar Thath Isher Darbar temple in Melbourne's outer southeastern suburbs, home to a congregation of Sikhs, many of whom come from the Punjab in northern India, is believed to have been set on fire with the use of molotov cocktails early yesterday.

Distraught temple elder Satnam Singh said the wilful destruction of a "God house" was an attack on Indians.

Detective Senior Constable Paul Stow, in charge of the investigation, said the fire was being treated as suspicious, but detectives were yet to establish whether race or religion had motivated the arsonists.

"At this stage there is nothing to suggest it is (race-related) other than the fact that it happened to a temple," Detective Constable Stow told The Australian yesterday.

The Sikh temple, known as a gurdwara, is in the middle of a large empty paddock in front of a sprawling housing estate at Lynbrook, on Melbourne's suburban fringe. The fire could put further pressure on bilateral relations between India and Australia, which have come under renewed strain since the stabbing of a 21-year-old Punjab-born accounting graduate, Nitin Garg, in a park in Melbourne's west earlier this month.

Among the members of the Indian community who visited the temple yesterday to survey the damage was the consul-general of India in Melbourne, Anil Kumar Gupta, who walked around the site taking notes and talking with elders. One worshipper, who asked not to be named, said he was informed by police that three molotov cocktails and a jerry can containing petrol were found inside the temple. Constable Stow confirmed that "a number of items were located to suggest accelerant was used".

Despite initial police reports indicating that a group of teens had lit "a couple of small fires" in piles of rubbish in the temple, Constable Stow said police believed the arson to be a "deliberately lit fire" rather than a bonfire that had burned out of control.

A police spokeswoman last night said investigators were keeping an open mind about the investigation.

"We can't discount anything," she said.

Victorian police have been criticised and caricatured in India for being too quick to rule out racism as a motive for attacks on Indian students.

Walking through the blackened interior yesterday, Mr Singh said the fire was "very, very personal".

"This is an attack on religion, this is very bad," he said. "This should not have been done, this is a God house, everybody who comes here prays to God."

When asked whether he believed the attack to be race-related, Mr Singh said: "Yes, attack on Indians."

The deputy high commissioner of India, V.K. Sharma, yesterday said: "We have no comment to make."

It is believed two people were seen leaving the temple near midnight.

with thanks : source :


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