HAYWARD, Calif. (KGO) -- Members of the Bay Area Sikh community are calling for an end to hate after two Hindu temples were vandalized in the East Bay.
"Reading in the newspaper about two vandalism events in mandirs (temples) in Newark and Hayward, left me wondering: How can this still be happening in 2024?" said Rakaab Singh, a youth organizer with the Jakara Movement, a Sikh community organization.
Jakara was joined by local law enforcement, city leaders from Hayward and Newark, and other South Asian community organizers of different faiths at a press conference to condemn the vandalism of temples.
The Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Newark was vandalized in December. The Vijay's Sherawali Temple in Hayward was hit in January.
The Hayward temple was tagged with graffiti that read "Modi is (a) terrorist," in reference to Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi. And "Khalistan Zindabad," or "Long live Khalistan."
The Khalistan movement is a separatist movement seeking to create a homeland for Sikhs in parts of India. As reported by the Associated Press, the group has been banned in India, following political violence in the 1970s and 1980s.
Though celebrated for this transformation of the Indian economy, opponents have been critical the Modi government's embrace of far-right Hindu nationalism, known as Hindutva. Critics say it has led to rapid deterioration of human rights protections of the country's minorities. Adding, that his party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is trying to secure power for a third term, will once again exploit religion for political gain in the general elections that begin in April.
Several Bay Area law enforcement agencies are investigating the vandalism.
"We actually got our federal counterparts with FBI involved as well. So, we definitely take this seriously," said Captain Gurvinder Singh Gosal with the Alameda County Sheriff's Office.
As of now, they say there are no leads on a possible suspect or suspects, or motive. Surveillance video didn't capture any footage. It is being treated as a possible hate crime.
"Know that it is going to be handled with the utmost of care. And the most possible, thorough investigation that we can do," says Police Captain Jonathan Arguello with the Newark Police Department.
"There are different rifts and different strains of thought, even in the Hindu Community, with regards to the upcoming elections in India. So, sometimes there is a desire for right-wing forces to play two communities against each other, in order to strengthen its own position," said Naindeep Singh, the executive director of the Jakara Movement.
He says in this case, it is Hindus and Sikhs.
Singh says they condemn the vandalism. And don't want it to escalate into greater tension between Bay Area Hindus and Sikhs.
"We know Indian politics trickles into Bay Area politics. We have had incidents of transnational repression. We had a murder of Sikh activist in Canada. The (Department of Justice) discovered a hit list of Sikh activists in the Bay Area. So, Indian politics absolutely has an effect locally," Singh said.
But Ramya Ramakrishnan with the nonprofit, nonpartisan Hindu American Foundation (HAF), says this is not an isolated incident. She refers to it as a pattern of escalating Khalistan separatist activities.
"They have been clearly targeting the Hindu community with the intention to create fear and intimidation," Ramakrishnan said.
She says the HAF, largest Hindu advocacy group in the U.S., is calling for swift action by law enforcement to stop it from happening to Hindu temples. She points a fire set to the Indian Consulate in San Francisco last year and another incident at the consulate last spring, as evidence of on-going Sikh separatist activities.
"Quite honestly, it is ridiculous to think anyone else would have done it, because A. they don't leave any doubt with their messaging, B. They want to take create. They are proud of their actions," Ramakrishnan said.
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