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US : An alleged attack on Hindu priest by White Supremacist

US : An alleged attack on Hindu priest by White Supremacist

An assault against a Hindu priest in Mahwah, NJ has generated outrage from members of the Hindu community and concerns that the alleged perpetrator is a white supremacist.

The state attorney general’s office said the Bergen County prosecutor’s office will investigate the incident as a potential bias crime. A spokeswoman for the county prosecutor would not confirm this and said she cannot comment on any active investigation.

According to a report filed with the Ramsey Police Department, the priest, Devendra Shukla, was driving his car through the parking lot of the Interstate Shopping Center on April 3 when the alleged assailant approached Shukla’s car and punched his face.

The report said, “Mr. Shukla was visibly upset, crying and had a laceration on his lip, with what appeared to be blood coming out of the laceration.”

In a separate statement Shukla gave to Mahwah police, he said the man shouted obscenities and called him a “dirty Indian.”

He went on to say: “My six-year-old daughter crouched in the back of the car, screaming as I was attacked and is totally traumatized by the incident.”

Ramsey police identified the alleged assailant as Nicholas Dow, a 30-year-old white male whose listed address is adjacent to the Hindu Samaj Temple of Mahwah, where Shukla is employed and resides.

Dow told officers he had gotten into a verbal altercation with Shukla after being cut off by the priest’s car, but denied assaulting him. According to officers, the camera footage from a nearby Shoprite caught an “unknown party” approaching the driver’s side of Shukla’s car but did not capture their interaction.

In an interview with WNYC, Shukla, 43, said he regularly took walks in the area of the temple, for health reasons, and often in Indian clothing. These walks usually took him past Dow’s home. He worried that Dow had witnessed him during these walks and developed animosity toward him. Since the assault Shukla said he has stopped going on walks.

“When I’m talking with you, my heart is shaking. I’m not really in good strength right now.”

According to the police report, Dow was charged with simple assault and burglary, and transported to Bergen County jail.

However, a temple trustee, Dinesh Khosla, said when he spoke with the Bergen County prosecutor’s office over the weekend, officials viewed the episode as a road rage incident and were prepared to offer Dow a plea deal, resulting in probation. This angered members of the Hindu community, who argued that it would amount to a slap on the wrist. In response, they initiated a petition, calling for “a criminal trial with maximum punishment.” The petition garnered nearly 1,800 signatures as of Tuesday evening.

On Monday, Khosla said the community reached out to Attorney General Gurbir Grewal’s office about the case, and it resulted in action.

“Earlier this month, my office released bias incident investigation standards that reaffirm our commitment to these important cases,” Attorney General Grewal said in a statement. “I have every confidence that the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office will conduct a thorough investigation.”

Members of the Hindu community are worried that Dow is a white supremacist. One of them, a female resident of nearby Upper Saddle River who wanted to remain anonymous, took note of his Facebook page. On Monday, there were two images of Confederate flags, and on one of them the caption read: “Doesn’t stand for hate it’s about pride.” Those images have since been removed.

“The prosecutor and police need to be on this guy,” said the woman, “because god forbid something happens.”


Screenshot of Nicholas Dow’s Facebook page before it was taken down on Tuesday.

Nicholas Dow

Nicholas Dow

Reached by phone, Dow said he had “no comment at this time” about the encounter with Shukla. When asked about the Confederate images on Facebook, he said there were no such images. The name on the Facebook page was changed to “Nk JD” on Tuesday afternoon.

Khosla said the temple has endured a number of humiliating incidents since it was built in 2008. These include several cases of vandalism and one incident in which two men with baseball bats destroyed temple property, resulting in more than $70,000 in repairs and security upgrades.

“It was a very difficult and painful experience for this community,” said Khosla. “We were trying to create an environment of tolerance and diversity.”

Shukla, the priest, said since the assault, he is terrified of stepping out or accompanying his 6-year-old to the playground.

“Ten years we’re living here and we’re not bothering anyone, and this happened,” said Shukla. “I don’t understand why they do this.”

by Arun Venugopal for WNYC


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