Just after I had finished having the conversation with the two teenaged boys, I went up to the second floor. I wanted to make some free phone calls. The phone is located next to the entrance of the main Diwan hall. Anyone can make free phone calls from it. I stood in an area that was adjacent to a man who was taking donations.
A tall man wearing a blue turban with a neatly pressed beard came to me and said in Punjabi that he wanted to talk to me. He asked me in a polite manner. His tone of voice sounded polite and respectful but insistent. I responded likewise. I said, we can talk right here. He said, no, I want you to come with me to the room in the back of the Diwan hall. He never identified himself. I did not ask what his name was or what he wanted to talk about. No sooner he said this, my intuitive voice told me that I was going to be in trouble. Since I am in the habit of not refusing anyone who asks me politely, I followed him. He took me to a room labelled “Committee Office 12.”
We walked down the corridor past the main Diwan hall along the west side of the building to a room that had a sign in black lettering on a gold background, “Committee Office 12”.
As this man wanted me to enter first but just before entering, I peered through the two small windows on either side of the steel galvanized doors.
On the left side of the room, I saw a man who I immediately recognized as Avtar Singh Brar. He knew my father. Upon seeing him, a lot of old memories came back to me.
In the 80’s, there were two groups holding gurdwara services. Avtar Singh Brar was in charge of Sri Guru Singh Sabha in Malton. The services would be held in the gymnasium of Malton Public School. Over time, the public school was taken over by Sri Guru Singh Sabha. My father and Pritam Singh Chauhan were two of the founding members of the other gurdwara, Ontario Khalsa Darbar or more commonly known as the Dixie gurdwara.
On the right side of the room, I saw two teenaged boys. They were sitting on chairs. When I saw them, I recognized they were the same boys that I had a conversation with while eating food in the old langar hall. When I saw them, I immediately sensed that something was not right. Little did I know what was going to happen next.
I walked into the room and went to greet Avtar Singh Brar. I said to him in Punjabi, do you remember me? He looked at me. His face had the look of a man who seem to be puzzled. I could see that he had a lot of wrinkles on his face and that to me meant he was quite aged. I then asked him, do you remember my father, Mohinder Singh? He hesitated to answer my question. He was silent. Then, he asked me for my name. I told him that I am Pritam Singh. I saw a sceptical look in his eyes. I sensed that he probably was trying to reconcile old memories what I use to look like, wearing a turban. This is when I told him, I am the same one that you used to know me as. I have not changed. He replied and said that many people change these days. He did not acknowledge that my father was Mohinder Singh.
I was asked by Avtar Singh Brar to sit down in the chair next to him on his right side.
The man who had brought me in, sat in the corner to the left side of Avtar Singh Brar.
I sat down on a chair between Avtar Singh Brar and another man on the right side of me. This man wore a dark blue turban, had an open beard and it looked dark.
No sooner had I sat down that the man who brought me into the room, started shouting at me. He was very angry. His voice was loud, so loud that I thought he might give himself a sore throat or even burst a blood vessel.
He immediately tore into me like the speed at which a barrage comes from a machine-gun. He said that I had brainwashed the two teenaged boys (they were sitting on the chairs across the room) and because I had done this, he and the men in the room were going to take me into the parking lot and beat me up to a pulp.
What they used against me were the tools that any oppressor might use. These included intimidation, humiliation, fear, threats of violent harm, physical assault, torture, insults and abuse. When he shouted at me, my body tensed up. I felt panic and extreme fear.
When someone hurls accusations at the top of their lungs and threatens to do you harm and describes what that would consist of, and then also does this, it is usually known as being “terrorized.” I was terrorized and the two boys were also terrorized. This is why I named this BLOG/Website: assaultatdixiegurdwara.wordpress.com .
I sat nervously on the chair and felt that I could not leave the room. I could feel that I was boxed in between the two men sitting on either side of me. The fact that I was told to sit between two men, Avtar Singh Brar and the other man to the right side of me, indicates there was some planning done beforehand.
Everytime I refuted the allegations thrown at me, I would use good logic and reasoning to reply in return. I did this despite my mouth feeling dry. My dry tongue would get in the way. I had difficulty talking but did my best to do so. If I didn’t respond to the accusations, I thought there was no any other way of defending myself.
The teenaged boys who sat across the room, saw the distress that I was in. But they were also experiencing the same terror.
This man’s accusations were many. They came out of his mouth like the speed at which a barrage comes from a machine-gun. He wasn’t the only one who hurled the accusations at me. I will describe later, how other men joined him in assaulting me.
After I was accused of not believing in God and threatened with being beaten up in the parking lot. I told him that this was not true. I used good logic and reasoning to respond to every accusation hurled at me.
I said you can ask these two teenaged boys, yourself.
At this time, the man looked with menacing eyes at the two teenaged boys. In the same threatening tone that he used at me, he ordered them by saying in Punjabi, “Tell us what he said to you. Did he or did he not say to you that he does not believe in God?”
To my ears, it did not sound like a question. He was demanding the two boys to agree with his statement that I did not believe in God.
The two boys were showing signs of nervousness and distress. After witnessing the manner in which I was being terrorized and when this is contrasted with my recollection of what I discussed with them, their answer was not the one the man was expecting to hear.
One of the boys attempted to give an answer in Punjabi. It was the Grade 10 boy who spoke in broken Punjabi. His voice was shaking. I saw the look of terror on his face. He sounded confused. I could see that he had difficulty conversing in Punjabi. I immediately thought of intervening on his behalf and did so.
I know from my experience of growing up in a Sikh family in Canada, there was a time when I could understand Punjabi but not speak it. When I did begin to muster the courage to speak it, I was hesitant to do so. Why? Because I use to think of the answer in English and then force myself to translate it with the very little Punjabi vocabulary that I had learnt by hearing my dad and mom speak. It was embarrassing for me to pronounce words that often came out of my mouth with the English-sounding accent.
Consequently, I would use Punjabi words in a sentence but not know their actual meaning. The listener who was usually Punjabi, though aware of my language difficulties, would use the opportunity to put me down. I call this cultural abuse by the elders. Though many of us growing in two cultures will do our best to fit in, some of our elders don’t appreciate the struggle we grow through. In retrospect, I figured that this was a price I paid to fit in. I’ve researched this a bit more.
People who are terrorized develop symptoms of trauma. These can include flashbacks, panic reactions, disturbed sleep, nightmares, intrusive memories, affect dysregulation, hyper-vigilance, depression, difficulty trusting or betrayal. (See: AMHCA White Paper Publications Treating Trauma and Chronic Distress ). “Chronic, unresolved psychological trauma conditions may also produce physiological responses which can contribute to medical concerns such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and high blood pressure.”
This can also include the effects of “abuse.”
“You grow up thinking you know what the word Torture means, but really, you don’t know what that word refers to until a day comes along when you get it; you begin to understand that you previously had no idea what torture really involved, mostly because up until that point the word was defined intellectually in your mind; there was no pain attached to it, no screaming. It wasn’t quite real before, and now suddenly and in an unwanted manner, it has become more real.
You start to understand what torture means when you experience it either first hand (God Forbid), or (not quite as Terrible, but still very unpleasant) when you speak to people who have been tortured or who have witnessed torture and they tell you their story.”
What I discussed in English does not translate exactly into someone describing it in Punjabi. Many times, the translation is less than perfect.
Children who grow up in two cultures, sometimes will mix Punjabi words into conversations they have in English. On some occasions with my Canadian friends, I would start talking in Punjabi and then as soon as I became aware, I would correct myself. I’ve discovered that when the parents apply cultural pressures to their children to retain their heritage and speak the native language, the brain of the child sometimes, gets confused. This is a common occurrence with children growing up in a mainstream English environment with a native language that is not English.
I intervened and made attempts to correct what this man was asking them. I thought that I could prove him wrong.
To my eyes and ears, the two boys behaved in a manner that is consistent with being terrorized. Though the Grade 10 boy spoke, his attempt to give an answer in Punjabi didn’t work. He was falling all over his words. While he spoke, I observed the body language of the other boy. Though he didn’t say anything, his body language expressed the look of terror in his eyes. Both boys were being intimidated as they watched a grown man like myself, being terrorized.
Before the boy could finish speaking, the man tore into me again. He said, see, we have proof that you told these boys that you do not believe in God. He continued to speak in a threatening manner. I quickly figured out that it really didn’t matter what the boys said. The men in the room had already made up their minds.
I replied by saying that I did not say that I don’t believe in God.
I said that there is a communication problem here. I calmly explained that my conversation with the two teenaged boys was all done in English, but the boy is replying in Punjabi.
But even as I spoke up, I was shouted down. The same man`s voice now went to a much higher decibel. I could see his face was contorted with rage. He continued to accuse me of having come to the gurdwara with the deliberate purpose of doing “parchaar.” [ਪ੍ਰਚਾਰ] (See: Parchaar (preaching).
I told him that I do not do such things.
Then, it was Avtar Singh Brar that spoke up and said you told these teenaged boys that you do not believe in God. When he said this, I could tell that no matter what I said, it simply did not matter. All of the men had made up their minds. No matter what I said or how I said it or the reasoning I used, it did not matter to them. They had concluded that I do not believe in God.
He continued and said that since I did not believe in God, why did I come to the gurdwara?
Now, my reason for coming to a gurdwara was becoming suspect! I began to think of the premise that Sikhism holds about gurdwaras. These places are open to all, irrespective of their caste, faith, religion, creed or race, and gender or sex.
When one looks at the history of the word “gurdwara” (See: Gurdwara – Wikipedia) it says “People from all faiths, and those who do not profess any faith, are welcomed in Sikh gurdwaras.”
But in my case, this was thrown out of the window.
Nonetheless, it was a good question. Despite the ordeal I was going through, it seems that I may have triggered a whole slew of questions that might have been asked. It all depends upon whether or not there is a learning environment. This normally occurs when prospective students repeatedly ask the same question in many forms. At the time these questions are asked, the student is not aware of how his subconscious mind is working to grasp and learn concepts. From my experience of talking with many people, when a student has successfully learned his subject and understood it well, it is only then that the answers really make sense. Until this happens, the questions keep being asked and no amount of teaching or providing answers can replace the moment when something is truly understood.
Despite the terrorizing manner in which these men spoke, I calmly replied that I never said any of what they alleged I had said.
Then, a man on the other side of the room’s corner started shouting at me. He said, “Why don’t you go to Yonge street and do your parchaar there?” I replied in Punjabi and asked him when did I agree to having accepted him to be my guru? He didn’t reply.
I continued by saying to him that if as he says that I go do the parchaar at Yonge Street, that he himself must know of what he said. He seemed bewildered by my quick response.
This is when he got up and walked towards where I was sitting. He stood in front of my chair and towered over me. While using his hands to point at me, he continued to use indecent and foul language. Then, he sat back down in his chair on the other side of the room’s corner.
Since the two teenaged boys were present and witnessing what was going on, I was gravely concerned that the indecent language used by all four men was not the proper way to talk in front of them. I did not point this out to any of the men. I remained calm. In retrospect, the men demonstrated by their behaviour, that they did not have any regard for the very values and morals they want to pass on in the form of so-called “Sikh heritage” to the younger generation. After the ordeal was over, I discovered that two of the men were office bearers of Dixie gurdwara which I will describe later.
The man from across the room continued his tirade. I told him that when he used the phrase “Go to Yonge Street” it usually signifies the double meaning of going to a strip club. He replied, “So what, we have lots of them over here.”
This is when he changed his rhetoric. He then said, “Why don’t you go to Dundas Square and do your parchaar over there?” I said, why should I do that? He didn’t reply.
No sooner had he finished talking that the man who had brought me into the room, got up out of his chair and stood in front of my chair and towered himself over me.
He continued to accuse me of having come to the gurdwara to do parchaar. I replied that I do not do this, you can check your employee books. I am not one of your paid employees who does this.
My response infuriated him.
This is when he grabbed the wrist of my left hand. I could feel his strength. He pulled my wrist forcefully and it felt like he wanted to drag me out of my chair. As my left arm was stretched to its limit, I said why are you stopping at my hand? I pointed with my right hand to my left arm at the shoulder and said, you can cut it off if you want.
I said this in the context of what I had learned from what’s taught in gurdwaras about people who faced martyrdom. Sikh history is loaded with people who were martyred. Some of these examples include, Bhai Mani Singh and Bhai Taru Singh.
When he did that, I firmly told him that he had just assaulted me and I would call the police to have him charged. [See: Assault – Wikipedia]
Assault is an offence under s. 265 of the Canadian Criminal Code. There is a wide range of the types of assault that can occur. Generally, an assault occurs when a person directly or indirectly applies force intentionally to another person without their consent. It can also occur when a person attempts to apply such force, or threatens to do so, without the consent of the other person. An injury need not occur for an assault to be committed, but the force used in the assault must be offensive in nature with an intention to apply force. It can be an assault to “tap”, “pinch”, “push”, or direct another such minor action toward another, but an accidental application of force is not an assault.”
I didn’t have a cell phone to call the police but I did have the courage of my convictions to do so.
When I said this, he was still towering over me. He took out his cell phone and said that he would call the police for me. As he pretended to press some of the keys for 911, he continued his barrage of accusations.
He said, this is what you people want. You want to get your picture in the paper. I had no idea of what or whom he was referring to.
While responding to him, I recall my mouth was very dry and I could barely feel my tongue. No saliva was being produced. Despite observing my body’s reactions to the terror that I was experiencing, I continued speaking.
He went back to his chair.
Then, the man sitting on the right side of me, tore into me. He was very angry and full of rage. I spoke to him in Punjabi and said to him that if these were my own two children, I too would be concerned about whoever they meet and what they are taught. My response did not make his anger go away.
About this time, the man who had brought me into the room, again towered in front of me. From looking at his body language, I felt he was going to take another lunge at me.
While yelling at the top of his lungs, he continued to threaten and intimidate. He said, if you do not believe in God, then you have no business being in the gurdwara.
Avatar Singh Brar agreed with him and also made the same accusation.
I replied that when people of other faiths such as the Christians (not every Christian believes in God) or people who are atheists who not believe in God and come to the gurdwara to attend marriages, do you kick them out too?
I did not get an answer.
Then, I asked which regulation do you have where it states that anyone who does not believe in God, cannot enter the gurdwara? I got no response.
Instead, I was subjected to more anger, harassment and intimidation and verbal threats.
When I was challenged on the point that I did not believe in God, I said that I had told the two teenaged boys that when some people ask me the question, “Do you believe in God”, I usually tell them that I have a problem with the word “believe.”
As I had already explained to the teenaged boys that there are two words, one is “believe” and the other is “know”, I told the men in room, to go check a dictionary for the meanings of these words. The man replied by scoffing at what I said.
I said that the Guru Granth Sahib has many examples of people who did not believe in God. The man across the room asked me where does it say that. I replied that I’m no expert but you can go online and search for this. I said this is part of your homework and I do not lie.
Then, the man who had brought me into the room, made an offer to me. He said he wanted me to leave the room as well as the gurdwara. I told him that I would not accept his offer. The room became silent. After a short period of silence, he repeated his offer. I replied that I would leave the gurdwara on the condition that he ask me to do so by lowering his booming voice and with nimratta. (See: ਨਿਮਰਤਾ – meaning in English ).
As I was able to get this across to him, I added that I would leave the gurdwara but eat langar before I leave.
He lowered his voice and asked me again to leave the gurdwara.
Just before I got up out of my chair, I asked for everybody’s names but no one would tell me. The man who had brought me to the Committee Office (room) 12, said “Everybody knows who I am.”
After I had left the room, I decided to document this incident. I started asking the ragis about both men. I described what they looked like. The man who had brought me to the Committee Office 12 was wearing a deep blue coloured turban. The man on the other side of the room was wearing a green tinge coloured turban. I was told that the man who had brought me to the room, was the President (Jasjit Singh Bhuller) and the other was the Secretary (Harbans Singh Jandali). I later found a calendar with their names and pictures that confirmed who these people were.
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