Wilton community expresses solidarity with Hindu Mandir

Bryan Haeffele photos
More than 150 people of all ages, religions and backgrounds gathered inside Wilton Hindu Mandir, also known as Wilton Hindu Temple, at 68 Westport Road, the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 26, to show their solidarity with the temple following a recent act of vandalism.

On Monday, Sept. 25, the temple’s spiritual leader Swami Balgopal discovered that a rock had been thrown into the window of a building on temple grounds, considered part of the temple’s worship space.

Balgopal said he had no idea who did it or why and that there was no note of any kind at the scene. Wilton police said they are investigating the incident.

“I am upset,” Balgopal  told The Bulletin on Monday.

In an email the morning of Sept. 26, Wilton Presbyterian Church’s Rev. Shannon White said she spoke to Balgopal, who told her it was the third time something like this has happened in six months. The other two times were not reported to police.

During the Tuesday night service, Balgopal thanked everyone for standing in solidarity and showing their support of the temple. What happened, he said, was “very sad.”

“Even if you are strong, still you get scared,” said Balgopal. “We need all your support, and tonight we have that.”

White thanked Balgopal and his congregation for their hospitality and inviting people to their “beautiful place of worship.”

“In the midst of a time that is scary, we stand together to offer hope and love,” she said.

Rabbi Rachel Bearman, of Temple B'nai Chaim, said that night was “one of the most holy nights in the Jewish calendar,” and she was “honored” to spend it at Wilton Hindu Mandir.

“From our temple to yours, we stand with you in friendship and appreciate your hospitality tonight,” she said. “We hope that our friendship can continue in meaningful ways.”

“We stand with each and every one of you and we do not accept any violence or any hate toward any religion,” said Dr. Golnar Sadeghi, a member of the Islamic Institute congregation, Wilton Clergy Association and Wilton Interfaith Action Committee (Wi-ACT) Steering Committee.

Sadeghi said she is an “optimistic person” and takes vicious acts like these as “an opportunity for all of us to get together — from different backgrounds and religions — to worship one God in peace and harmony.”

“In this wonderful town of Wilton, there is absolutely no place for hate,” said Sadeghi.

Wilton Democratic Town Committee Chair and Westport Road resident Deborah McFadden said she came to the temple that night as a neighbor and friend.

“I am appalled by the acts committed against this congregation. I am here with love and I will do all that I can to stand against this hate,” she said.

“I invite us all to go as emissaries from this place, to reach out and find ways that we can heal the wounds, and find new opportunities to stand together, united, in love, without hatred.”

People can be “outraged” by what happened to the temple, said Our Lady of Fatima’s Father Reggie Norman, “but we must be outraged in a positive way.”

“We pray for these people,” he said, “that their hearts may heal and that they stop the nonsense.”

Norman said the community must take that outrage and turn it into action.

“We, as the people of Wilton, must continue to stand together. When we see something, we must say something,” he said. “We must send the message out that we will not tolerate it. Although we love you, we will not allow you to act badly.”

Board of Finance Chair Rutishauser — speaking on behalf of First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice who could not attend the service — said Wilton is a 34-square-mile town with 18,000 people and 6,000 homes.

“That’s what we are, but it’s not who we are. I think of Wilton as one big family. We’re diverse, and one of the elements of that diversity is religious diversity,” he said.

“When someone throws a stone at one of our houses of worship, they’re throwing a stone at all of our houses of worship. We come together as a community to show our faith and support for you because that’s what a family does in a time of need.”

State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) said Wilton must “never tolerate any act of hatred or violence” in the community. “People in our community are frightened by this complete needless act,” she said.

“We mustn’t stand for it. We must continue to show how strongly we feel about this and how important it is to all of us that everyone in our community be serene.”

Wi-ACT Chair Stephen Hudspeth said “the one good thing about despicable acts” is that it draws the community together.

Hudspeth read a resolution signed by all 36 members of Wi-ACT's steering committee that expressed their “profound condolences and deep sadness at the stone-throwing.”

“We pledge our support to you in whatever ways may be most helpful and welcome your presence in Wilton that adds richly to the religious life of the Wilton community, as well as more broadly,” the resolution states.

The committee extended an invite to Wilton Hindu Mandir congregants to join Wi-ACT — a joint outreach composed of congregants of 10 faith-based communities in Wilton.

Having Wilton Hindu Mandir congregants join the committee, Hudspeth later told The Bulletin, is something Wi-ACT has been “looking forward to for some time now.”

“We know that establishing the temple and doing all of the work to make its sanctuary so beautiful has been very time-consuming,” he said, but “maybe now will be a good time for … congregants of our 11th Wilton faith institution” to join.

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