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January 25, 2000
No Khalistan connection in gurdwara shooting: worshippers
J M Shenoy
Ajmir Singh Malhi was a vocal Khalistan supporter, but his murder on Sunday had nothing to do with politics, say many associated with the El Sobrante gurdwara. Some worshippers were quoted as saying that the murder suspect was a clean-shaven Sikh who had, in recent weeks, shown an interest in growing a beard and wearing a turban.
Joga Singh Sandher, a 35-year-old cab driver who allegedly shot Malhi with an assault rifle, does not want to be represented by a lawyer, authorities in El Sobrante said.
In a statement, authorities said Sandher "claimed that the victim had no right to deny him the opportunity to speak (to the congregation) today and he needed to correct the victim's wrongdoing."
As Malhi tried to flee, Sandher allegedly chased him and shot him in the arm, witnesses said. Malhi's father, who saw the incident, suffered a heart attack and was taken to the hospital in an ambulance that followed the one carrying his son's body.
Sargent Joseph Caruso said Malhi was found dead at the scene.
Gurdwara Sahib, as the El Sobrante gurdwara is known, was co-founded by Malhi, 48, about 20 years ago. It has witnessed one or two violent incidents: About 15 years ago there was a shootout following an argument between a moderate and a conservative worshipper. The Stockton gurdwara has also seen a number of clashes between liberals and conservatives. The police had to enter the temple premises to quell the unrest there.
"The attack on Malhi should not be given a political color," said a man who answered a phone call from the gurdwara, but who refused to give his name.
He said that people who do not like Sikhs would use the incident to malign them, "but this is not politics." He said it would be wrong to think that El Sobrante was witnessing the kind of violent rivalry seen on several occasions in British Columbia between pro-Khalistanis and moderates. A Punjabi newspaper editor in Vancouver, Tara Singh Hayer, was murdered over a year ago reportedly because he was against the Khalistan lobby. The present attorney-general of British Columbia, Ujjal Dosanjh, was also nearly killed by a man who opposed his stand against Khalistan.
Last year, in a Florida gurdwara, one Sikh shot another, apparently to settle a private argument.
"People kill for any number of reasons," said the man at the gurdwara. "There was a killing at a church in Dallas a few months ago, but where was politics there?"
Others said the shooting would convey a negative image of the Sikhs to the public.
"This is shameless. The temple is a place for praying, not a place for shooting,'' Amarjit Hasethi told reporters.
Eyewitnesses said -- there were over 300 present for the Sunday service -- that Sandher had tried to address the congregation the previous week but had sounded incoherent. Some worshippers said that when Sandher wanted to speak to the congregation again last Monday, Malhi pointed out that the service was coming to an end. Others said Malhi offered to let Sandher read from the scriptures.
As the gurdwara secretary, Malhi could traditionally decide who would address the congregation.
Sandher was so upset with Malhi's refusal that he left the congregation after the langar and returned a few hours later with a rifle and began shooting the worshippers, killing Malhi and wounding another.
Malhi had lived in America for more than three decades and was a math teacher at a high school in Oakland. He leaves behind three children, a college-going son, 20, a daughter, 16, and another son, 13. His widow works as a pharmacist.
Few details are available about Sandher, but many in the congregation say he was a regular visitor at the gurdwara.
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