Hindu temples quietly joining the sanctuary movement, leaders say

After Shaanti Bhavan Mandir in Queens, New York, declared itself a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants March 19, garnering significant national attention, leaders in the Hindu community say they are gaining more support within and outside the congregation.

The New York Times wrote, “But spearheading that effort is proving more difficult than they had hoped. Last Sunday, no other temples turned up at a meeting intended to encourage others to become sanctuary congregations. Even within their own temple, only a few undocumented immigrants have come forward to begin talking about their status, though more worship there, members said.”

“I’m positive it’s the fear,” said Davanie Singhroy, who is helping lead the temple’s efforts. “No one wants to come forward for fear they are making themselves more visible.”

The struggle at Shaanti Bhavan Mandir mirrors the larger problem that the National Sanctuary Movement, a coalition of some 800 houses of worship, has been having in attracting participation from immigrant congregations of all faiths, its organizers said.

Though Shaanti Bhavan is the first Hindu temple in the country to declare itself a sanctuary, they say, some other Hindu temples, especially in the Indo-Caribbean community,  are helping those who feel vulnerable.

Since its announcement as a sanctuary, members of Shaanti Bhavan’s congregation have begun “quietly” talking to other members of the community who need help, according to activists. At this time, it is those with Green Cards who are eligible to get citizenship but don’t know how, are being helped, said Viswanath.

“We are taking a moral stand that nobody should be deported. It is very much driven by our religion and spiritual tradition — Manav Seva  – that we should join to serve those most in need,” Viswanath emphasized. New York’s New Sanctuary Coalition is helping organize future workshops for the Indo-Caribbean temples, she said.

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