Shaanti Bhavan Mandir:

First Hindu Temple in the United States to Declare Itself a Sanctuary

On March 19th, during Sunday morning prayers, Pandit Manoj announced to the 100 devotees congregated at the temple that Shaanti Bhavan Mandir declares itself a Sanctuary, the first Hindu temple to do so in the United States.

Shaanti Bhavan Mandir is a small Indo-Caribbean Hindu temple in Queens, NY, which on Sunday March 19th announced its decision to become the first Hindu temple in the country to declare itself a Sanctuary and join the growing nationwide Sanctuary movement for immigrant rights.

‘Sanctuary’ is a word that many faith communities are engaging heavily with since Election Day, and the ensuing anti-immigrant policies and actions. This word means many things to many different houses of worship. For some, it is about making physical sanctuary, and offering emergency shelter to people in crisis. For some it means symbolic sanctuary: taking a strong position on immigrant rights, and being a resource to congregants in fear and danger of deportation. Shaanti Bhavan Mandir’s main priest and pandit, Pandit Manoj Jadubans, considers “sanctuary” to be nothing other than “manav seva” or service of mankind.

Pandit Manoj declared after the usual Sunday prayer rituals (puja) and bhajans (religious songs), “My dear sisters and brothers, it gives me the greatest pleasure, this Sunday morning, the 19th of March, 2017, to announce publicly that the Shaanti Bhavan Mandir has joined forces with Sadhana organization to declare ourselves the first Hindu temple that has become a sanctuary in the community.”

He explained that he wanted all congregants, members of the public, and especially other temples to know that Shaanti Bhavan Mandir would be a sanctuary in the community in every sense of the word, physical and symbolic, “There are people in the world today that are confused, they are scared, they feel threatened, and they don’t know what to do, who to turn to, or where to go. And when a Hindu temple – and I hope this gets out to other Hindu temples – when these places can be established, remember a mandir (temple) is not just a place that we come and we pray. It goes beyond that. It’s an institution for higher learning and we are learning how to allow this place to reach out to the public now. Without the people, the mandir cannot survive. What does the mandir do now to repay the public? You give them a shelter, a place where they can come and feel safe and secure and protected. And I am so happy to make this announcement here today.”

Shaanti Bhavan Mandir has created a Sanctuary Committee which includes several representatives of the temple community, and also Sunita Viswanath and Aminta Kilawan from Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus, a non-profit organization that works closely with the temple on its social service activities.  Sadhana has pledged to stand with the temple, and connect the temple and its devotees to the Sanctuary movement which is growing nationwide as a force of resistance to this administration’s anti-immigrant laws and policies.

Aminta Kilawan, co-founder of Sadhana, stated, “This is one the most progressive, welcoming and action-oriented mandirs (temples) in this community and arguably in this nation. So I’m very proud to stand here on behalf of Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus in solidarity and we welcome this and will be there for you in whatever way we can.”

Present at the Sunday worship gathering were AJ Yusuf, representing the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs and Father Juan Carlos Ruiz, co-founder of the New Sanctuary Coalition.

Mr. Yusuf stated, “Regardless of what sort of incursions are set upon us by the federal government, we will keep this city an open and welcoming city to immigrants, to everyone regardless of their religious denomination, sexual orientation, gender. These are New York values. We will uphold them regardless of what’s going on in the federal government. And there’s no other tangible representation of that than what happened here today at this mandir (temple). This is the first act of its kind and we hope that this will be replicated elsewhere in other mandirs, mosques and churches. I cannot express to you how much this means to me as a DACA recipient. So thank you very much. Our office is behind you in whatever shape or form you need us to be and we will support you in whatever way we can.”

Father Ruiz welcomed Shaanti Bhavan Mandir into the Sanctuary movement, “We (New Sanctuary Coalition) have about 150 communities of faith throughout New York that are standing up and saying no to the hate-filled rhetoric and policies that exclude and belittle our brothers and sisters, wherever they come from, whoever they are. I humbly welcome you as part of this network of solidarity, declaring this place, which already is a holy place, as a home for you. And I echo the same words all of you have been praying – that these (sanctuaries) will continue to grow and they will continue to elevate and emphasize who we really are.”

Shaanti Bhavan Mandir, demonstrating its commitment to mobilize other Hindu temples, will hold a general meeting in April 2017, to which the leaders of other Hindu temples will be invited.