Hindu chariot burned in Bowne St. arson

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A sacred chariot belonging to a Flushing Hindu temple was burned to a crisp early last week in an arson fire that is under investigation as a bias incident, officials said Tuesday.

At about 1:30 a.m. on Oct. 24, Prakash Bhat, a priest from the Hindu Temple Society of North America, discovered the 10-foot, 300-pound chariot and its surrounding tent in flames in the back yard of his home at 45-52 Bowne St. He immediately contacted the police, who called the Fire Department to put out the fire.

The back wall of Bhat’s house was also damaged by the fire, the flames of which reached as high as the top of the two-story house.- Although Bhat was at home with his wife and newborn child, no one was injured.

“The fire marshals have investigated and determined it is arson,” said state Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin (D-Flushing) at a Tuesday news conference on the site. “We are making a special appeal to see if it is a bias crime.”

At least 10 Sikhs, who are from India but not Hindus, have been attacked in Queens since Sept. 11 because they have been mistaken for the Taliban in Afghanistan, Muslim protectors of terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. Some Muslims have been assaulted in other boroughs.

“At a time when the country is heading in one direction, it is disheartening to see cowards take part in such a senseless act,” McLaughlin said about the Flushing arson.

Bhat’s home is across the street from the temple at 45-57 Bowne St. The temple’s eight priests live in the immediate area.

The chariot was an important religious relic for the temple. It has been used at the head of the annual procession of Lord Ganesha, the temple’s main deity.

“This chariot is the symbolic head of the most festive time of year,” said McLaughlin, who called for extra police presence at the temple.

As of press time, the police had made no arrests in the case. The Queens district attorney’s office is also involved in the effort to find the perpetrators.

The temple arson is one of many crimes in Queens that are under investigation as bias incidents since the World Trade Center disaster. Many of the suspected bias incidents have occurred against Sikhs in Richmond Hill.

The arson is the first major crime that could be categorized as a bias incident since Sept. 11 in the 109th Precinct, which covers Flushing, Whitestone, College Point and Bay Terrace.

Nonetheless, many bias crimes may be going unreported. For example, Karin Afghanzadah found his Afghan restaurant on Main Street vandalized the morning of Sept. 13, but he neglected to notify to police.

“They’re busy; I don’t want to bother them,” he said at the time of the incident.

Both members of the temple and police expressed surprise at the attack.

“We are deeply saddened and shocked,” said Dr. Uma Mysorekar, president of the temple. “I never ever dreamt that such a thing would happen to us.”

“I’ve been here for 20 months, and we’ve only had two or three (bias incidents), ” said Capt. Robert Unverzagt of the 109th Precinct, “As far as hate crimes, it’s a rarity.”

Unverzagt said if the arson was in fact determined to be a bias attack, it would be the worst he had encountered in his time at the 109th.

Bhat has lived in the house for a year and in Flushing for four years. He said that the arson had been discussed in the temple over the last week.

“We had a special peace service after it happened,” he said.

Reach Reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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