A “granthi” (Sikh priest) working at a gurdwara in Auckland was found guilty of six charges of sexual conduct with a child at a district court, SBS Punjabi reported.
Sajan Singh, 32, lured two children aged eight and 12 into rooms inside a west Auckland gurdwara in 2017 and inappropriately touched them on separate occasions, the court heard.
Sajan pleaded not guilty to all the charges last month. During the trial, the 12-year-old victim said in her statement to the court that the first time he touched her was when she had walked into the storeroom located on the rear side of the “langar” hall (eating hall) to fetch flour. Sajan groped her three times on separate occasions that day alone that “shocked and terrified her,” the court heard.
The child’s parents informed the police after she told her mother about the encounters nearly two years ago. It is then that they discovered that theirs was not the only child who had been assaulted by the “granthi”.
The girl’s father said he was proud of his daughter for outing this man who was serving at a position that is well “trusted” within the community.
“There’s this blind faith and trust for people in high positions in religion that makes people doubt victims because they simply don’t believe a priest could do these things,” he said.
Calling the incident “unfortunate”, New Zealand’s member of Parliament Kanwalijit Singh Bakshi called for better vetting of prospective employees by the gurdwara management.
“It is unfortunate that one of the preachers who we as a community look up to as a role model has committed such a crime. I, as a member of our community, and the entire community are disappointed, to say the least,” he told SBS Punjabi.
“Going forward, I request all gurdwara management committees to take necessary checks and complete due diligence,” Bakshi said.
Sajan had first travelled to New Zealand in 2015 as the holder of a religious worker visa and later re-entered the country in January 2017 on the same visa which expired in October 2017.
He applied for an extension of his visa, which was declined after he was charged with criminal offences later in the same month. Sajan then appealed the Immigration’s decision in the tribunal, which too was rejected in April 2018.
His two brothers also live in New Zealand and were priests at the gurdwara when the incidents occurred.
Sajan is currently out on bail and is awaiting his sentence hearing slated for September. Sajan’s lawyer said that he would be deported to India after completion of his sentence.