Practicing peace? Trying to make sense of pandit riot

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: March 16 2014 | 12:01 am - Updated: 1 April 2014 | 9:40 am in

By Kiran Sood


When news broke this week of the Fairfield pandit riot, I was really surprised.

You see, pandits, pronounced “pundits,” are men who are trained in Hindu scriptures and preside over significant occurrences in our lives. As an Indian-American, I’ve encountered pandits at numerous times while I was growing up.

For example, pandits preside over “havans,” which are gatherings held at people’s homes and at temples for special occasions. If a family purchases a new home, for example, they have a havan at their home led by a pandit. If a couple is welcoming their first child, they will have a havan so the newborn can be blessed by the pandit and by elders in the family.

Whenever I’ve attended services at temples, a pandit, dressed in all white, will say the prayers and lead the service. These men are trained in India and are responsible for helping to channel God’s spirit into the room for everyone who is present.

Pandits are trusted and treated with the utmost respect. After havans, pandits are usually served their meal first. They are strictly vegetarian. They are friendly but usually don’t say much.

As I’ve read coverage of the riot, I’ve wondered about the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield. As my colleague Erin Jordan reported in her story Thursday, the university and Vedic City “were both founded on the principles of Transcendental Meditation, introduced in the 1950s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.”

The actions of the pandits this week don’t at all strike me as those of pandits I’ve encountered my entire life and don’t seem representative of the beliefs and practices associated with meditation.

One of the great lessons we can take away from the riot this week is the importance of learning about other cultures and people who are different from us. One of the people Erin interviewed in her article highlighted the benefits of having a diverse group of people in a small Iowa town.

As Iowa continues to diversify, both Iowans and new immigrants to the state will benefit from better understanding one another. That’s something I learned after talking to Christa Yoakum, director of Nebraska is Home — a part of Welcoming America, a nationwide effort to create more welcoming, immigrant-friendly environments.

The news out of Fairfield this week paints a picture of a group of people raising up against the removal of one of their members. The reason for this removal is “undisclosed disciplinary reasons.”

There is still a lot that is unknown about what happens inside the walls of the meditation camp and what prompted the riot. What were the conditions of the facility where the men are meditating? How frequently were they able to leave and did they get to communicate with relatives back home in India? What led to the removal of the specific man in question? How well are the men being compensated financially for their time and work?

As answers to these questions emerge, it’s important not to rush to conclusions or judgments. In my experience, the Hindu faith is one that promotes peace, tolerance, understanding and respect. As we process the Fairfield pandit riot, we should use those same qualities.

Kiran Sood    Comments: (319) 398-8330 or

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