Chakra Announcements

Private Guards Rough Up Devotees in Pretoria

by Eshwar Soriakumar, ISKCON Pretoria, South Africa

Posted November 11, 2006

On the night of Saturday, November 4, 15 members of the Hare Krishna society in Pretoria were on a regular weekly street chanting and singing campaign in Pretoria when a confrontation occurred and they were badly assaulted.

On the regular route through Hatfield square we were accosted and physically assaulted while chanting amid 500 spectators in an open-air restaurant arena.

Security guards had insisted we leave; we attempted to comply while continuing to sing. After a few drunk locals began hurling vulgarities and absurdities at the devotees, the guards came right up to us and grabbed us forcefully. I was grabbed by the hand, spraining my thumb. Gaura das and Bhakta Bali were also grabbed with force.

While we were still trying to leave, six security guards in black uniforms swarmed us. Heavily built and very belligerent, they attempted to provoke us with vulgar words. Devotees protested, and the chief guard came up to me to introduce himself. When I suggested they were discriminating against us, however, he hurled vulgar words in my face. As we walked away, he called me again. As I turned back he quickly sprayed my eyes and mouth with mace. Although I was dazed and in excruciating pain he tried to spray me again. Shanti prabhu pushed me away and got sprayed with mace on the side of his face.

Devotees started screaming and running, including the women and my children Radhe (5 yrs), Tulsi, (7 yrs) and Aditi (10 yrs). The other guards attacked Bhakta Gaura and Bhakta Bali and threw them to the ground and onto chairs of a nearby coffee shop. At one point I attempted a defence by picking up a chair. Temporarily blinded by the mace and not wanting to hurt innocent people, I threw the chair down.

Mace was sprayed into Bali's face, and he was grabbed in a headlock and beaten. He was hit on the head and was bleeding and sustained injuries to his ribs. Svaha dasi attempted in vain to physically defend Bali prabhu from the guards. Bhakta Gaura was thrown and tramped on the ground. My wife Arithie was hit very hard on the arm with some object, causing blue bruising and swelling. My daughter Tulsi suffered swelling and a bad cut on her face from a flying pair of large hand cymbals. Our children and women were screaming and in a panic. Restaurant customers were yelling at the guards, then saying to us: "Why are they doing this to you? You sing so nicely," etc.

Devotees scrambled for shelter, I remained alone on the scene. Blinded, nauseous and unable to stand, mucous poured out of my eyes and nose. The pain was intense, like liquid fire. I chanted the Nrsimha-kavacha prayers for the devotees I saw being attacked; somehow I was not further attacked in my incapacitated state. Arithie came back and tore me away from the scene. I could not see for about 45 minutes and was moaning in pain. Devotees brought water to flush out the mace out but it only made things worse.

Gaura das ran the two kilometres back to the temple and brought my vehicle to get us home to the temple. A stranger drove us home and brought milk to neutralize the mace in my eyes. This finally worked.

A criminal case has been opened at the Hatfield police station. We intend publicising this biased attack in the newspapers. Devotees are disgusted and appalled by this incident. We are attempting to do our best at making a stand against the individuals involved and against the security company as well. Hatfield Square management say that all parties involved will be questioned. The premises are "private property" and people are required to ask for permission before conducting any organised activity, they said.

We appreciate the support, help and advice of devotees and well-wishers in our attempts to establish the free practice and sankirtan of the Holy Names.