SURREY (NEWS 1130) — Members of a Hindu temple in Surrey planned a ‘sting operation’ to catch a priest they suspected of sexually assaulting women.
Rajpal Sharma, formerly a priest at a temple on 123 Street in Surrey, has been charged with sexual assault and is making his first court appearance in Surrey on Dec. 14. The allegations haven’t been proven in court.
Sharma has been a priest in the Lower Mainland for about 20 years, and was forced to leave the temple earlier this year after the president and committee confronted him about allegations of sexual assault. He was also apparently forced to leave two other temples: one in Surrey and one in Abbotsford. He is believed to still be providing religious services out of his Delta home.
Samarjit Parmar, the president of the Shree Mata Bhameshwari Durga Devi Mandir Society in Surrey spoke with NEWS 1130 about how her organization addressed sexual assault allegations against their leader.
“I just froze. I could not…” says Parmar, trailing off, when she learned of the allegations by a former member.
She says some women at the temple planned a ‘sting operation’ to catch Sharma, but she decided to confront him herself instead. She said she was concerned such a dramatic intervention would be too shocking for him.
“I said I need to talk to him about this and ask him whether he did this or not to these women,” Parmar says. “He’s been with us since 2000, around there, and I never ever thought he was that type of person…I never thought he would do these things to these women, so I wanted to give him a chance to explain himself to me, before the committee.”
Tonight we're hearing from the president of a #SurreyBC Hindu temple about how they kicked out a priest when serious allegations came forward. Rajpal Sharma is facing charges of sexual assault and is due in court Dec. 14.
— Lauren Boothby (@laurby) December 3, 2018
Plus, she admits, she didn’t want the negative publicity these types of allegations would bring.
After that conversation, she and a committee decided to remove him from his position.
“I don’t think he should be a priest if he’s done that, that’s one of the reasons I felt so strongly he can’t sit in the temple and be a priest,” she says.
Sharma worked as a priest at the Society since the mid-2000s until he was removed around May or June of this year. The temple initially allowed him to stay on the property — the organization owns two houses side-by-side, with one used as a temple and the other sometimes used as a residence for the priest and his family — but said he would not be allowed inside the temple or to provide religious services.
“I told him to leave…I told him to go to the other house with your wife because, you know, where’s he supposed to go? He’s got no other place to go,” she says. “When you’ve been with somebody for so many years, you feel obligated, you just don’t want to throw them on the street…I honestly don’t know. I just didn’t want him at the temple at all.”
She says after she told his wife that their family had to leave, they moved out the next day.
New priest, new policies to protect women
Parmar says it can be difficult for Hindu women to challenge someone in power, like a priest.
She says she hopes women can feel safe enough to come forward in cases of sexual assault.
Now a new priest is starting with the temple this week, and a new policy is in place to protect women.
She says the temple has installed security cameras throughout the building, and priests will not be permitted to meet with women alone to tell them their fortunes and give them advice.