Disciplinary action expected after riot
MAHARISHI VEDIC CITY – The administration at the pandit campus near Maharishi Vedic City believes disciplinary action will result from its review of the riot outside the campus Tuesday morning in which a group of 70-80 pandits surrounded Jefferson County Sheriff Gregg Morton in his vehicle, broke a window and rocked the vehicle back and forth.
Morton said the pandits broke out a taillight on his pickup and tried to break off the mirrors. He said he was able to escape and call for assistance, while the group of pandits continued to throw rocks at his vehicle. Morton was not injured in the altercation.
Morton said no charges are expected to stem from the incident because he cannot identify the people who participated in the attack on his vehicle.
Bill Goldstein, spokesman of the Global Country of World Peace that runs the pandit campus, said the administration is conducting a complete review of the incident and what actions to take in response.
“We need to find out what caused the situation,” he said. “I don’t want to say now what that might be. We’re going to consider what may be done, and it may indeed include disciplinary action.”
A pandit is a scholar of traditional Indian law, rituals and philosophy. About 500 pandits live at the pandit campus, and they spend much of their day meditating and reciting Sanskrit sounds. They believe their meditations and Sanskrit recitations contribute to a more peaceful world. All of the pandits are men and most of them are between the ages of 20 and 40.
The incident began at about 6 a.m. when security personnel at the campus were preparing to send the head pandit, Vidya Shankar Mishra, back to India by taking him in a van to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Security personnel at the campus asked the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office for assistance because they believed removing Mishra could cause problems.
Goldstein said Mishra was asked to leave the pandit campus because of an internal disciplinary matter. Goldstein said he did not want to elaborate on the reasons for Mishra’s dismissal.
The Ledger interviewed Mishra through a Hindi-speaking interpreter in early February. As head pandit, Mishra assumed responsibility for welcoming new pandits and for taking a leadership role in campus activities. Mishra had been at the pandit campus for about three years. He said it is not difficult for him to be away from India for so long because he has made so many good friends at the ashram. He described the other pandits as his “brothers.”
Goldstein said the close bond between Mishra and the other pandits is a great feature of their relationship, but that it likely contributed to the extremely negative reaction some of the pandits had to learning Mishra was being removed from the campus.
Some of the pandits have known each other for 10 years or more, going back to their childhoods in India when they began meditating and learning Vedic scriptures.
“They develop very strong relationships with one another,” Goldstein said. “For someone in a position of leadership, their allegiance is going to be even stronger. When we had to make the decision for [Mishra] to leave, his friends and colleagues didn’t want to see him leave.”
Goldstein said that such strong ties between the pandits are good 99 percent of the time, but they weren’t good Tuesday morning.
“In this particular case, it created the problem we had,” he said. “He’s leaving them. They have close feelings for him, and they acted on it, inappropriately.”
The group of about 70-80 pandits knocked down a gate that adjoins 170th Street and started walking east on 170th Street, blocking the whole street. The sheriff’s personnel attempted to divert the large group back onto the pandit complex but were unable to do so. That’s when the group surrounded Morton’s pickup and threw rocks at it.
Goldstein said the pandits likely viewed Morton as partly responsible for removing their leader from the campus, which is why they attacked him in his vehicle.
Goldstein said the decision to remove Mishra was not discussed publically with the other pandits, and that it’s quite likely most of them found out about it Tuesday morning as Mishra was being loaded into the van.
The van carrying Mishra was able to leave the campus despite the large number of pandits trying to stop it. However, Goldstein said the van turned around and brought Mishra back to the campus to calm the pandits and to discuss the incident with them. He said Mishra will remain on the campus during the review of the incident, but he does not know what will happen to Mishra after that.
At about noon Tuesday, the administration at the campus called a meeting to discuss the incident. Maharishi Vedic City Mayor Bob Wynne and his wife, Maureen, were there. Goldstein said the mayor addressed the pandits and said he didn’t understand what caused them to become violent toward a law enforcement officer. Wynne told the group he wanted to understand why such an event occurred and wanted to make sure nothing like it ever happened again.
Goldstein said the campus does not have exterior video cameras that would have recorded the incident. He said that whether or not the campus needs to increase security or change security policies will be part of the review the administration is undertaking.
Goldstein added that in the pandit campus’s history, acts of violence are very rare. He said the campus has had to return a few pandits to India for disciplinary reasons, and that all previous instances were done without incident.