Yesterday’s gas explosion and fire at the Hare Krishna temple in Leicester was a fearful and devastating event for the community, and a great loss of much-needed physical resource. They had worked so hard to raise funds and local support to make their temple in the suburbs an attractive place for worship and devotional service. But it could have been a lot worse. As it was, everybody was evacuated just before the explosion and only four devotees sustained minor injuries. The day before – Janmasthami – there were 1500 at the temple; at 2.40pm yesterday when it happened there were just 30 celebrating Vyasa Puja.
However, an explosion at a place of worship in an English city with a large Hindu population generates its own publicity and the media reports immediately following the event traveled much faster than the flames did at the temple. By the time night fell the facts of the matter had reached comical levels of distortion.
Sky News first reported it as a suspected terrorist attack on a Hindu temple, while the BBC Radio 5 reported that there was a ‘search for survivors’ underway.
Of course, the internet knows no time restrictions, and ISKCON shortly got a phone call from Pakistan. It was The Pakistan Herald asking for comments on the ‘terror attack.’ This was followed up by a call from the Indian High Commission in London.
It was time for the evening television news in India, and a report went out from a station in Calcutta about the terror attack. But they didn’t have any stock video footage of Leicester to show, so they used some footage of Leicester Square which seemed linguistically pretty close. Sadly, Leicester Square is in London, exactly 99 miles away. But you can’t hold up the television news for the sake of a small detail like that and so they broadcast what they had, and threw in some images of devotees singing along Oxford Street, London.
Then came several alarmed phone calls from ISKCON leaders in India asking about the terrorist attack on the temple in London. Devotees in London, who still knew nothing about what had happened, were puzzled.
Over on the other side of India, media outlets in Bombay broadcast news of a bomb which had gone off in a Hare Krishna temple in London. But they didn’t have any pictures of our temple in London, so they used a picture of Bhaktivedanta Manor instead, and that produced another wave of phone calls.
The sad fact of the matter is that anywhere where people gather can be the site of the next terrorist attack, and even places of worship are not immune. Temples, synagogues, even mosques can be targets. And it is a fact that our Hare Krishna temple in Imphal, Manipur, right over in the far north-east of India was attacked by grenade-throwing terrorists during Janmasthami celebrations there in 2006. At that time four devotees were killed and several were injured. The threat level remains high at every temple.
But the old maxim is still true: don’t believe everything you read in the papers – and on the internet of course. People are people and they make mistakes. They also have a political viewpoint for their media outlet with a corresponding editorial bias. It depends who is paying for the existence of that media outlet. There may also, rarely, be a personal score to settle between the journalist and the individual or group that he or she is reporting. The same is also true, naturally, for those websites which purport to give the visitor ‘the truth’ about ISKCON.
For those who are genuinely after the truth – and that is everyone who considers themselves to be a vaishnava, the following questions have to be asked:
1. What is the source of this information?
2. Are the facts correct? Can they be corroborated? Are all the facts being presented?
3. What is the political viewpoint and editorial policy of this reporter/news outlet? (Note: there is always a political viewpoint of some kind, even from outlets and writers that claim to be free from bias)
Please keep the Vaishnavas of Leicester in your thoughts and prayers. For the story and pictures of what happened (hopefully correct) you can visit HERE