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Lengthy ethnic religious ceremony spurs discontent in Heights neighborhood

Last modified: 10/7/2015 7:02:16 PM
On the final morning of a weeklong Hindu religious ceremony in a Concord backyard – with dozens of attendees, long hours of amplified chanting and cars lined up on the lawn and street – a frustrated neighbor posted a sign.

In second-floor windows overlooking the Pembroke Road gathering, black writing on two sheets of white paper stated: “GO HOME.”

The message struck the celebrants on Monday as intolerant. Most of them are refugees who were thrown out of their home country, Bhutan. But the neighbors said it’s got nothing to do with religion or race.

Next-door neighbor Donna Marie Robie began drafting a letter to the city council, saying that issues between newcomers and longtime residents “need the city’s immediate attention and need to be corrected before they escalate out of control.”

Her letter isn’t finished, but she feels some action is needed.

“There is a high (degree) of unrest and anger as well as some much-needed conversation between the influx and problems refugees encounter, as well as issues they bring acclimating to their new homeland,” she wrote.

The ceremony

Rudra Timsina said his family was permitted to host a weeklong religious gathering with up to 50 attendees at the newly built house he moved into less than two months ago at 83 Pembroke Road. The event – called Saptaha Gyan Maha Yagya, or more simply, Purana – honors deceased ancestors and promotes peace.

An orange-and-red archway led to a white big-top tent in the backyard, where a holy leader for Bhutanese and Nepali Hindus came from Syracuse, N.Y., to participate in the ceremony on the tightly packed 0.32-acre lot, where two porta-potties sat next to a new fence adjacent to 3 Branch Turnpike.

That’s where Robie and her 29-year-old son recently moved into the home where her mother has lived for more than 60 years. She said if a fraternity or any other noisy gathering went on day after day for 12 hours a day, she’d be equally upset.

She said she felt her neighbors had consistently violated their permit, by allowing attendance to more than double the 50-person limit, and also potentially engaged in a number of health and safety violations. It’s because of political correctness, she said, that the event wasn’t shut down by police when officers responded to complaints about noise and parking at the ceremony.

Lt. Tim O’Malley said when police went to the house they found no serious violations. Police required that some cars be moved, he said, but “from our perspective they’ve been compliant with everything. The permits are all there, and we could find no issues when we responded up there.”

Robie said that’s because police didn’t see the biggest crowds or hear the loudest chanting that was being broadcast through loudspeakers.

“We called the police to protect our rights and got a blind ear,” she said. “That’s the frustration, the length of the event, the noise of the event, the eyesore of the event, and disturbing the peace and having no regard for your neighbors when they ask you politely.”

That frustration resulted in her son posting the “go home” sign in his windows.

“Go home. He meant for them to stop partying after nine days,” she said.

Timsina said his family recently built their two-story colonial home on property that they bought from Robie’s family, but now, with their neighbors coming by to take photos of their activities and calling police, he wonders whether it was a mistake.

“We don’t mind (the police coming by), but (the sign), it really hurt us. We felt like we don’t belong here or something,” he said.

His uncle, Rup Timsina, added: “That really pains my heart – like, why? Did we make a mistake to come here?”

Concerned citizens

On Facebook, Robie began to air her complaints about the ceremony in a Concord community group. She said if she tried to throw a seven-day Oktoberfest party that included loud music prompting calls to police, “I can guarantee you I would have been told to cease and desist.”

She decided to branch off and create her own group, which has been joined by more than 160 people. Concord Concerned Citizens is described as “a civil, open place where freedom of speech is tolerated” and people can discuss concerns in their neighborhood “without being called bigots, haters, etc.”

People were upset, she said, because they felt that immigrants were receiving preferential treatment over longtime residents, while not being held to the same standards.

“They’re driving in better cars than me, they’re building new homes, they’re getting credit cards, that’s the issue that a lot of people are concerned about. That’s not my concern. My concern is the fact that if you are in America, you toe the line to the laws and regulations, just as your neighbors,” she said.

After she posted her letter, local commenters amplified her frustrations, saying, “Where I live, we Americans are the minority,” and, “It’s true you can’t say anything or you are considered racist.”

Robie explained about the “disconnect” between the image many people have of refugees and what they’re seeing from those moving to Concord.

“It is hard to grasp for most U.S. citizens when they have their own struggles to make ends meet, are not just handed ‘benefits,’ work hard, pay taxes, when they see groups walking up and down Loudon Road all day or driving brand new cars, having digital iPhones, are able to secure bank loans to build new homes, having credit without jobs, and then basically start taking over existing neighborhoods,” she said. “This community means a lot to me, and that’s why I’m so upset. It’s really going in a wrong direction right now, and it needs to be corrected before somebody acts out.”


Gene Blake, Concord’s longtime licensing officer, said the permit request he received for a gathering of about 50 people is the kind of thing his office approves all the time, such as for block parties or live bands.

“What they put on the application was fine. It was within the parameters of every other application we get for parties. What happened after that, according to the complaints, was a little different than what they put on the application, but it may not have been their fault,” he said, adding that perhaps more people showed up than planned.

He said if they came back and applied for a similar event again, he’d sit down with the applicants and the police department to go over the complaints, and there would be a “very good possibility we wouldn’t issue it for that neighborhood.” Because of the length of the event especially, he said the ceremony would be best situated in a city park with a police detail.

To the neighbors who were upset, he apologized, adding, “We didn’t have a choice. We can’t just say ‘no’ because it’s a party and it has 50 people coming.”

In his 41 years in the code administration office, he said, a weeklong religious festival that prompted so many noise and parking complaints was a first.

Going forward

When she heard about the situation between the neighbors, Jessica Fogg Livingston began thinking about how she could help find a peaceful solution. She said her fellow members of the Greater Concord Area Task Force Against Racism and Intolerance got in touch with the mayor and the police chief to begin organizing a discussion, “not on Facebook, but in person, face-to-face, with some actual productive conversation about how we can alleviate some of this tension going forward.”

“The woman who is living next door, I think she had some valid concerns, but by posting something publicly like that, there were some quite racist and intolerant comments that followed along in the thread,” she said.

That, along with the sign hung in their window, wasn’t a good way to handle the situation, she said.

“Things like that, and posting on Facebook, it just perpetuates the hatred, and there’s nothing productive about those things,” she said.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325 or nreid@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickBReid.)


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