Law enforcement respond to Vedic City unrest
UPDATE: There was somewhat of a community uprising outside Fairfield Tuesday morning.
Law enforcement officers from surrounding agencies were called to help with the disturbance.
It broke out in what may seem like an unlikely place: among a group know as Pandits, who live near Fairfield.
The confrontation happened at the Pandit campus near Vedic City.
Pandits are young men brought over from India, and they are housed in a fenced campus.
They are paid $200 a month to chant and meditate, $150 of which is sent back to their families in India.
Around 6 a.m. Tuesday, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office received a call to help back up security personnel on campus.
A Pandit leader was being escorted from the property in a van for internal disciplinary reasons.
A large group of this Panditâ??s friends were apparently upset at this decision by the Pandit administration and attempted to block his transport.
Sixty to 70 Pandits surrounded the sheriff's office patrol car and shook it.
Police say they also threw rocks at the car, breaking its back window.
The angry Pandits also kicked out one of the cruiser's back lights and tried to pull its mirrors off.
With additional assistance, sheriff's deputies were eventually able to stop the group from traveling away from the property and escorted them back to campus.
KTVO spoke to several Fairfield residents to gauge their opinion on the Pandits and the incident that took place.
Madison, who wanted to remain anonymous, told us she thinks the riots started out of the pandits fear of being sent back to India after the two-year paid program is over.
"The movement will probably say, 'they want to stay here', that's not the truth," said Madison. "If you're staying in a better country, working for your family that can't eat and lives in squalor, then you're not going to want to leave. That's what happens and that's what I think this is coming from."
Cat Grayson said she thinks the program mistreats the pandits.
"I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they were holding people against their will because they have a history of violating human rights," said Grayson. "They just don't treat their people very well."
While Michael Hauth said it's unfortunate the incident occurred.
"They were actually brought over for very high goals," said Hauth. "So it's kind of too bad if they are rioting right now."
Pandits have made headlines frequently for disappearing after their two years are up.
They receive visas as part of the program.
It is likely they disappear because they do not want to return to India but cannot stay on campus.
The pandits were also recently in the national spotlight when Oprah Winfrey featured the program on her show.
Late Tuesday afternoon, KTVO received a press release from a representative of the sponsoring organization, Global Country of World Peace.
Below you will find that statement:
Press Statement: Jefferson County, Iowa Pandit Incident, March 11, 2014
Early this morning, March 11, a Vedic Pandit who was part of the group on the Iowa Vedic Pandit campus in Jefferson County, Iowa operated since 2007, was being escorted off the premises with the assistance of the Jefferson County Sheriffâ??s office to be returned to India for internal disciplinary reasons. A large group of this Panditâ??s friends were apparently upset at this decision by the Pandit administration and attempted to block his transport; an altercation then occurred with local law enforcement officials, which we understand included the throwing of rocks and damage to a vehicle. No persons were injured and the peace was quickly restored.
No similar incidents or violence has occurred in the seven year history of this program where over 2,600 Pandits have come to Iowa to participate in this unprecedented cultural exchange approved by the governmental authorities which involves the Pandits engaging full time in daily group meditation and Vedic performances. Pandits normally come for two to three year tours and return to India, and often then after an Indian leave return to the Iowa facility for an additional tour. The Pandits are aged between 20 and 40 years old and have all gone through rigorous training over 10-15 years in these traditional practices with the affiliated organization in India before coming to Iowa for this program.
A very harmonious meeting was held with the entire Pandit group immediately after the incident to discuss what transpired. An internal review of the situation is being conducted with an aim to avoid any such repeat incidents in the future. We understand no criminal charges are being pressed as a consequence of the incident.
The Jefferson County Sheriffâ??s Office was contacted by personnel of the pandit project on Invincible America Drive to assist the security personnel Tuesday morning.
A pandit leader was being escorted off the property and they were worried that there would be problems. The Jefferson County Sheriffâ??s Office was there only to ensure the safety of all involved.
Before the pandit entered the van to leave the property, 60 to 70 other pandits had congregated in the area. These pandits became increasingly agitated and resorted to throwing rocks at security and sheriff personnel.
The pandit was loaded in the van. As the van was leaving the area, a larger group of pandits ran towards the front gate area.
The van exited the area and was not stopped by the large group. The large group then knocked down a gate that adjoins 170th Street. They started walking east blocking the whole street.
Sheriffâ??s personnel attempted to divert the large group back onto the pandit complex but were unable to do so. The group then surrounded the patrol vehicle and threw rocks at the driver. They also threw rocks at the back window, breaking the window. They attempted to break off the mirrors of the patrol car and kicked out a back light. There were approximately 70-80 pandits surrounding the vehicle. The patrol car was able to back away from the crowd and the officer called for assistance.
The large group then continued east picking up rocks and debris. They continued to throw them at the sheriffâ??s vehicle. After some time, pandit personnel were able to stop the group less than a mile from the property. They were able to walk them back to the pandit property.
Law enforcement agencies staged close to the entrance of the property to contain the group if they did come back onto the roadway. All units were able to go back into service at around 10 a.m.
Assistance was provided by the Jefferson County Sheriffâ??s Reserve, Fairfield Police Department, Iowa State Patrol, Iowa Department of Transportation Vehicle Enforcement, Iowa DNR law enforcement, Wapello County Sheriffâ??s Office and the Fairfield Fire Department.
No personnel were injured during the incident.
(Information provided by Jefferson County Attorney's Office)