WE are living in a time where criminals prey on people at houses of worship. As such, temples and churches have to seek new preventive measures to curb any untoward incidences, such as installing CCTV surveillance systems and a card-access only entrance.
For example, at the Hindu temples, the robbers’ modus operandi would be to stalk devotees, especially women who are adorned with gold and jewellery, who attend weddings at the temple.
The perpetrators are known to capture photographs of the devotees and later follow them back to their houses and rob them of their valuables.
After an extensive CCTV surveillance system was installed at the Sri Sundaraja Perumal Devasthanam temple in Klang six years ago, robberies had decreased tremendously, according to temple president S. Anandakrishnan.
“We have a notice outside the temple that says ‘This temple is under surveillance’ which seems to deter the robbers.
“Before we installed the cameras, we have had cases where some people will saunter in and pretend to be guests at a wedding ceremony and then capture photographs of the temple-goers wearing a lot of jewellery. They will then follow the people home to rob them,” said Anandakrishnan.
One piece of advice he had for his temple devotees was not to adorn themselves with heavy jewellery.
“Wearing too much jewellery will only attract the robbers,” he added.
Anandakrishnan also said he had started hiring his own Rela team to keep guard around the temple premises, especially when weddings are held during early hours of the morning. He felt it was a good way to deter thieves.
What the robbers go after in the temple are the Panchalogam plates made out of five types of metal including gold, which are stowed beneath the deities.
They mostly make the hit during wee hours of the morning between 2am and 4am.
A special prayer is held every 12 years at the temples called the Kumbabishekam (consecration) to rejuvenate the powers of the idols through mantras. This is also carried out at new temples.
Devotees would donate their jewellery and it would be stored with the plates underneath the idols.
“The robbers seem to think the plates are pure gold when in fact they are gold-plated. If they sell it the maximum value would be between RM300 and RM400,” said Anandakrishnan.
A pure gold Sahassaranama Malai (garland), which has 1,800 namas inscribed in Sanskrit, adorns the main deity during big celebrations at the Sri Sundaraja Perumal Devasthanam temple. This garland alone weighs 3.5kg and is kept in a secret chamber.
“We only bring the garland out on special religious occasions,” he added.
Lately, there seems to be a no-holds-barred attitude towards robberies. Within the past couple of years, food establishments have been the targets for armed robberies.
Even with the advent of CCTVs and panic alarms, the culprits bravely saunter in, bring out their parang and threaten people to part with their valuables.
Places of worship, on the other hand, should be a venue where people should feel safe. It is unthinkable how these robbers are now targeting temples and churches.
This has prompted a church in Petaling Jaya to install a card-access security system outside its prayer room. There were a few robberies that took place within the church grounds that involved the church-goers where some of them were robbed at knife-point.
Another church in Petaling Jaya has outsourced a security company to provide surveillance within its vicinity.
Bernitus De Souza, who heads the security company, said they started their services three years ago in providing surveillance services.
He said from 7pm to 11pm, he has two guards patrolling the church vicinity and the surrounding area.
“After implementing our services, the incidences of robberies at the church have dropped drastically. I also advise the congregation at the church to be alert and careful.
“I tell them to avoid loitering in the church because there are people watching them and when walking outside, they (especially the women) should walk against the traffic and be extra careful with their handbags,” he said.
Upon receiving a job to provide their security surveillance services, De Souza said he would observe and plan his strategy on how to provide the best security measure.
“People tend to be complacent. They leave the responsibility solely to the police,” he added.
When Saras (not her real name), 36, attended her niece’s wedding at a temple in Kuala Lumpur three months ago, she never thought that she would be a victim of a robbery that day.
While offering her prayers, she had set her handbag down on the floor for about two minutes and later realised it was gone.
“There were a lot of people at the temple that morning and there were no CCTV cameras. I am more careful now and avoid bringing to many valuable with me when I go to the temple,” she said.
On the PJ Community Alert Facebook page, a woman described how a friend was robbed while praying in a temple in Brickfields last month.
“The snatch thief on a motorcycle single-handedly snatched his gold chain and left him with a torn T-shirt, sprained wrist and bruised hands and legs.”
In May this year, thieves destroyed idols at the Sri Muthumariamman temple along Jalan Nong Chik in Klang and stole jewellery worth more than RM15,000 in an early morning robbery.
According to Malaysia Hindu Sangam president R.S. Mohan Shan, each Panchalogam plate is priced RM1,000 and above.
“The thieves are only after the valuable plates. In most of the cases, the thieves don’t even steal the undial (donation box).
“We were informed that the plates are smuggled out of Malaysia to Thailand as it fetches a higher price there,” he said.
There are 2,236 Hindu temples in Malaysia and 1,890 of that are registered with Malaysia Hindu Sangam.
Mohan said between 30 and 40 temples all over the country have been robbed within the past year. His advice for devotees getting married, for instance, is make sure to hire extra help to secure the temple area.
“One way is for them to get more people to volunteer as guards during the wedding ceremony.
“Hindu temples don’t usually have proper fencing or guarded area, so the robbers see this as the perfect opportunity to make their hit.
“Another option is to hire RELA members to stand guard especially if the ceremony is being held very early in the morning,” he said.
Mohan revealed that in many of the temple robberies, the culprits will perform a ritual by cutting limes and placing them in the four corners of the temple before removing the idols to steal the plates.
“I think they somehow believe that doing the rituals, they are able to charm or control the powers of the idols,” he said.
In December 2010, 25 devotees, who were mostly women, were relieved of their cash and jewellery, including their thali, at a Hindu temple in Jalan Klang Lama while performing prayers by two parang-wielding men.
It was reported that the incident took place at 6.30am.