PISCATAWAY, NJ — A Piscataway School Board member brought up on an ethics complaint declined to answer questions into a 2019 Democrat Primary campaign flyer sent to Hindu-Gujarati households that named a former board member as a radical leader, causing outrage and fear in some township neighborhoods.
Nitang Patel through his attorney invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination in an administrative law hearing on Monday when asked to address complaints filed by former school board member, Dr. Atif Nazir.
Nazir, a veterinarian and director of Plainfield's health department, said the flyer included false and inflammatory language about him and was meant to divide the Muslim community during an election cycle.
Nazir, who was not a candidate when the flyer was distributed, said he did not understand why he was named in it and maintains he is not the leader of any “progressive or radical group trying to take over the town government” as was claimed.
“I am about peace and love,” he said. “We don’t need to bring divisive ideology or hateful ideology to the Piscataway community that’s my home.”
Nazir, who served two terms on the Piscataway Board of Education before losing to Patel in the 2018 School Board Elections, said he did not have any issues with his opponent before the letter came up.
Neither Nazir nor Patel were running for any office in the 2019 Democrat Primaries.
The flyer which was distributed to Gujarati and Hindu homes in Piscataway during the campaign was translated into Gujarati and signed by three South Asian officials, including Patel who signed alongside the title “Board of Education.”
By using “Board of Education” with his signature on the flyer, Patel, said Nazir violated multiple provisions of the School Ethics Act, N.J.S.A. 18A:12-21 et seq., “which is intended to ensure that the conduct of school officials holds the respect and confidence of the people.”
The flyer, Nazir said, “enflames historic and contemporary divisions between Hindu and Muslims in India” during a contested Democratic primary. “It provokes fear and hate in the community.”
The region along the Pakistani border where Nazir is from has a long history of racism and violent human rights violations.
“I want to make sure he gets penalized to the full extent of the law,” he said.
However, Nazir and his attorneys said they have not decided whether to pursue criminal charges against Patel.
Senator Bob Smith was also listed in Nazir’s ethics complaint since the flyer indicated it was paid by the Election Fund for Senator Bob Smith. However, he did not appear at the hearing for questioning.