Barbs, Taunts, Worse
The letters started arriving nine years ago; each one more menacing in tone than its predecessor. “You Taliban, go back home,” read one message mailed to Joginder Singh Sodhi’s home outside Washington. As Sodhi’s young family grew, it moved into a new home. Twice. And each time the type-written letters followed. One sent to him in February was laden with dark threats against his family. “The language in this one was vulgar. It said my children would be sold in Cuba and our womenfolk would be tied with our turbans and nasty things would be done to them,” he recalls. “This person has been tracking me, that is the scary part. He knows where I am,” says Sodhi, who preferred to use a pseudonym for this interview out of concern for the safety of his family. FBI investigators have been unable to crack the case of the hatemail.
On August 5, Wade Michael Page, a 40-year-old US army veteran and white supremacist, went on a shooting spree at a gurudwara in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, suburb of Oak Tree, killing six Sikh worshippers, including the gurudwara’s president, who heroically tried to thwart him. Four others, including a police officer who was tending to a fatally wounded man, were injured. The incident shocked the Sikh community. No motive has yet been ascribed to Page’s actions, but details of his role in and support for white supremacist events, websites and rock bands have emerged. The tragedy unleashed a wave of condemnation, including from US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. External affairs minister S.M. Krishna declared: “This is an attitude which does not fit into the proclaimed policies of the United States”.
Gurvinder Singh’s family moved from Haridwar to the US in 1985. He recalls witnessing the carnage of 1984. Friends and relatives were killed by mobs and their businesses looted. “Instead of just giving words of solace to the Sikhs, we’d like (the Indian government) to follow that up with some substantive action to address atrocities committed against minorities in India—not just Sikhs, but Dalits, Christians, Muslims as well,” says Gurvinder, the Ludhiana-born and Dallas, Texas-based director with United Sikhs, a UN-affiliated non-profit, human development, advocacy and relief organisation.
Shaming agents Sikhs in Jammu raise anti-US slogans to protest the Wisconsin shooting. (Photograph by AFP, From Outlook 20 August 2012)
In America, there has been a marked increase in hate crimes against Sikhs ever since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. “If you are an immigrant with brown skin and a turban, it is the worst thing,” says Manjit Singh, co-founder and chairman of the board of the Sikh American Legal Defence and Education Fund (SALDEF). The biggest concern for Sikhs is that many Americans associate their articles of faith—particularly the turban and beard—with terrorism, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Balbir Singh Sodhi, a gas station owner in Mesa, Arizona, was shot dead four days after 9/11. He was not the last victim of such senseless crime.
“In the past 11 years, this notion of turban-equals-terrorist has solidified in the public’s mind,” says Amardeep Singh, New York-based director of programmes at the Sikh Coalition. “The tragedy in Wisconsin is a shocking reminder that so much more needs to be done to humanise the Sikh community and teach people that turban equals neighbour and friend, not terrorist,” he adds.
Ironically, Sikh Americans have also shot to prominence in recent years. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s parents are Sikh immigrants from Punjab. Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the southern district of New York, who is making waves for prosecuting white-collar crime on Wall Street, is the son of a Sikh immigrant too. Only difference: Bharara does not have a beard, nor does he wear a turban.
Narinder Singh, who was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, was the only Sikh in his school and often bullied by students who made his distinct appearance a target of their ignorance-fuelled barbs. Even today, as he walks down the street, racist taunts are occasionally slung at him. Last month, a stranger yelled “Osama” at Amardeep Singh as he headed to a meeting in Hoboken, New Jersey. And a group of teenagers outside a grocery store in Washington taunted Manjit Singh by shouting the Al Qaeda leader’s name.
The FBI does not track hate crimes against Sikh Americans. Members of the US Congress and Sikh American advocacy groups want the FBI to collect such data, but the bureau has been reluctant, citing the community’s small size. “The number of incidents is disproportionate to the size of the community. If you don’t know about the extent of a problem how can you solve it,” says Manjit Singh of saldef.
The highly charged atmosphere has changed how many Sikhs in America live their lives. “We now have to be constantly aware of our surroundings. Are we putting our families and loved ones in danger? Am I walking down a street in a neighbourhood where I, as a Sikh, would be unsafe?” wonders Manjit Singh. Gurvinder Singh of United Sikhs responds matter-of-factly: “Vigilance is the price of liberty,” he says.
In spite of the hate-laced letters, Sodhi’s faith in the American dream has not been shaken: “There are some people for whom ignorance is bliss. We have to educate them...we have to help them understand.”
The shootout at the Wisconsin gurudwara is an eye-opener to Asians (Collateral Errors, Aug 20). It is not simply the work of a madman and, though dismissed by President Obama as ‘domestic terrorism’, is also another in a long, rampant line of hate crimes unleashed on the hapless and unsuspecting Indian community.
One can see the media trying its best to get sympathy for the helpless victims of violence.
It is quite difficult to get sympathy when the victim is male ( nothing to do with caste/nation/religion ).
But putting up three women grieving is bound to get some attention and is the right way forward by the media.
You have no idea of how racism and religion work in USA.
Hate crimes motivated by religious bias accounted for 1,409 offenses reported by law enforcement. A breakdown of the bias motivation of religious-bias offenses showed:
65.4 percent were anti-Jewish.
13.2 percent were anti-Islamic.
9.5 percent were anti-other religion, i.e., those not specified.
4.3 percent were anti-Catholic.
3.8 percent were anti-multiple religions, group.
3.3 percent were anti-Protestant.
0.5 percent were anti-Atheism/Agnosticism/etc.
In 2010, law enforcement agencies reported that 3,725 single-bias hate crime offenses were racially motivated. Of these offenses:
69.8 percent were motivated by anti-black bias.
18.2 percent stemmed from anti-white bias.
5.7 percent were a result of bias against groups of individuals consisting of more than one race (anti-multiple races, group).
5.1 percent resulted from anti-Asian/Pacific Islander bias.
1.2 percent were motivated by anti-American Indian/Alaskan Native bias.
Sikhs don't figure in the list. In fact, as per Pew research , there are no definite data of Sikh population and Pew Research questions the Sikh organizations claim that there are 500000 Sikhs in USA/
The pertinent question is why Sikhs faced the biggest attack again any religion in post 911. Americans want us to believe that Wade Page was a crackpot and he attacked Sikhs in line with his anti immigration prejudice and neo nazi thought. This way it is easier for one to summarize that Sikhs were attacked cause their distinct identity with turbans make them an easy target.
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