Review of attacks against Sikhs from 9/11/2001 – 9/11-2015.
By Raif Karerat
A routine trip to the grocery store warped into a nightmarish ordeal for Indian American Inderjit Singh Mukker, a turbaned Sikh, after he was brutally assaulted on Tuesday evening in Darien, Illinois.
“We believe Mr. Mukker was targeted and assaulted because of his Sikh religious appearance, race or national origin,” said Harsimran Kaur, Legal Director for the Sikh Coalition and spokesperson for the Mukker family.
Kaur informed NBC News that 59-year-old Mukker, a U.S. citizen, was looking to turn when the driver of the car next to him started yelling obscenities and racial slurs, including “Bin Laden,” “Terrorist,” “Go back to your country,” and “Why are you driving that small Prius, I’ve got a big SUV.”
After the light turned green, the other driver continued to drive aggressively. When Mukker pulled over to let the other car pass, the other driver instead stopped in front of him, exited his vehicle, and began repeatedly punching Mukker in the face through the open car window until Mukker lost consciousness for 10 or 15 minutes.
NBC reported that Mukker was rushed to a hospital after passersby called the authorities, where he was treated a fractured cheekbone, a laceration to his cheek which required six stitches, a black eye, bruising, and swelling.
Darien Police Chief Ernest Brown confirmed that the police department was considering the attack a hate crime, that a suspect had been identified, although no charges had yet been filed, and that the suspect was in the hospital for unknown reasons.
“No American should be afraid to practice their faith in our country,” said Mukker in a press release. “I’m thankful for the swift response of authorities to apprehend the individual, but without this being fully investigated as a hate crime, we risk ignoring the horrific pattern of intolerance, abuse and violence that Sikhs and other minority communities in this country continue to face.”
According to a 2009 Sikh Coalition report, 41 percent of Sikhs surveyed in New York City had been called derogatory names, such as “Osama bin Laden” or “terrorist.” According to the same report, 9 percent of Sikh adults have been physically assaulted since 9/11 because of their religious identity.
The attack is the latest in a long string of violent attacks against Sikhs in a post-9/11 United States. While 2015 marks the first time hate crimes against Sikh, Hindu, and Arab Americans were tracked by the federal government, the Sikh Coalition has kept its own records for a number of years. In just the months following the attacks of Sept. 11, more than 300 incidences of hate crimes against Sikhs were reported, according to the national organization.
Some of the notable hate crimes against Sikh Americans since Sept. 11, 2001 include:
- Sept. 15, 2001: The Sikh owner of a Chevron gas station in a Phoenix suburb was slain by a gunman just days after 9/11, in one of the first major cases of violence against a Sikh American in the wake of the attacks. Balbir Singh Sodhi, 49, was fatally shot by 42-year-old Frank Roque, a Mesa, Ariz. resident, who said he was lashing out at “Arabs” after watching repeated footage of the World Trade Center attacks on television. He also attempted to shoot a Lebanese American clerk at a nearby Mobil station and fired at a home owned by Afghan Americans. As he was being arrested on charges of first-degree murder, Roque reportedly shouted, “I stand for America all the way.”
- Dec . 10, 2001: Surinder Singh Sidhu had been wearing a star-spangled turban in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to display his patriotism, but nonetheless the Los Angeles liquor store owner found himself the victim of an anti-religious attack. As the 47-year-old closed his shop, two men entered with 4-foot metal poles and beat him more than 20 times, reportedly saying “We’ll kill bin Laden today.” Sidhu was treated for head injuries but survived.
- May 20, 2003: Fifty-two-year-old Sikh immigrant and truck driver Avtar Singh was shot in his 18-wheeler while waiting for his son to pick him up in Phoenix, Ariz. As he was shot, he heard someone say, “Go back to where you belong.” Singh’s son, Hardeep, a 23-year-old Arizona State University student at the time, found his father bleeding in the parking lot.
- July 11, 2004: Two Sikh cousins were attacked by a horde of five men as they entered an Indian restaurant in Queens, New York City. Rajinder Singh Khalsa and his cousin Gurcharan Singh, the restaurant’s owner, were stopped by the group of allegedly drunk men outside the restaurant. “Give me back my curtain,” said one assailant to Singh before beating the pair of Sikh Americans. The 54-year-old Khalsa was rendered unconscious by the attack, and was taken to the hospital with a broken nose and bruised eye socket. The five assailants were found guilty of various charges, including assault, harassment, and aggravated harassment.
- May 30, 2007: A decorated U.S. Navy veteran of the Gulf War, Kuldip Singh Nag was approached by a police officer outside of his home in Joliet, Ill. for an expired vehicle registration tag. The officer subsequently assaulted Nag with pepper spray while hurling expletive-laced anti-immigrant epithets. Nag’s wife and six year-old child both witnessed the assault, which resulted in Nag immediately being admitted to the hospital where he stayed for five days due to complaints of intense pain and head trauma. Nag also received numerous bruises and a serious head injury which have caused him to go blind for several minutes at a time.
- Jan. 14, 2008: A 63-year-old Sikh American, Baljeet Singh, has his jaw and nose broken when he was accosted outside his temple by a man who lived next-door. David Wood, the attacker, had apparently disturbed members of the Hyde gurdwara in the past, which is situated in Hyde Park, New York City.
- Oct. 29, 2008: Ajit Singh Chima, 69, was punched in the face and kicked by an unknown assailant while out for a walk in Carteret, N.J. Less than three weeks prior, a 10-year-old boy, Gagandeep Singh, was jumped while walking home from school in the same area. His turban was removed and his hair was cut off, an offense to Sikhs who grow their hair as a sign of religious devotion.
- Jan. 30, 2009: 21-year-old Sikh American Jasmir Singh was beaten and stabbed in the eye by three men who taunted him for his beard and pulled his long hair. “It was racial,” said Singh, who said his friend, who is white, was unharmed in the attack. Singh eventually lost vision in his left eye as a result of the attack.
- Nov. 28, 2010: A Sacramento, Calif. cab driver was beaten by two Hispanic men after dropping them off. Sikh American Harbhajan Singh, 56, was left bleeding in his cab after the attack, during which one of the men aggressively asked if he was Osama bin Laden. Singh was punched more than 10 times and suffered facial fractures. After a five-day manhunt, the two men turned themselves in to police. One received 13 years in prison for the attack.
- March 4, 2011: Two elderly Sikhs were shot as they took an afternoon stroll in Elk Grove, Calif., a suburb of Sacramento. Surinder Singh, 65, was pronounced dead at the scene, while his friend Gurmej Atwal, 78, was rushed to the hospital in critical condition and died six weeks later. Both men were gunned down as they slowly meandered through a quiet neighborhood, the apparent victims of a drive-by shooting. The gunmen were never found.
- Aug. 5, 2012: A gunman killed six people and critically wounded three at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis. during Sunday services before police shot him dead in an attack that authorities labeled an act of domestic terrorism. The suspect was a bald, white man, approximately 40 years old, said Thomas Ahern, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Authorities did not release his identity.