Fresno, California – One can call it hate crime, bias attack or just brutality, but no matter what it is called, it must stop. Recently in California an elderly, Sikh man was violently attacked outside the gurdwara he faithfully attends to practice his religion. Eighty-two year old Piara Singh was beaten with a steel pipe outside a Fresno temple in what police believe is a hate crime.
Singh spends his nights at Nanaksar Sikh Temple in Fresno, California, to watch over the grounds and prepare langaar, the free daily meals that Sikh temples traditionally serve. According to his nephew, Charanjit Sihota, on the morning of Sunday, May 5, 2013, Singh left the temple grounds for a morning walk dressed in his usual traditional clothing. Singh’s son, Kawal Singh, was driving to the temple to pick up his father when up ahead he saw a man jump off his bicycle and beat Singh with something metal. He honked the horn and called 911. According to sources, Singh is expected to make a full physical recovery after suffering a punctured lung, fractured jaw, and staples in his head due to lacerations.
Singh is fortunate to have survived such a brutal attack but what about Singh’s emotional recovery?
Too often, members of the Sikh community become victims of hate crimes, bias-based bullying, and discrimination throughout the United States. While we live in a country created by many cultures, races, and religions, we still see these attacks frequently occurring, even in the 21st century. Just because Singh wears a turban on his head does not mean he is any different from the Caucasian man waiting for the bus, or the African American man entering the store, or the Hispanic woman playing with her child in the playground. Just like them, he is a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, and friend. He is a human being regardless of the faith he follows.
Representative Judy Chu (D-CA), co-chair of the American Sikh Caucus, released a statement to the public stating, “My heart broke when I heard about the suspected hate crime on Piara Singh, an elderly Sikh man dedicated to his faith and his community. He was doing what he did every day, volunteering at his gurdwara, when a man viciously attacked him. In the wake of Oak Creek and Elk Grove, it is clear that hysteria and stereotyping are still far too common. We must combat the growing wave of violence and intolerance that threatens the safety and civil liberties of all Americans, including the Sikh American community. That is why I have pushed the FBI to finally begin tracking hate crimes against the American Sikh community. This will help law enforcement officers in every locality to do all they can to prevent violence against this – and all – communities. We cannot wait any longer.”
Since September 11, 2001, the world has been gripped by fear, and many minority communities, including the Sikh community, have suffered from the backlash of misinformation and ignorance. The first reprisal killing after September 11 was of a turban-wearing Sikh in Arizona, who was mistaken as belonging to the group which perpetrated the 9/11 incident.
Sikhs, due to their unique appearance, have since been a target of hate and bias crime and discrimination. Every week, UNITED SIKHS receives reports from Sikh adults and children who are victims of race-based hate crimes, and from those being denied their right to practice their religion. A Sikh’s right to wear his articles of faith has been challenged in schools, the workplace, prisons and other public places. Sikhs also suffer increased harassment by TSA officials at airports because they wear the turban.
While the fear of another attack is understood, nothing justifies channeling that fear through violence towards others based on stereotypes perpetuated by the media. Many Sikh organizations, including UNITED SIKHS, continue to work to stop the cycle by creating awareness of these issues amongst authorities and the public through talks, seminars, and multi-faith events. In addition, advice, counsel and legal representation is offered to those whose legal rights are being denied by errant and misinformed authorities and the public.
Manvinder Singh, UNITED SIKHS Director, attended the town hall meeting at Nanaksar Sikh Temple in Fresno on the evening of Tuesday, May 7 to discuss this vicious attack on Piara Singh. There were 300 attendees, including police officials and Fresno’s Police Chief, who spoke out against hate crimes and the need to educate society on the Sikh religion and its worshippers.
Sharon Persaud is Media & Communication Manager and Anisha Singh is a Policy Advocate, both for UNITED SIKHS