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Crimes against Sikhs continue in US amidst spotlight on race relations

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Crimes against Sikhs continue in US amidst spotlight on race relations

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Discrimination seems to be far from over for the Sikh Americans.

Crimes against Sikhs continue in US amidst spotlight on race relations
With the Black Lives Matter movement gaining immense momentum in the United States post the death of George Floyd, the spotlight is back on race relations. However, discrimination seems to be far from over for another community in the country that has long faced the brunt of hate crimes – the Sikh Americans.
On Tuesday, a restaurant in the Sante Fe City of New Mexico, owned by a Sikh, was vandalised and broken into, news agency PTI reported, citing a local media report. The report added that hate messages were scrawled on the restaurant’s walls with some of them reading “White power,” “Trump 2020,” “go home.” Some phrases, according to the report, “contained threats of violence and derogatory racial slurs”.
This is the second incident of hate crime against Sikhs in less than two months. On April 29, a 61-year-old Sikh American was brutally attacked by a man identified as Eric Breeman in Lakewood, Colorado. The attacker told Lakhwant Singh to “go back to your country” but no official hate crime charges were brought against him. A petition for ‘Justice for Lakhwant Singh’ on change.org has been, however, signed by more than 1,800 people.
Sikhs’ identity crisis in the US
There has been an unprecedented rise in hate crimes against Sikhs in the US since Balbir Singh Sondhi, a Sikh American, was shot dead at his petrol filling station in Arizona following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Sodhi was the first victim of hate crime after the terror attack. He was mistaken for a Muslim due to his turban. The assailant shouted he wanted to "go out and shoot some towel-heads" in revenge of actions of Osama bin Laden, CNN had reported.
More than 175 anti-Sikh hate crimes were reported since 2001 in the US, data available with volunteer organization The Sikh Coalition shows. Moreover, the most recent data indicates a 200 percent rise in these crimes from 2017 to 2018, The Sikh Coalition said. According to a 2015 report by National Sikh Campaign, a non-profit organisation, Sikhs experienced daily encounters with discrimination and hate incidents that went unreported and therefore unrecognised.
While the migration of Sikhs to America began over 130 years ago, the followers of Sikhism have been often mistaken for Muslims and referred to as “turban heads”, “Osama” among others.
As per the National Sikh Campaign report, 60 percent Americans admitted to knowing little to nothing at all about Sikhs in the US. 31 percent American said they had never seen or interacted with a Sikh person.
“When Americans see a picture of a man or boy in a turban, they are far more likely to assume that he is Middle Eastern or Muslim than that he is Sikh,” said the report.
In fact, the ignorance or unawareness about Sikhs in the US also reflected in flyers from one of Donald Trump’s campaigns held ahead of the last presidential election. The flyers had an Indian-origin Sikh captioned as ‘Muslim’.
Image: Facebook | SikhChannel840
"I am not Muslim and I am not supporting Trump," Gurinder Singh Khalsa, who featured in the campaign, had told WTHR TV channel.
Sikhs have also repeatedly faced harassment at airports, especially while security check-ups. There have been several incidents of Sikhs being humiliated at US airports by authorities seeking multiple screenings for them.
Volunteer organization The Sikh Coalition has received more than 900 Transportation Security Administration (TSA) complaints on its mobile app called 'Flyrights' since 2012.
Tanvir Singh, a 40-year-old Sikh American driver at the Seattle-Tacoma airport, and his family members, have been repeatedly humiliated at the airports by authorities asking them to go through multiple screenings. Singh has missed flights at least six times due to extreme TSA screening and search practices.
"My family doesn't feel like flying with me anymore," Singh told CNBCTV18.com. Sharing an experience from his trip from Canada to the US, he said, “I was traveling with my wife and six-month-old son and four-year-old daughter. The TSA agents did not allow my wife to buy milk for our son and even water for our daughter, who began vomiting during this screening.”
On another occasion, Singh missed his flight and had to wait for 14 hours at the airport as he was searched and sent through the screener multiple times. “I was sent to a room and six to seven agents followed. The agents laughed at and mocked me while touching my turban," he added.
While the battle against discrimination may have intensified in the US, it is far from over for many such groups.
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