‘Hate crimes against US Sikhs rising’

August 31st, 2008 - 11:56 am ICT by IANS  

Chandigarh, Aug 31 (IANS) The killings of three Sikhs in separate incidents in the US in August have left the community shocked and is proof that it continues to be a victim of hate crimes, says a leading Sikh advocacy group there.Kavneet Singh, managing director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (Saldef), told IANS in a statement here that they are “shocked and concerned about the number of violent attacks against Sikhs across the United States in recent weeks”.

The three incidents highlighted by Washington-based Saldef include the Aug 4 killing of store worker Inderjit Singh Jassal in Phoenix, Arizona by a black customer, Jermaine Canada. The assailant came to the store with his two children, aged 2 and 6, pulled out a firearm, and allegedly killed Jassal after a short conversation.

On Aug 8, the body of a homeless man, believed to be a Sikh but not yet identified, was found in front of a gurdwara in the Richmond Hill area of New York. The victim had been violently beaten to death and was unrecognisable as he lay in a pool of blood.

In the most recent incident Aug 16 in Oxnard, California, Gurmohinder Singh, the owner of multiple convenience stores in California, was shot and killed by 22-year-old Jeffery Aguilar as he walked out of the US Bank there.

“While these instances have occurred in quick succession over the past weeks, we do not see this as indicative of a trend,” said Saldef national director Rajbir Singh Datta.

“It is, though, a striking reminder of the presence of hatred and the lack of awareness in our country,” he added.

Sikhs, a religious community hailing from the northern Indian state of Punjab, have been at the receiving end ever since the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001. As per Sikh tenets, the community’s males are banned from cutting their hair and have flowing beards and wear turbans, making them resemble Islamic terrorists.

“In too many cases, Sikh Americans have been victims not only of a crime, but also of incomplete police investigations,” Kavneet Singh pointed out.

“Saldef urges investigative agencies that all criminal investigations involving victims are taken seriously and conducted expeditiously,” he said.

Urging Sikhs to present a united front to counter the menace of growing violence, Kavneet said, “Each time a violent crime occurs against a member of the Sikh community, Sikhs must stand together to ensure that the police investigation is conducted in a thorough and comprehensive manner.”

In July 2004, the severe beating of Rajinder Singh outside a New York city restaurant left him with a broken nose from the attack, among other injuries. But he is satisfied with the way his case was handled.

“I am a contented man now. My adopted homeland has done justice to me - my assailants are in jail. America has a better judicial system than India,” he had told IANS.

There have been other cases of damage to properties owned by Sikhs as well.

Various advocacy organizations, which took up cases of crimes against Sikhs in US, have pointed to crimes and discrimination against Sikhs at airports, courts and jails where rules seek to keep hair under a certain limit.

These groups have been running programmes to educate the authorities and people about Sikhs. However, the three fatal August incidents have prove that much remains to be done.

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