Five years after Oak Creek massacre, Sikhs in the US continue to suffer
The FBI started tracking hate crimes against the Sikh American community in 2015, but challenges still remain, and no one is more conscious of it than the community itself.world Updated: Aug 07, 2017 11:02 IST
Looking up at United States senators staring at him from their perch at a hearing in September 2012, Harpreeet Singh Saini, then 18, had pleaded with them to “ask the government to give my mother the dignity of being a statistic”.
His mother, Paramjit Kaur, was among six Sikhs gunned down by a white supremacist on August 5, 2012 at a gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, bringing attention to the physical and verbal abuse and attacks suffered by the minority community.
At the Senate hearing after the shooting, Saini argued that crimes against Sikhs should be treated as hate crimes — as statistics that authorities could track and pay special attention to, as they did with other minorities such as African Americans and Jewish Americans.
The FBI started tracking hate crimes against the tiny Sikh American community of an estimated 500,000 in 2015.
But challenges remain, and no one is more conscious of it than the community itself.
“Our gurdwaras must proactively make security a top priority,” Sapreet Kaur of Sikh Coalition, a leading advocacy body for the community, wrote in a note to members on Saturday. “We must educate our fellow Americans about the Sikh community, faith, and traditions.”
From September 15, 2001, when Sikh American Balbir Singh Sodhi — mistaken for someone from the Middle East — became the first person killed in the backlash of the September 11 terror attacks, the community has struggled to familiarise the rest of the country to their faith and their religious accoutrement such as the turban.
“What is our fault? That we have a beard? Or a turban?” Balbir’s brother Harjit Singh Sodhi had said in an interview to Hindustan Times at the home of one of the victims of the Oak Creek shooting.
Saini, whose testimony in 2012 had driven many to tears, is now 23 and works at a gas station outside Oak Creek. He told ProPublica, a news site focussed on investigative articles that took an in-depth look at the community, that some customers want to know if he is an “Arab”.
“Saini knows exactly what they’re driving at. They think he might be a terrorist,” the report said.
Inderjit Singh Mukker, a limousine drive in Chicago, told the publication he was in his car at a traffic signal one evening in 2015 when a young man pulled up in his car alongside and began yelling at him. “Bin Laden,” the man said, “go back to your own country.”
When the traffic light turned green, the youngster cut off Mukker, who stopped the car and rolled down his window. “He came out from the car and started punching me,” Mukker said. “He kept on punching me like he was doing boxing or something.”
Mukker lost consciousness, and when he came to in a hospital, he was told he had a broken cheekbone and had suffered injuries to both eyes. “The bruises healed after a month or two, but my vision took a long time to recover. I went to the eye doctor for three different appointments,” he said.