Timeline: A History of Violence against Sikhs in the Wake of 9/11

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M. Spencer Green / AP

Amardeep Kaleka, son of the president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, center, comforts members of the temple, Aug. 6, 2012, in Oak Creek, Wis., where a gunman killed six people a day earlier before being shot and killed himself by police. Satwant Kaleka, 65, founder and president of the temple, died in the shooting. He was among four priests who died.

Sunday’s shooting incident at a Sikh gurdwara in a Milwaukee suburb is only the latest example of a history of violence against devotees of the centuries-old South Asian religion since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. In the majority of these cases, Sikhs say, they were mistaken for Muslims, because of their religious dress, which includes turbans, beards and long robes. The Sikh community, which totals around 314,000 in the U.S., is entirely separate from the Muslim faith. But in the wake of 9/11, violence against Sikhs spiked.

Prabhjot Singh, co-founder and trustee of the New York-based Sikh Coalition, started the group on the evening of 9/11 “to respond to the tragic events of that day,” he tells TIME. Sikh-Americans were attacked twice that day, he says: once by the terrorists, and once by “fellow Americans” who mistook Sikhs for Muslims. His organization, which fields reports of discrimination against Sikhs across the nation, serves as an advocate for all devotees of the religion and attempts to foster goodwill between Sikhs and other Americans. “We’re hoping this tragic incident can be used as an opportunity to engage in maybe a broader dialogue of xenophobia in America,” he says. The Sikh Coalition has received more than 1,000 complaints of violence or discrimination against Sikhs since September 11, 2001. Here are some of the worst attacks:

Sept. 15, 2001: The Sikh owner of a Chevron gas station in a Phoenix suburb was murdered 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.” He was convicted of Sodhi’s murder and was sentenced to death, which was later reduced to life in prison. Sodhi’s name was added to Arizona’s 9/11 memorial in the wake of the tragedy.

(PHOTOS: Wisconsin Community Reacts to Sikh Attack)

Nov 18, 2001: A Sikh house of worship, the Gobind Sadan, was severely damaged in an arson attack just months after 9/11. Located in Palermo, N.Y., 30 miles north of Syracuse, the temple was set ablaze by three local teenagers who reportedly mistook the name as “Go bin Laden.” Located in an old farmhouse, most of the structure was destroyed after the teens tossed beer bottles at the windows and then set it on fire; the only surviving rooms were the ones containing the Sikhs’ holy scriptures. The temple was later demolished to make way for a new one, which reopened in 2008. The three teenagers were charged with arson in the blaze, which caused $120,000 worth of damage.

Dec 10, 2001: Surinder Singh Sidhu had been wearing a star-spangled turban in the wake of the terrorist attacks to show his patriotism, but it couldn’t stop the Los Angeles liquor store owner from being the victim of a vicious 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.

March 14, 2004: Vandals spray-painted anti-Sikh graffiti on a Fresno, Calif. temple just before worshippers gathered for Sunday services. The racist phrases ‘Rags Go Home’ and ‘It’s Not Your Country’ were scrawled on the outside walls of the Gurdwara Sahib in the northern Calif. city. No one was ever arrested in connection with the graffiti.

July 11, 2004: Two Sikh cousins were attacked by a group of six people as they walked into an Indian restaurant in the New York City borough of Queens. 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,” one allegedly said to Singh before beating them. The 54-year-old Khalsa lay unconscious after the attack, taken to the hospital with a broken nose and bruised eye socket.

(MORE: Sikh Temple Shooter Had Ties to White Supremacists)

July 30, 2006: A Sikh grandfather was stabbed in the neck with a steak knife by a man who wanted “to kill a Taliban.” Iqbal Singh was standing in his driveway in Santa Clara, Calif., preparing to depart for religious services, when Everett Thompson, 20, ran up to him and stabbed him with the knife. Thompson was arrested and charged with attempted murder and a hate crime.

November 28, 2010: A Sacramento, Calif. cab driver was beaten by two Hispanic men after dropping off them and their wives. Harbhajan Singh, 56, was left bleeding in his cab after the attack, during which one of the men asked if he was Osama bin Laden. Singh, a Sikh, was beaten more than 10 times and suffered facial fractures. He stumbled to a nearby housing complex to ask for help. After a five-day manhunt, the two men turned themselves in to police. One received 13 years in jail 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 ambled slowly through a quiet neighborhood, seeming victims of a drive-by shooting. The gunmen were never found.

MORE: Indians Demand Justice After U.S. Sikh Massacre

6 comments
Signalier
Signalier

This is very sad.  The criminals are the muslims.

Viswa Prasad Yadav
Viswa Prasad Yadav

History is good ,but misunderstading is gone, that why,it was happened

Hughes Hunt
Hughes Hunt

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sac12389
sac12389

Wait so the bad thing about violence against Sikhs is that people mistook them for Muslims who apparently it's totally okay to exercise prejudice and violence against? The tragedy of what happened in Wisconsin wasn't that a man got the wrong religion it's that apparently that America can bomb the middle east all throughout the 90's and then be surprised when radical groups rise up in those areas who are against America (I'm not condoning 9/11 I'm just saying I understand how it would be easy for radical groups to find support from regions of the world that America has bombed; those bombs didn't intend to harm civilians but that is not often a comfort to those who have had their loved ones killed). Then they think its okay to retaliate against the events of 9/11 by harming innocent people who happen to share a religion with a few extremists (a religion that is believed will out number christianity within a few years globally). Violence and prejudice are bad no matter who it is against. 

Brook Adler
Brook Adler

OH my God. Poor people. You in US should really work on your education system and today that includes your superficial mass-media too. They should own up for their role in creating such ignorance and  hate.

GrandpaTarkin
GrandpaTarkin

...and the funniest part is that only a few groups of muslims wear turbans, like the Touareg. Keffiyehs are not turbans, and they don't really look similar.

But hey, no one EVER accused racists in general and white supremacists in particular of being well-informed.