Four Sikh elders have been attacked in parts of New York over the last month, with the latest taking place just this week—highlighting an alarming rise in anti-Sikh violence in the U.S.
Sikh elders have been the targets of malicious attacks, and it’s those with turbans, known affectionately as “Sadarjis” and/ or “Babajis” who are being targeted.
The first incident that came to light was the attack of Nirmal Singh, a 70-year-old on a tourist visa who had hoped to take part in the upcoming Vaisakhi parade—a joyful time for the Sikh community. On a morning walk in early April, just two blocks from a nearby Gurdwara in Richmond Hill, Queens (also referred to as Little Punjab), Singh was snuck up on and assaulted.
Singh’s injuries included a black eye, broken nose and critical head wounds, as well as damage to his pag (turban) which was left in a bloody mess. According to Richmond Hill Political Candidate Japneet Singh, he was too afraid to tell the police because he was in the U.S. on a holiday visa, but members of the Gurdwara were able to assist shortly after the incident and an investigation ensued.
Following this, a series of attacks occurred on April 12 within just 10 minutes of each other in the same area. Gulzar Singh and Sajan Singh, both in their late 40s and 50s, had their turbans ripped off and were beaten up by their attackers, left bleeding on the sidewalk.
The perpetrators, two non-Sikh men, have since been arrested for the hate crimes, but the violence in the community did not stop there.
Just this week, 62-year-old Kuldip Singh became the latest victim on May 8, after an attempted robbery in which he was held at gunpoint. He suffered from a broken nose and finger, along with severe head injuries. It reportedly took hours for police to arrive on the scene and for Singh to be treated at Jamaica Hospital.
Japneet Singh, the Candidate for NYC Council District 28 who serves the Southeast Queens communities including Jamaica and Richmond Hill, used his platform to once again speak up about the violence.
There has been very little sustained media attention following these attacks, with Sikh leaders such as Singh and Sukhjinder Singh Nijjar, District 24 Leader (who also serves Richmond Hill and other high minority-populated areas), pushing for action to be taken by the city which has historically underserved Sikhs.
Elder Sikhs are scared to walk in their own neighbourhoods after the string of attacks, and
Richmond Hill which has the largest population of Sikhs in NYC seems to be a hotspot for these spiteful acts of hate.
“Sikhs remain among the top five most targeted faith groups for hate crimes in the U.S. There was an 82% increase in anti-Sikh hate incidents between 2019-2020 and due to systemic underreporting, there remains a significant gap between FBI hate crime data and the reality on the ground for Sikhs,” said Amreen Bhasin, legal fellow at the Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group in a statement to 5XPress.
Since the September 11th, 2001 terror attacks the Sikh Coalition came to be a volunteer organization dedicated to the assistance of Sikhs and have documented over 300 cases of violence against them across the U.S.
The number is likely to be much higher, but with the lack of coverage and reporting from victims, it is hard to know for sure. Many victims are also afraid to come forward due to a general distrust of law enforcement, fears around immigration and visas, a lack of proficiency in English, and biases pertaining to religious coverings and attire.
But the fact is that Sikhs and especially Sikh elders are presently at risk, and there is a need to put continued attention on the ongoing violence.
“We can’t combat the problem of hate if we don’t understand the full scope of the problem in the first place. We must report hate and track hate crimes nationwide and make that reporting by law enforcement mandatory,” Amreen Bhasin further emphasized.
“The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which included the Heyer-Jabara NO HATE Act, was a major step forward in this area--but there is still work to do to protect all of our communities.”
The hashtags #StopTheViolence #StopTheHate #JusticeForSikhAmericans may be getting some attention on social media, but there hasn’t been any real urgency in raising awareness of the Anti-Sikh violence and discrimination that the government, education system, media and law enforcement have the power to shine a light on.
There needs to be immediate action taken to stop these horrific attacks so Sikhs can feel safe in their communities. Those with authority and influence should be at the front-lines speaking out against this, with a no-tolerance policy.
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