On Tuesday evening in Chicago, a Sikh American was brutally beaten in an attack that law enforcement is investigating as a hate crime.
The attack occurred as Inderjit Singh Mukker, a 53-year-old father of two, was driving to the grocery store around 5:30pm in the Darien suburb of Chicago where he lives, said his attorney, Gurjot Kaur, a lawyer with the Sikh Coalition. When Mukker stopped at a red light, a Chevy reportedly pulled up next to him. Kaur said that the driver, who appeared to be around 17-years-old "saw the turban and saw the beard and started calling him a 'terrorist' saying 'go back to your country, Bin Laden.'"
After the light turned green, the young driver proceeded to keep cutting Mukker off in his car. Finally, Mukker pulled over to let him pass. The driver then parked in front of Mukker and got out of his vehicle, his attorney said. The teen then "aggressively" approached Mukker, who was still sitting in his car, reached through the car window, and began punching him in the face repeatedly for about 10-15 minutes.
Mukker, who was bleeding profusely, lost consciousness. Bystanders who arrived after the incident called 911, and Mukker was rushed to hospital. Medics said he suffered a fractured cheekbone and received six stitches and treatment for lacerations to his face.
Violence of this nature against the Sikh community is not unusual. It heightened especially after the 9/11 terror attacks, when some people mistook turban-wearing Sikhs for Muslims at the same time Islamaphobia also rose, said Kaur. Last year in New York, the Queens District Attorney charged Joseph Caleca, 55, with hate crimes involving attempted murder and felony assault. Caleca reportedly called Sandeep Singh, a Sikh father of two, "Osama bin laden" and a "terrorist," before mowing him down with his pick-up truck. Singh was transported to Jamaica hospital where he was treated for severe abdominal and back injuries.
Two weeks later, Jaspreet Singh Batra, a physician scientist living in New York, was walking with his mother when they were confronted by a group of teenagers who also reportedly called him "Osama bin Laden" and told them to "go back to [their] country." Batra was brutally beaten and transported to hospital after the incident.
The FBI hate crime tracking agency only started collecting data on crimes targeting the Sikh community (as well as the Hindu and Arab American communities) earlier this year after years of community advocacy, which intensified after the 2012 Oak Creek massacre. Kaur says that the lack of data on crimes against Sikhs is "alarming" because "the FBI has been tracking data on hate crimes since the 1990s, and the Sikh community has suffered a "disproportionate amount of violence."
On August 5, 2012, US Army veteran Michael Page, 40, entered a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and fatally shot six people and wounded four others. Page was a neo-Nazi sympathizer who reportedly radicalized at Fort Bragg army base in North Carolina, where a cadre of white supremacist soldiers flew Nazi flags and blasted music endorsing the killing of African Americans and Jews.
"That wasn't just a scary and frightening attack on Oak Creek," Kaur says. "It was an attack on the entire Sikh Community."
Kaur believes that the government is spending too much time worrying about the threat of terrorism from abroad and not appropriately addressing the issue of domestic terrorism and hate groups in the United States. According to data collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of active hate groups almost doubled between 2000 and 2011, jumping from 602 up to 1,018.
In a 2009 report by the Sikh Coalition, 41 percent of Sikhs surveyed in New York City said they had been called "Osama bin Laden" or a "terrorist." The same report found that 9 percent of Sikh adults had been physically assaulted in New York since 9/11 because of their religious identity and appearance.
Kaur says that a general climate of xenophobia and anti-immigration rhetoric in the US is contributing to an increase of these incidences. The data collected by the Sikh coalition also found that 73 percent of New Yorkers of South Asian origin were questioned by law enforcement about their national origin.
Mukker is currently recovering at home and his alleged assailant is in custody.
"No American should be afraid to practice their faith in our country," Mukker told the Sikh Coalition. "I'm thankful for the swift response of authorities to apprehend the individual, but without this being fully investigated as a hate crime, we risk ignoring the horrific pattern of intolerance, abuse and violence that Sikhs and other minority communities in this country continue to face."