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Anti-Sikh Hate Crimes Hard to Quantify But Very Real

Sikhs are frequently attacked because they are mistaken for Muslims, but no one knows the extent of hate crimes directed at them.

Hate crimes in America against Sikhs, whose boys and men wear turbans as a basic requirement of the fifth largest religion in the world, are hard to quantify. The FBI does not have a category for anti-Sikh hate crimes, and Sikhs are frequently attacked because they are mistaken for Muslims.

What is known is that large numbers of Sikhs have been victimized, especially during the period immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, Al Qaeda attacks that left some 3,000 people dead. In the first month after the 9/11 attacks, the Sikh Coalition documented more than 300 cases of violence and discrimination against Sikhs.

Although that level of violence certainly dropped in ensuing years, it nevertheless remains a serious problem. The Sikh Coalition surveyed Sikhs in New York in 2008, for example, and found that 9% said they had been assaulted because of their religion that year; a similar survey in the San Francisco area in 2010 found that 10% had experienced bias-motivated assaults or property damage.

Similarly, the Sikh Coalition found that 74% of turbaned boys in the San Francisco area had been bullied or harassed because of their religion. One New Jersey student had his turban set on fire by a fellow student, and a New York City student had his hair forcibly cut by another student who also threatened him.

Here, with thanks to the research of the Sikh Coalition, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT) and the BuzzFeed news site, is a sampling of apparent anti-Sikh hate crimes that have occurred in America since 9/11:

Sept. 15, 2001: Gas station owner Balbir Singh Sodhi is murdered by a white man who mistakes him for a Muslim. Frank Silva Roque had bragged about wanting to “kill the r-------” who were responsible for 9/11.

Dec. 12, 2001: Surinder Singh Sodi is beaten with metal poles by two men who walk into his Los Angeles store and accuse him of being Osama bin Laden.

Feb. 19, 2002: Four teenagers, three boys and a girl, burn down the Sikh temple Gobinde Sadan in Palermo, N.Y. The arsonists later tell authorities that they thought the temple was named “Go Bin Laden.”

July 12, 2004: Two Sikhs are attacked by a group of drunken white men in their 20s as they walk to a restaurant in New York City. The attackers, who mock their victims’ turbans, beat Rajinder Singh Khalsa into unconsciousness.

Jan. 30, 2009: Using racist slurs, three men attack Jasmir Singh outside a grocery store in Queens, N.Y. Jasmir’s father, Jiwan Singh, is attacked two years later on a subway by someone accusing him of being related to bin Laden.

March 4, 2011: Two elderly Sikh men, Surinder Singh and Gurmej Atwal, are shot to death while taking their customary afternoon stroll in Elk Grove, Calif. The motives of the attackers remain unclear but are thought to be anti-Muslim.

Aug. 5, 2012: Longtime neo-Nazi Wade Michael Page walks into a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., and shoots to death six people: Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Paramjit Kaur, Suveg Singh and Satwant Singh Kaleka.