Friday, September 14, 2001, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

US Sikhs taken for Arabs, face backlash
PM directs Indian Embassy to take steps
T.R. Ramachandran
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 13
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has expressed serious concern about members of the NRI Sikh community in the USA being the targets of the discernible backlash against the Arabs in that country.

He took up this issue with Union External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh here today and directed that the Indian Embassy in Washington and the mission in New York should intervene by taking up the matter with the authorities immediately so that the Sikh community did not come under attack.

The devastating airborne terrorist strikes in New York and Washington appears to have brought the NRI Sikh community in the USA under a cloud because of a wrong perception that they belong to the Arab world.

Some members of the Sikh community living in New York and nearby New Jersey have had a taste of the seething anger among Americans towards Arabs since Tuesday’s numbing crash of civilian jet aircraft into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York. Some of them were manhandled and beaten up. Reports of such an incident occuring outside a gurdwara in Los Angeles has also trickled in.

Information received here suggests that incidents connected with the members of the Sikh community being heckled and taunted and taken by the police and security agencies for interrogation in the USA is a case of mistaken identity.

Two members of the Sikh community travelling to Rhode Island were asked to disembark enroute and detained for questioning. It was only a few hours later and at the intervention of the leaders and members of the community that they were allowed to go.

The members of the Sikh community especially those living in New York and neighbouring areas are worried about the turn of events and have been advised to remain indoors till tempers to cool down.

Mr Tarlochan Singh, who has been inundated with telephone calls from New York, Los Angeles and other centres where there is a sizeable Sikh population, immediately wrote letters to the Prime Minister, Mr Jaswant Singh, and the American Ambassador in New Delhi Robert D Blackwill to use their good offices in ensuring the protection of the Sikh community in the USA.

He told Mr Jaswant Singh in his letter that because of their turbans and flowing beards, Sikhs are viewed as Arabs and followers of Saudi Arabian fugitive Osama bin Laden. Mr Tarlochan Singh pointed out that similar incidents had taken place in 1976 and in 1991 when terrorists bombed the US Embassy in Nairobi. He impressed upon Mr Jaswant Singh to urge the Bush administration to dispel the impression that Sikhs were Arabs or had any links with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Stating that many “Sikhs have been roughed up in a number of places over the last two days coupled with the police detaining several of them for interrogation,” Mr Tarlochan Singh informed Mr Blackwill that “this is causing concern because the Sikhs have been a part and parcel of American society for several decades and stood by the American people in every way.” He urged Mr Blackwill to explain to the American people about the separate religious identity of the Sikhs.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs said this evening that the immediate provocation for the “stray attacks” on the Sikhs in New York was not known but it is understood they were mistaken for Arabs probably because of their headgear.

India’s Counsel-General in New York is in touch with the New York Police Department and he has been assured that the NYPD would provide extra patrols in areas where NRIs are in large numbers. The Counsel-General has also been assured that the local police in New York will take all precautions to prevent any further attack on the expatriate Indian community. Simultaneously, the Counsel-General has advised NRIs to take precautionary measures over the next few days.

The spokesperson said 400,000 Indians were in USA of which 5 to 10 per cent were working in the World Trade Center in New York. As of now 40 Indians are reported missing, she added.

For information on Indians in New York, anxious relatives and friends can dial the number 00-1-212-447-2998.


US Sikh bodies condemn attacks
Tribune News Service

A joint communique, signed by leading Sikh organisations in the USA has condemned the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, as well as attacks on individual Sikhs in the USA.

The message has been issued by New York Sikh Community, Sikh Network, Sikh Sewa, New York, Sikh Heresy Regulation Board, Sikh Human Rights Collective, Sikh Sisterhood, United Sikhs in Service of America and Sikh Youth Federation of North America said: “We stand behind the US Government and pray for expedient capture of the assailants of these heinous assaults”.

“The thoughts and prayers of the entire Sikh community, which numbers over 500,000 in America, are with the victims of these attacks and their families. It is unfortunate that the media has recklessly begun speculating on the identity of the assailants as being from West Asia and as a result, innocent persons with turbans and beards have received threats and been assaulted.

“There are already multiple confirmed assaults on innocent Sikhs in the Metro New York area and across the country. Sikh businesses have been stoned and cars destroyed by ignorant and racist persons. It is imperative that the media and police officials intervene. Muslims, Sikhs and Jews, as well as anyone else who may have beards or turbans are in physical and emotional danger from ignorant and violent persons.”

Many Americans cannot tell the difference between an Iranian Sheikh, an Iraqi cleric, or a Sikh, and this has caused attacks on Sikhs in the USA. It has been pointed out that “the Sikhs faced a similar crisis during the Iran hostage crisis.”

In a message, Carolyn Prorok, from Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania, says: “This afternoon, while watching the news I heard that the FBI in Providence, Rhode Island, stopped a train en route New York City to take into custody for questioning someone believed to be associated with Osama bin Laden... Much to my dismay, when the video clip was shown, they had a Sikh man in custody with handcuffs and putting him into a police car.... this is horrifying”... Back

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