Wednesday, May 21, 2003, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Arizona Sikh shot in apparent hate crime

Phoenix, Arizona (US), May 20
A truck driver seriously wounded in a shooting was apparently targeted because of his being a Sikh, the police said on Tuesday.

Avtar Singh Cheira, 52, an Indian immigrant, had parked his 18-wheeler late on Monday in north Phoenix and called his son to pick him up from a few blocks away. While he was waiting, at least two young white men pulled up in a small red pickup truck and started yelling, Avtar Singh said at a Phoenix hospital Tuesday.

"I hear that voice: 'Go back to where you belong to.' And at the same time I heard the shot," Avtar Singh said. The men opened fire, wounding Avtar Singh in the lower abdomen and upper thigh. He was not robbed and nothing was taken from the truck, said Phoenix police Detective Tony Morales.

The shooting is being investigated as a hate crime by local and federal authorities. Investigators were still looking for suspects on Tuesday. 

Avtar Singh, a Phoenix resident, is a Sikh and wears a turban and untrimmed beard.
Singh's son, Hardeep Singh, 23, an Arizona State University student, found his father bleeding in the parking lot. "He was in a lot of pain," Hardeep said.

The shooting comes less than two years after Balbir Singh Sodhi was shot to death, allegedly because he was a Sikh. The gas station owner was killed just days after the September 11 terrorist attacks, allegedly because Frank Silva Roque of Mesa mistook him for a Muslim. Roque has been charged but not yet tried for the killing.

Guru Roop Kaur Khalsa, a spokeswoman for the Sikh community in Arizona, said many Arizonans have stood up for the Sikh community since Sodhi's killing, but that Sikhs will need to continue to educate people.

"We feel sincerely that all faiths are good and everyone should have the right to practice their faith and should not be coerced or victimised because of their faith," she said.

Khalsa noted that for Sikhs the turban not only symbolises their devotion to God but is also a symbol of equality of all people. "That symbol is what people are reacting to."

Lakhwinder "Rana" Singh Sodhi, Balbir's brother, knows Avtar Singh and said this second shooting in Arizona is frustrating.

"They're nice people. I can't believe it's happening all over again," Rana said. "He came from his work and was going home. And he was shot, and because he had a turban and a beard?"

Rana said despite education efforts by the Sikh community, ignorance remains widespread.

"We get a little bit everyday," he said. "If someone just yells at you, it really hurts, but what do you do?" AP

Call for positive Sikh profiling

WASHINGTON: The national chairman of the Sikh Council On Education and Religion, Dr Rajwant Singh, called on local and national leaders to find positive methods to address negative profiling of Sikh Americans, even as he consoled the family of Avtar Singh.

"We condemn hate in all forms," says Dr Rajwant Singh, who was invited to the White House days after the September 11 attacks in efforts to thwart religious persecution on American soil. "We stand with God, our nation and the Singh family in Arizona in our opposition to hate. And we are thankful that Mr Singh is greatly recovering from his injuries."

"We were concerned about the increase in discrimination in our neighbourhoods, on our jobs and against our families since the 9/11," says Dr Rajwant Singh. 

"Sikh Americans appeal to the common sense of all American people," he says. "We appeal to our neighbours' well deserved reputation for tolerance and understanding. After all, respect for other religious beliefs and values is at the heart of the Sikh religious creed as well." TNS


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