Classes, masses and jackasses - by Kausalya Mohan Back   Home  
Buggie Bajwa's voice chokes with emotion as he speaks. "In all my 28 years in this country, I would never have imagined that I would be attacked in a personal way for racist reasons," he says.

An immigrant from India belonging to the Sikh community, Bajwa is still in a state of shock after his house was spray-painted with hate graffiti the night after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. He and his family found "Terrorist on board" and "Terrorists now you live in terror" sprayed in red paint along their driveway and on their car on the morning of Sept. 13. "It is a scary and unimaginable situation to be in. Unfortunately, it has been harder on my wife, Pinky, who now is terribly afraid for my safety," says the real estate professional who has lived in Woodmore, Colorado Springs for the past nine years.

Bajwa is a victim of one of the numerous reprisal attacks directed against the South Asian Diaspora in general and more specifically towards the Sikh community in the aftermath of the terrorist strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

In yet another incident, Balbir Singh Sodhi, a male Sikh, and owner of a gas station in suburban Arizona was killed during a Sept. 15 shooting spree that, according to investigators was racially motivated.

So far, more than 200 mistaken-identity racial and religious attacks against the Sikhs have been reported from across the U.S.

The perpetrators of such racially motivated crimes are believed to be ignorant about the appearance of Sikh men, and often mistake the Sikhs in their traditional turbans and flowing beards to be Muslims, and hence, co-conspirators with Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden, a radical Islamic militant, who has been identified as a prime suspect in the recent terrorist attacks.

"After this attack on my house, I avoid wearing the turban when I go out," Bajwa says. "If I have it on, I could attract unwanted attention from misinformed attackers."

At a time when blind anti-Islamic sentiment is running high, apart from the Sikhs, other members of the two million strong South Asian community in America have also become vulnerable to racist backlash, mainly because they too bear outward resemblance to Middle Eastern Muslims. Notably, some South Asian women are exercising caution in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

"I am an Indian lady, and could be easily mistaken for an Arab by a racist American. I do fear for my safety nowadays," said Anita Sharma, a Colorado Springs resident.

Echoing her sentiments, 67-year-old Denver-based Rani Malhotra said, " I am always attired in Indian wear - like 'saris' or 'salwar kameezes'. For fear of being attacked, I avoid going out on my own, and prefer my son to accompany me." A slight pause later, a visibly perturbed Malhotra asked, " But why should I stop wearing Indian clothes and start wearing western ones at my age? It is too late to adapt and would certainly not change my 'foreign' looks."

Significantly, the great American "melting pot" is now having to deal with hatred from within it's own boundaries. According to socio-political analysts, these racist attacks generally stem from "ill-informed assumptions" harbored by mainstream American culture about other minority communities in it's midst.

Across the U.S., many minority groups are posing a united front in this time of national crisis, instead of retaliating with violence to the hate crimes being committed against them. The Hindu temple at Denver held a prayer service to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks.

The Greater Boston Area -based United Association of India organized a candlelight vigil for about 200 Indians the Sunday after the terrorist attacks.

In spite of the hate crimes going around, there are some South Asians who have yet to encounter a racist attack directed at them.

"I have not yet been in any unpleasant situation," said Kalani Rathnabharathi, an electrical engineering sophomore at CU, Boulder. "I have led a perfectly safe life ever since the terrorist attacks," said this international student from Sri Lanka.

Tibetan native Tsering Gurmey, a bus driver in Boulder, had similar views to share. "I work with a transportation company and come across hundreds of white people every day. But I have not come across any unpleasant situation. Perhaps it is because I look like I am from Indo-China and not the Arab world."

The racist attacks have even set some South-Asian youngsters thinking. Siddharth Singh, a 16-year-old 11th grader in Rampart High school, Colorado Springs was amazed to see the absence of any animosity towards minority students at his school.

"Right after the attacks, I was almost looking for something to happen to me, but nothing of that nature took place. Students in my school have been very understanding of the racial backlashes against members of my community,"

Going by the enormity of the situation, unquestionably, racist backlash in the nation should be thwarted by a coordinated commitment of the people of America. Such an effort would convey to the world that America is truly a great "melting pot".

Meanwhile, Bajwa attempts to analyze the motive behind the attack on his family with a bit of humor. "There are classes, there are masses and there are jackasses. The people who spray painted my house displayed their ignorance by being jackasses," he smiles sardonically.
Published in NRI world, a portal for global Indians. Author is NRIworld correspondent in Colorado Springs. Recently when one friend of mine sent me an article about how many Indians, who never dressed like Indians are dressing like Indians to distinguish themselves from Terrorists. I told him I hate such type of opportunistic mentality. But when I really envisaged myself in their situation.. may be that is the best way to save our life. Too sad!