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In city of earliest Sikhs, 80-yr-old is attacked

February 08, 2006 19:40 IST
A hate crime against an 80-year-old Sikh in Yuba City in California has taken the community there surprise and shock, given that it is the first time such an incident has happened there, where 10 percent of the residents are Sikhs with a history of almost a century behind them in the city.

The attack took place about 4:51 pm on January 21 when Harbans Singh, a turbaned Sikh, was riding a bike from Guru Nanak Sikh Temple on Bogue Road to his home in Labor Camp on Garden Highway.

According to Singh, four or five occupants of a maroon-colored Chevrolet Tahoe sports utility vehicle hurled rocks and racial epithets at him from the back. Fortunately, the rocks did not hit him, so he ignored it, according to Shawna Pavey, spokeswoman for the Yuba City Police Department. The men were described as Hispanic or white between 25 to 30 years old, she said.

The vehicle overtook Singh's bicycle and stopped at a corner, where one man got out and pushed Singh off his bicycle.

A bystander called an ambulance, assuming this was an accident when she saw him lying on the road, according to  Pritam Kaur Khalsa, president, Punjabi American Heritage Society, Yuba City.

Singh's son-in-law, Basadur Singh said the attackers were wearing red bandanas. He said they were older teens, around 18 or 19. Singh was taken to the local hospital and released later the same day after an X-ray did not show any injury.

However, later he was unable to walk or get up and was taken back to hospital on January 24

where a pelvic fracture was discovered.

Police have not yet decided whether to charge it as a hate crime. So far there is not enough evidence to classify it a hate crime, police said. No arrests have been made, either.

'It was reported as an accident by a witness who looked out the window. It looked like a car had hit the gentleman, so the witness called it an accident,' police said. 'The nature of this could absolutely change if we come up with something to indicate that they did it because he was East Indian. If at any time they were screaming slurs ... based on this report, it wasn't noted,' Pavey said.

But the Sikh community considers it as a hate crime. Harbans Singh himself said that many other Sikh elders have been facing ridicule recently.

Singh has lived in US for nearly a decade and loves biking. He is reported to be a simple and pious man, belonging to the Namdhari sect of Sikhs. He says he has changed his style of tying turban since 9/11 to avoid any confusion with the style of turbans worn by people in Middle East

There were over 400 incidences of hate crimes against Sokhs nationwide reported by the Sikh Coalition.

'There is nothing that indicates a trend that people are specifically targeting East Indians as a specific group or individuals. But the police need to be made aware of any incidents, and once we're aware of it, we will investigate it thoroughly,' Pavey said.

George Joseph in New York