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Boston blasts aftermath: Why American Sikhs are worried

New York: Who did it? A day after bombs tore through the Boston Marathon that’s the question on everyone's mind. Police still don't know whether the attack, which left three dead and over 150 injured, was committed by a foreign terrorist, or a sick American. But that hasn't stopped some from lashing out at Muslims, Sikhs and Arabs.

The bombings are producing familiar reactions. The New York Post quickly claimed that the prime suspect was a 20-year-old Saudi national while also inaccurately reporting that 12 people had died. It turned out that the Saudi citizen was one of the injured spectators at the race. Within hours, there were Twitter expressions of visceral hate for Muslims. “Let’s go to Dearborn and kill some of those towel heads,” tweeted a young man.

AFP

Since 9/11, Sikhs have become all too familiar with racial epithets, bullying and violence. AFP

To undiscerning eyes, the turban has somehow got sadly mixed up with Osama bin Laden’s headgear. Indian symbols like turbans, bindis and nose rings sometimes get unexpected reactions in the US. The Boston attack has reopened vulnerabilities in the Sikh community whose members have found themselves frequent targets of hate-based attacks since 11 September.

“My mother wanted me home when she heard of the Boston attack as she was sure someone would harass me in the subway. As a brown-skinned Sikh with a turban and a beard I have had people yelling ‘Go back home, you towel head’ or ‘terrorist’ at me,” said R Singh, who is a college student in New York.

“We are often, in this day and age, mistaken for Muslims,” he added.

US Representative Andre Carson, one of two Muslim members of the House said on Tuesday that he worried the terrorist bombing in Boston would unleash a fresh round of attacks on Muslims, Sikhs and other minorities in America.

“We want to make sure that those who perpetrated this horrendous crime are brought to justice and dealt with immediately, swiftly and effectively. But at the same time we have to be careful not to put certain groups of people into a box," said Carson.

Since 9/11, Sikhs have become all too familiar with racial epithets, bullying and violence.

“We know very little about what is behind this horrific afternoon in Boston, yet it is already clear who is going to pay the price, regardless of the facts,” Sonny Singh, a musician and social justice educator in New York, wrote in The Huffington Post.

“We have to worry about being attacked because of the color of our skin, the turbans or hijabs on our heads, the beards on our faces… I pray that the collective response to yesterday will be drastically different from the knee-jerk racism that pervaded the days, weeks, months, and years after 9/11/01. But honestly, I'm not so sure,” added Singh.

In August last year, white supremacist Wade Michael Page strode into a gurdwara in Wisconsin brandishing a 9 millimeter handgun and multiple magazines of ammunition and opened fire, killing six Sikhs.

Indian immigrant Balbir Singh Sodhi, a father of three, was gunned down at an Arizona petrol pump four days after 11 September by now convicted revenge killer Frank Silva Roque. The situation was so rough that a week after the attacks, then Indian prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee raised concerns about violence against Sikhs in the US in a telephone conversation with former president George Bush.

“After 9/11 I actually got used to passengers sitting next to me on a plane asking to be reseated,” said Navtej Ahluwalia.

Despite America’s efforts at being a pluralistic society, the Sikh Coalition says 60 percent of turban-wearing boys are harassed in schools. Bias attacks against Sikhs spiked after September 11 and "Making Our Voices Heard," a report by the Sikh Coalition found that half of New York’s Sikh students have been bullied in school.

"More than 60 percent of the Sikh students we surveyed suffered harassment or violence in city schools,” said the Sikh Coalition.

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