The Sacramento Bee – Slaying of Sikh gas station employee shocks community accustomed to tragedy

Laura Sussman

Sacramento, 10 August 2017. When Harfateh Singh first heard about the July 25 murder of Simranjit Singh at a south Sacramento gas station, the former president of the Sikh Cultural Association at UC Davis thought immediately of the tragedies that already have struck his community.

Closest to home was an attack from 2011, when two men from the Sikh religious minority, Surinder Singh, 65, and Gurmej Singh Atwal, 78, were gunned down while taking their afternoon stroll in Elk Grove. That apparent hate crime remains unsolved.

More recently, Subag Singh was found dead in a canal in Fresno the day before Simranjit Singh’s murder. The 68-year-old Sikh man’s death is being investigated as a homicide but as yet not a hate crime, according to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office.

Last month’s killing of 20-year-old Simranjit Singh, who had come to the USA less than two years ago, hasn’t been linked to his ethnicity or religion, but that violence nonetheless has shocked Northern California’s enormous but tight-knit Sikh community.

“While trying to process the event, I also learned about the older Sikh gentleman who went missing in Fresno, and his body was found in a canal with trauma marks,” Harfateh Singh said.

“Maybe they were both at a wrong place at a wrong time, but what if they were not? I wondered if I will be the next headline or statistic, but I also felt a renewed determination to not stop being who I am.”

Sikh men, in particular, have had to confront more prejudice and violence in the USA, especially after the 11 September 2001, attacks, according to a book by Dawinder Singh Sidhu, a law professor at the University of New Mexico and Neha Singh Gohil, the former Western region director of the Sikh Coalition, a civil rights group.

Sikh men often are confused for Muslims because of the turban and long beard many of them wear for religious reasons. In fact, the first revenge killing in the USA after September 11 was against a Sikh man thought to be a Muslim.

More than 15 years later, Sikhs still face similar problems, even in communities such as Yuba City and Elk Grove, which are part of one of the biggest Sikh populations outside of India.

Some successful Sikhs go on to buying their own gas stations or convenience stores, which often employ more recently arrived Sikhs. Friends of Simranjit Singh said the young man had hoped to buy his own gas station after earning enough money at the station owned by his brother-in-law.

He was also taking an introductory calculus class at American River College to prepare for a possible career in computer engineering.

Singh did not experience episodes of discrimination while in the United States, said his sister, Dimpy Kaur. As for themselves, she and her husband have mostly encountered interest in their customs but “never faced any problems related to religion,” she said.

She added that she did not know whether her brother was killed because of his appearance.

Since moving to the USA in 2007, Harfateh Singh said, he has learned to use his religion to endure the discrimination he’s encountered. He remembered one incident in particular, in his third month after coming to the USA, when a stranger approached him while he was sitting in a San Jose library and asked if he was going to bomb the place.

His reaction, he said, has been to “say a prayer, take a deep breath and remember what’s good in this world.”

Singh said he also has tried to teach people locally and nationally about the Sikh religion, in the hope that through education people will stop mistreating his community.

Rajan Gill, who was born and raised in Yuba City, said Sikhs “mostly face micro-aggressions, such as snide comments or rude stares. They make you feel like the place where you live, where you were born isn’t welcoming and isn’t your home.”

Still, the community has won victories. Rajan’s father, Kash Gill, was elected Yuba City’s mayor in 2009, becoming the first Sikh to head a USA city. Kash Gill insisted that his religion did not play a role in the election. Still, he described the event as a “huge accomplishment for our entire community at large.”

Killings like that of Simranjit Singh, however, quickly dispel that feeling of safety.

The shooting occurred at about 10:30 pm 25 July as Singh and a co-worker were cleaning the Chevron gas station’s parking lot, said Sacramento County Sheriff’s Sergent Tony Turnbull. The suspects began hassling Singh’s co-worker, who went inside to call 911. The men approached Singh, and one of them shot him.

Turnbull said the shooting appears to be the result of the argument rather than a hate crime against Singh.

Two men, Rodolfo Zavala, 23, and his 15-year-old brother, Ramon Zavala, are being sought on murder charges in connection with Singh’s killing. One suspect, Alexander Lopez, 40, of Sacramento, was arrested.

Similar sad news has been a regular occurrence. A 2012 shooting at a Sikh temple [gurdwara] in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, by a white supremacist left six dead. On September 21, 2013, a Sikh professor walking in Harlem was beaten by 20 to 30 men as they screamed “Osama” and “terrorist.”

Also in 2013, an elderly Sikh man in Fresno was beaten with an iron bar in what was possibly a hate crime. In December 2015, Amrik Singh Bal, 68, was beaten and then purposely hit by a car in what Fresno police have identified as a hate crime.

A few days later, a Sikh convenience store clerk was stabbed to death in the same city. In September 2016, two men in Richmond ripped the turban off the head of Maan Singh Khalsa and cut his previously unshorn hair.

“The possibility of hate crime extremely worries me because folks like Simranjit, like me, like my relatives and friends who wear a turban and do not cut their hair or shave their beard, may have to be extra cautious,” Harfateh Singh said.

“But we should not and will not let this dampen our spirits, and we will continue to actively work with allies in combating hate and phobia of any sort.”

Laura Sussman
<lsussman@sacbee.com>

http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article166530492.html

The Tribune – Sikhs among ‘top targets’ of US hate crimes

Washington, 7 August 2017. Sikhs are one of the top targets of hate crimes and sectarian violence in the USA, the community leaders have said as they remembered victims of the 2012 mass shooting by a white supremacist that claimed the lives of six Sikhs at a gurdwara in Wisconsin city.

Several eminent Sikh Americans from across the US, lawmakers, government officials and local leaders participated in prayers held on the weekend to mark the five-year anniversary of the mass shooting.

“We have made commendable efforts to secure our gurdwaras all across the country and taken many preventive measures. But Sikhs are still one of the top targets of hate crimes, sectarian violence and bullying in American schools.

“In recent years, attacks have rather increased manifold,” said Gurinder Singh Khalsa, who heads the Sikhs Political Action Committee.

“Hate has no colour. Hate has no face. Yet we all saw hate five years ago,” Blahair Dulai, president of the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, said, addressing the gathering.

Among the speakers yesterday at the gurdwara was retired Oak Creek Police officer Brian Murphy, who was shot 15 times before the shooter was brought down. (PTI)

http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/sikhs-among-top-targets-of-us-hate-crimes/448741.html

23ABC News – Sikh Riders of America donating and preparing meals at Bakersfield Homeless Shelter

Bakersfield-California-USA, 6 August 2017. On Sunday the Sikh community of Bakersfield will be commemorating the five-year anniversary of a mass shooting that took place at a Sikh place of worship in Wisconsin.

Sikh leaders will donate and prepare meals at the Bakersfield Homeless Shelter, all day, to honor the lives taken.

Leading this event is a local motorcycle-oriented nonprofit called the Sikh Riders of America. This organization was founded after the shooting occurred in 2012.

Bakersfield will join over 20 cities across the country in honoring the lives impacted by the shooting.

http://www.turnto23.com/news/local-news/sikh-riders-of-america-donating-and-preparing-meals-at-baekrsfield-homeless-shelter

The Tribune – Americans call to combat racism, violence on 5th anniversary of Wisconsin gurdwara shooting

Washington, 6 August 2017. Cutting across party lines, various people in the US have called for combating racism, intolerance and violence during the fifth anniversary of the tragic Oak Creek massacre that killed six innocent Sikhs five years ago.

Paul Ryan, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, said: “Over the last five years, the people of Oak Creek have proved they’re stronger than hate and division.” Ryan represents the Congressional district in Wisconsin where a white supremacist went on a shooting rampage at a Sikh gurdwara on August 5, 2012.

“Five years ago, Oak Creek was rocked by a heinous attack on the Sikh temple [gurdwara], and today we look back on that act of violence with solemn remembrance of those who were lost,” he said in a statement.

“The Sikh community is in our thoughts on this fifth anniversary of the Oak Creek attack,” said Senator Ron Johnson.

“Today, we join together as one community on the fifth anniversary of the horrific attack on the Sikh Temple[gurdwara] of Wisconsin,” said Senator Tammy Baldwin.

“I’m also incredibly proud of our Sikh community. Their grace and hopeful message of peace moved an entire nation,” she added.

“Five years after the senseless shooting in Oak Creek, we continue to remember the innocent victims who were killed in this horrible attack,” said Grace Meng, Democratic lawmaker from New York.

“For many generations, the Sikh-American community has made important contributions to our nation and it is unacceptable that they continue to be targets of violence and bigotry. We must combat racism, intolerance, and violence wherever it exists,” she said.

Five years ago, America was struck by a “cowardly and tragic act of violence” that took the lives of six innocent worshippers in a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, said House Democratic Chairman Joe Crowley.

“As we grieve for the victims, their loved ones, and the greater Sikh American community, we are reminded that much work remains to be done. Whether it is a gurdwara in Oak Creek, a church in Charleston, or a mosque in Quebec City, an attack on one faith is an attack on all,” he said in a statement.

“On this somber anniversary, we must reaffirm our commitment to fighting intolerance anywhere and everywhere,” Crowley said.

“A neo-Nazi killed six people at a Sikh temple five years ago. Remember Oak Creek and resist hate in all its forms,” said Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapala.

Eminent Indian-American from Indiana Gurinder Singh Khalsa said the Oak Creek tragedy was a wake-up call for the Sikh community.

“The community needs to engage, educate and empower.

“Sikhs need to do more on the awareness front,” said Khalsa, founder and head of the Sikhs Political Action Committee.

At a time when divisive rhetoric has taken over our country, Sikhs have to remain vigilant while still staying in steadfast to their beliefs and principles,” said Baldev Singh from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Wade Michael Page, a known white supremacist, shot and murdered six people and injured four others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. This was one of the worst shooting incidents in the recent American history.

Those who were killed in this shooting spree were Paramjit Kaur, Satwant Singh Kaleka, Prakash Singh, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, and Suveg Singh. (PTI)

http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/diaspora/americans-call-to-combat-racism-violence-on-5th-anniversary-of-wisconsin-gurdwara-shooting/448013.html

The Mercury News – Sikh massacre at Oak Creek 5 years ago reminds us that we can teach against hate

Jagdeep Kaur Sekhon

Op/Ed, 3 August 2017. On 5 August 2012, a white supremacist opened fire on worshipers at a gurdwara, a Sikh house of worship, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, killing six and seriously injuring several more. The attack ranks among the deadliest hate crimes in USA history.

As Sikhs mark the five-year anniversary of this tragedy, I worry that the threat of hate crimes will continue to haunt our communities until schools, politicians, and ordinary Americans make bias prevention a priority.

The Sikh religion was founded in Punjab, South Asia five centuries ago by Guru Nanak. Social justice and nondiscrimination are cornerstones of the faith. Devout Sikhs express their commitment by wearing a religious uniform that includes a turban, which is worn as a reminder to lead an ethical life and help the less fortunate.

But there is widespread ignorance among Americans about who Sikhs are and what we believe.

After 9/11, this confusion turned to hostility and violence, as ignorant bigots began to conflate Sikhs with followers of Osama bin Laden. Sixteen years later, the risk of anti-Sikh hate crime is as high as ever, and the rise in xenophobic rhetoric in our political discourse has added another layer of worry.

Recently, a man at San Francisco International Airport told my family and me to “go back” to where we came from, even though we are from California and our nationality is American.

This is not a problem exclusively for Sikhs. The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that there have been 250,000 hate crimes in the United States each year from 2004 and 2015.

Americans of all races, religions, and sexual orientations are targeted because of hate, and there is no comfort in any of us assuming this is a problem that only affects other people.

I believe proactive steps can be taken to reduce the risk and incidence of hate crimes.

Our schools need to teach children to respect and appreciate diversity.

According to the Sikh Coalition, Sikh students in California experience high rates of bullying. Muslim and LGBTQ students face similar challenges in our state’s public schools.

When children are demeaned or physically harmed at school because of their identity, parents and educators should work together to create bias prevention programs. If bias is normalized in schools, we should not be surprised when it infects future generations.

Our politicians need to create platforms and meeting spaces to unify their communities against hate.

Unlike President Trump, who likens immigrants to snakes, other public officials can use their convening power to organize hate crime prevention forums for their constituents.

Much like neighborhood crime watch programs, if police, schools, businesses, interfaith groups, and concerned citizens can build local partnerships to combat bias, I am confident we can make progress.

Finally, hate crime prevention is largely a function of how we decide to treat one another.

This is a conscious choice for each of us. According to Sikh theology, all human beings are equal under God; the racial, religious, and gendered labels we apply to each other are irrelevant, and what ultimately count are the content of our character and common humanity.

If we all make an effort to see the world through this lens, then collectively we will make major strides toward stopping the spread of hate.

As Sikh Americans remember Oak Creek, I ask my fellow Californians to say a prayer for the lives that were lost on that day and pledge to build a more welcoming society, in whatever capacity we can, one step at a time.

Jagdeep Kaur Sekhon, who was raised in Emeryville, is a student of UC Berkeley and a volunteer for the Sikh Coalition, the nation’s largest Sikh civil rights organization. She wrote this for The Mercury News.

http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/08/03/opinion-sikh-massacre-at-oak-creek-5-years-ago-reminds-us-that-we-can-teach-against-hate/

The Statesman – Pakistan, India end water talks in Washington

Washington DC-USA, 2 August 2017. Pakistan and India have concluded the much-delayed water talks here “in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation”, raising hopes of avoiding further tensions over an issue with far-reaching consequences.

“The Secretary-level discussions between India and Pakistan on the technical issues on the Indus Waters Treaty took place this week in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation,” the World Bank said in a statement. “The parties have agreed to continue discussions and reconvene in September in Washington,” it added.

In March, India and Pakistan held the annual Indus Waters Treaty talks in Lahore after a gap of two years. The Commission, which is mandated to meet at least once every year, alternately in India and Pakistan, comprises Indus Commissioners from both sides and discusses technical matters related to the implementation of the treaty.

The Secretary of Water and Power, Yousaf Naseem Khokhar, led the Pakistani delegation at the two-day talks which ended on Tuesday at the World Bank headquarters. The Secretary of the Ministry of Water Resources, Amarjit Singh, headed the Indian delegation. The Indian team also included representatives from the External Affairs Ministry.

Pakistan has been protesting over the design and construction of two projects, the 330 MW Kishanganga hydroelectric project and the 850 MW Ratle hydroelectric project, on the tributaries of the Indus in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Indus Waters Treaty was signed in 1960 and involves six rivers: the Beas, Ravi, Sutlej, Indus, Chenab and Jhelum. Brokered by the World Bank, the treaty gave the right to use waters of the first three rivers to India and of the other three rivers to Pakistan.

India has said it has the right under the treaty to set up hydropower plants on the tributaries of the rivers flowing through its territory. Pakistan fears this might reduce the water flow of the rivers into its territory.

The treaty came close to being jeopardized following the cross-border terror attack on September 18 last year on an Indian Army base at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir that left 19 Indian soldiers dead.

Blaming the Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammed for the attack, New Delhi said it would consider revisiting the Indus Waters Treaty, which has withstood three wars and is seen as one of the most successful international agreements.

http://www.thestatesman.com/india/pakistan-india-end-water-talks-in-washington-1501670052.html

The New Indian Express – Two Sikh Americans killed in one week: Reports

Wahington BC, 29 July 2017. Two Sikh Americans have been killed in two separate incidents in one week in California, according to community organisations and media reports.

Subag Singh, 68, was found dead in a canal after he went missing in the morning of June 23. His body had injuries. California law enforcement officials from Fresno county have said that they were trying to find out who was responsible for the killing of the elderly Sikh American.

“Deputies found his body with visible trauma in a canal on McCall and Jensen. Investigators are trying to piece together what led up to the body being found in a canal,” Fox26 news said in a report.

Deputies are not saying if this was a hate crime or not, but members of the Sikh community say this would not be the first, it said.

“Honestly, we are very hurt, it just hurts us. And it just we then, think what else do we need to do,” Gurdeep Shergill, a local community leader, was quoted as saying.

In a separate incident, Simranjit Singh, 20, of Elk Grove was shot dead on July 25 outside a gas station where he worked.

According to Sacramento Bee news, he was shot dead by men who had earlier assaulted his co-worker.

“At this point in both investigations, it is unclear if either of these crimes were racially motivated but we are working with both local and federal laws enforcement authorities to ensure these murders are thoroughly investigated and that the local jurisdictions are treating the cases with the utmost importance,” said Sikh American Legal Defence and Education Fund (SALDEF).

“These attacks are inexcusable and we offer our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of Subag Singh and Simranjit Singh.

“We call upon local and federal law enforcement agencies to thoroughly investigate these heinous crimes and classify them as hate incidents if hate is show to be a motive,” SALDEF executive director Baldev Singh said.

There have been a number of attacks targeting Indian Americans and Sikhs in the recent months in the US.

In March, a 39-year-old Sikh man was shot in the arm outside his home in Kent, Washington, by a partially-masked gunman who shouted “go back to your own country”.

In February, 32-year-old Indian engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla was killed when a US Navy veteran opened fire at him and his friend Alok Madasani, yelling “get out of my country”.

http://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2017/jul/29/two-sikh-americans-killed-in-one-week-reports-1635070.html

NDTV – Sikh-Americans propose to entitle women to sing at Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple)

Sikhs urgently need to end all forms of discrimination against women in all Gurdwaras
Man in Blue

About 120 young Sikhs between the age group of seven and 17 gathered in a Maryland suburb of Washington and raised the question of why Sikh women are not performing kirtan at Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple).

Washington, 26 July 2017. Sikh-Americans have proposed that women should be allowed to sing shabads or hymns at the Golden Temple (Darbar Sahib) to recognise the important role played by them in strengthening the Sikh faith.

About 120 young Sikhs between the age group of seven and 17 from across the United States and Canada, gathered in a Maryland suburb of Washington, raised the question of why Sikh women are not performing kirtan at Darbar Sahib

“It is clear from the many other historical references that Sikh women were crucial to the success of the 5th largest religion and it is extremely important that we give them their deserving role in Sikh affairs, especially being able to sing shabads or hymns at the very heart of Sikhism, in Darbar Sahib, the Golden Temple,” Rajwant Singh, one of the Sikh Americans who taught the campers said.

The Sikh youth camp was organised by the Washington-based Guru Gobind Singh Foundation.

“This Panth would not be where it is today without the actions of Sikh women, so we should recognise their contributions,” said Sehejneet Kaur, one of the counselors who is pursuing dentistry.

http://www.ndtv.com/india-news/sikh-americans-propose-to-entitle-women-to-sing-at-golden-temple-1729419

Sikh 24.com – California sikhs join other protests against mob lynchings in India

Sikh24 Editors

San Jose-California-USA, 19 July 2017. On July 16, Sikh activists joined protests to express outrage against the lynchings of minorities in India.

The protest was organized by The Alliance for Justice and Accountability (AJA) in San Jose, as ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi was elected, the killing of minorities via mobs have skyrocketed.

Along with Sikh Activists, several other groups joined the protests, including the Multifaith Voices for Peace and Justice. A similar protest is scheduled to take place in New York on July 23.

Protesters held banners against the killings of minority communities, especially Muslims and Dalits in India.

Sandeep Singh, a Sikh activist from the Central Valley said, “Today, we have gathered in San Jose against the RSS who have carried out the killings of innocent people, including the Dalits, Muslims and Christians in India.”

“It is a need of the hour to expose the reality of India, which displays itself as a secular nation, but continues to oppress minorities,” he said.

Other protesters held signs such as “India – Hostage to Hindutva?” and “Beef Ban is Cultural Fascism”.

http://www.sikh24.com/2017/07/19/california-sikhs-join-other-protests-against-mob-lynchings-in-india/#.WW_b5ulLfIU

The Tribune – Thirty-six years after plane hijacking, two Sikh militants face trial

Granted two-day bail; have already served life sentence in Pakistan

Satya Prakash

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, 18 July 2017. Thirty-six years after a Srinagar-bound Indian Airlines plane with 111 passengers and six crew members was hijacked and taken to Lahore, two of the five Sikh hijackers appeared before a Delhi court to face sedition charges.

Accused Satnam Singh and Tejinder Pal Singh, who have already served life term in Pakistan for the 1981 crime, appeared before Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Jyoti Kler, who granted them two-day interim bail.

After serving their sentence, Tejinder and Satnam had moved to Canada and the US, respectively, and were deported to India in 1998 and 1999. The other hijackers, Gajinder Singh, Jasbir Singh and Karan Singh, are not in India.

Belonging to the Dal Khalsa, the hijackers had demanded the release of then Damdami Taksal head Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, who was arrested on September 20 that year in a murder case.

Asking the investigating officer to file a report, the ACMM posted the matter for further hearing on July 20.

On behalf of the two accused, senior advocate Mohit Mathur and advocate Manisha Bhandari contended that the duo had already served life sentence and spent 35 years of their life in litigation.

Terming it a “classic example of double jeopardy”, the lawyers said the duo’s entire life would be spent in facing one trial after the other for the “same set of facts”.

Mathur said they couldn’t be tried again for the same incident under a different name, adding that the accused must be discharged.

Dal Khalsa spokesperson Kanwar Pal Singh, who accompanied the accused, said there had been a travesty of justice in the case as the Indian Government had put them on trial after 36 years on “sedition” charges, ignoring their life imprisonment in Pakistan for the same offence.

However, the prosecution and the court maintained that the principle of double jeopardy did not apply as the offences for which they were tried and convicted in Pakistan were different from the ones mentioned in the present chargesheet.

The Delhi Police had filed a supplementary chargesheet in a court on September 29, 2011, under sedition charges. After taking cognisance of the chargesheet, the court had asked the accused to appear before it on July 18 for a fresh trial in connection with the crime that took place on September 29, 1981.

In May 2017, the Delhi High Court had refused to quash the supplementary chargesheet against the accused and asked them to appear before the trial court.

http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/punjab/36-yrs-after-plane-hijacking-two-sikh-militants-face-trial/438789.html