This is a guest post written by David G. McAfee. He is author, most recently, of The Book of Gods.
A Bay Area Sikh man was allegedly beaten by three Chevron contractors who also cut off the man’s hair, a major offense to Sikhs who allow their hair to grow naturally as a symbol of respect for God’s perfect creation.
Chase Little and Dustin Albarado have been arrested on suspicion of felony assault for their role in the attack of Maan Singh Khalsa, a Sikh Informational Technology Specialist whose hair was cut off as he waited at a red light in Richmond, Calif., home to the prominent Sikh Temple Gurdwara Shaib. A third suspect has yet to be apprehended, according to the parties involved.
“The attackers caused physical injuries and deep harm when they targeted my Sikh faith,” Khalsa wrote in a public statement. “I urge a thorough investigation so we can address the tide of violence and bigotry in this country.”
Khalsa says his articles of faith were violently desecrated in the Sept. 25 attack, which also resulted in stitches, a black eye, $2,200 in dental injuries, and an infected finger that might require amputation. Sikhs have been increasingly targeted since the World Trade Center attacks in 2001 due to their turbans and facial hair.
As a religious studies graduate, to me this attack represents just one more in a string of completely preventable crimes caused by a combination of religious intolerance and religious ignorance. The attackers in this case and similar cases are both hateful toward Muslims and ignorant of Sikhism in general. The former could be cured by a lesson in humanism, while the latter would require extensive religious education in public schools.
Little and Albarado were arrested, but they haven’t yet been charged with assault-based felonies eligible for a hate-crime enhancement, according to the Sikh Coalition, the nation’s largest Sikh civil rights organization. The group sent a letter to the Richmond Police Department and Contra Costa County District Attorney on Friday urging the authorities to conduct a hate crime investigation.
In the letter, Sikh Coalition Legal Director Harsimran Kaur and Staff Attorney Pawanpreet Kaur called Khalsa’s traditional turban and unshorn hair and beard “religiously-mandated articles of faith” that deserve protection.
“We believe that Mr. Khalsa was targeted and assaulted because of his actual or perceived race/ethnicity, religion and nationality, given that the attack was unprovoked and the assailants intentionally targeted his articles of faith when they knocked off his turban and deliberately cut his unshorn hair with a knife,” they wrote. “The attacker’s oral statements and actions in targeting and cutting Mr. Khalsa’s hair suggest knowledge that unshorn hair is a Sikh article of faith.”
The Sikh coalition reported a sharp uptick in religiously motivated incidents and attacks against Sikhs following the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001. These hate crimes have not abated in the 15 years since, according to the group.
Relative to other vulnerable minorities, Sikhs are disproportionately targeted for discrimination because they wear turbans and maintain unshorn hair (including facial hair) in accordance with their faith. (Punjabi Sikhs are also vulnerable because of their South Asian ancestry, i.e. racial appearance.) The discrimination is largely based upon a mistaken perception that Sikhs are affiliated with Al Qaeda, ISIS, or the Taliban. However, Sikhs are also targeted for being Sikhs, as in the case of the 2012 Oak Creek, Wisconsin gurdwara shooting, in which a neo-Nazi killed six Sikh worshippers and injured four others.
We understand the pain anger and fear this crime has caused for the victim and the Sikh community… My office, the Police Department and the District Attorney have received communication from The Sikh Coalition, a civil rights organization, and I appreciate their efforts to support Mr. Khalsa and to represent the interests of the community.
Butt added that the Sikh people are “known for their generosity, adherence to tradition and strong principles.”
No one should have to experience the fear of being targeted or attacked based on their identity or for practicing their religion. I regret that this violence has penetrated our community, and it underscores the importance of working towards establishing more connections and compassion in our society.
The attorney working on this case told us that the religious affiliations of Khalsa’s alleged attackers are unknown. Whether the attackers turn out to be people of faith or not, though, this attack (and all those in which innocents are harmed based on their beliefs) could have been prevented through a little education.
A spokesperson from Chevron also released this statement:
“Chevron regrets this very unfortunate incident and does not tolerate this type of behavior of its employees or contractors. Chevron has spoken to its contractor regarding their employees and have confirmed these individuals have been terminated. Additionally, Chevron will ensure the individuals committing these alleged acts are suspended from entering the refinery under any other employer.”
Representatives from the Richmond Police Department didn’t immediately return our request for comment on Tuesday.
David G. McAfee is a Religious Studies graduate, journalist, and author of The Book of Gods, The Belief Book, Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist: The Guide to Coming Out as a Non-believer, and Disproving Christianity and other Secular Writings. He is also a frequent contributor to American Atheist Magazine. McAfee, who writes about science, skepticism, and faith, attended University of California, Santa Barbara and graduated with bachelor’s degrees in English and Religious Studies with an emphasis on Christianity and Mediterranean religions.
(Images via Sikh Coalition)