|Indian Americans Speak Out on Brutal Assault|
By Jennette Barnes
The Standard Times (New Bedford, MA)
June 29, 2003
DARTMOUTH -- Friends of beating victim Saurabh Bhalerao say they haven't experienced the kind of hate that police believe motivated four attackers who mistook him for a Muslim.
Fellow UMass Dartmouth student Bhushan Bauskar said the perpetrators would have beaten Mr. Bhalerao, who is Indian and Hindu, even if they hadn't thought he was Muslim.
"He told them he was Hindu, and they didn't stop the crime," said Mr. Bauskar, who attended a UMass Dartmouth conference yesterday on Indian spiritual thought in the West. "They just wanted to beat someone."
Elsewhere in the Indian community, though, people have suffered prejudice since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack, said biochemistry professor Bal Ram Singh, director of the Center for Indic Studies at UMass Dartmouth.
Mr. Bhalerao remained at Rhode Island Hospital yesterday after being beaten and burned when he delivered a pizza to an apartment on Weld Street in New Bedford on Sunday. He was bound, stuffed in a trunk and later stabbed three times.
Police have characterized it as a hate crime, saying the suspects' belief that Mr. Bhalerao was a Muslim contributed to the savagery of the crime. His facial bones were broken, and his face was burned with lit cigarettes, police said.
Another student, a friend of Mr. Bhalerao, said American prejudice should not be blamed for the crime.
"I don't think we should blame the whole country for this. That would be the height of stupidity," said Sathish Thyagarajan. "I hope he feels better, that's all."
Despite its savagery, the assault has been handled well by police and the media, Mr. Singh said.
"Everybody seems to be doing the right thing except for the culprits," he said. "Hopefully the community here will understand that we will not tolerate this."
Word of the assault has spread in the Indian-American community, and on Friday, the professor received an inquiry from the Indian government.
Concern about persecution of people who appear to be Middle Eastern emerged after the terror attacks and has continued through the war in Iraq.
"I'm more cautious about where I travel now," said Jhilam Sanyal of Brookline.
Shortly after the terror attack, her father shaved his beard and mustache to avoid being mistaken for a Muslim.
In Boston, Ms. Sanyal said, a community group advised Indians to choose one type of traditional dress over another, because one appeared less Middle Eastern.
Also in town for the conference, 18-year-old Bijal Patel, a freshman at the University of Virginia, said large religious and cultural gatherings were canceled after the attacks and her parents worried about her wearing traditional clothing for religious programs.
Next week, a rally is planned on the steps of New Bedford City Hall. Indian-Americans affiliated with the university are organizing the event "to protest the hate crime against Mr. Bhalerao and increase awareness about diversity and respect for civil rights."
Among those invited are the mayors and police chiefs of Fairhaven and New Bedford, Muslim organizations, and local members of Congress.
The rally is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Hindu Beaten Because He's MuslimCBS/Associated Press
June 26, 2003
Police arrested three men accused of hogtying, beating and stabbing a pizza delivery man because they mistakenly believed he was Muslim.
Saurabh Bhalerao, 24, was attacked late Sunday while delivering pizza in New Bedford, about 60 miles south of Boston.
The suspects originally intended to rob Bhalerao, but escalated the assault mistakenly believing he was Muslim, said Fairhaven police Chief Gary F. Souza. The attacks continued as Bhalerao, a graduate student at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, explained that he was Hindu.
"He pleaded with his attackers," Souza said. "They were using disparaging remarks…and telling him he should go back to Iraq."
The suspects put the victim into the trunk of his own car and, during the drive to the neighboring town of Fairhaven, Bhalerao managed to loosen his ropes.
When the vehicle stopped he got out and hit one of his assailants with a hammer. The assailant then stabbed Bhalerao before fleeing, police said.
Bhalerao was taken to a hospital, where he was listed in fair condition Wednesday night.
The suspects face various charges including armed assault with intent to murder, kidnapping, and hate crime and civil rights violations. All three have pleaded innocent and were being held on bail.
Police were searching for a fourth suspect.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations called for a federal investigation.
Hate crimes surged in 2001 against people of Islamic faith and those of Middle Eastern ethnicity in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, the FBI reported last fall.
Incidents targeting Muslims, previously the least common involving religious bias, increased from just 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001 — a jump of 1,600 percent. However, anti-Jewish attacks still led the category.
Hate crimes directed against people because of their ethnicity or national origin — those not Hispanic and not black — more than doubled from 354 in 2000 to 1,501 in 2001. This category includes people of Middle Eastern origin or descent, the FBI says.
The increases, according to the report, happened "presumably as a result of the heinous incidents that occurred on Sept. 11" of 2001.
Most incidents against Muslims and people of Middle Eastern ethnicity also involved assaults and intimidation, but there were three cases of murder or manslaughter and 35 arsons.
Hate Crimes Worry U.S. IndiansBy S. Rajagopalan
June 28, 2003
Last Sunday's horrendous attack on an Indian student in New Bedford, Massachusetts has sent shockwaves through the Indian American community. Many expatriates reckon it to be a new dimension to the wave of hate crimes that followed the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Some, however, view it as an isolated incident.
But there is little doubt that hate crimes are steadily on the rise in the US. The Indian sufferers, in about every instance, have been victims of mistaken identity. And most of the victims have been Sikh men, mistaken to be followers of Osama bin Laden because of their turbans and beards.
Saurabh Bhalerao, the victim in the New Bedford episode, is perhaps the first Hindu to be viciously attacked by fringe elements indulging in racial profiling. Bhalerao, too, was mistaken to be a Muslim. "Go back to Iraq," his attackers shouted as they clobbered him, ignoring his protestations that he was a Hindu from India. The graduate student of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is slowly recovering.
There have been well over 250 hate crime incidents involving the Sikhs, most of them in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. But, two years later, Sikhs are still being subjected to attacks. Just a month ago, Avtar Singh, a 52-year-old truck driver, was shot at and wounded in Phoenix, Arizona. In this case, the assailants shouted: "Go back to where you belong."
Preetmohan Singh, director of the Washington DC branch of Sikh Mediawatch and Resource Taskforce (SMART), is among those who believe that hate crimes are now widening in scope. His organisation has come out with an elaborate set of do's and don'ts for the Sikh fraternity.
Amnesty International says that only one out of every nine hate crime cases is getting reported. Singh, agreeing with this contention, says that many Indian expatriates are not coming forward to lodge complaints because of their tenuous immigration status or fear of retribution.
Four days after the 9/11 attacks, Balbir Singh Sodhi was gunned down at his gas station in Mesa, Arizona. The man who killed him exulted: "I am a patriot. I will stand up for my brothers and sisters in New York." Sodhi's brother, Sukhpal Singh, also died in a shootout in Dale City, California, a year later, but the police concluded that it was not a hate crime.
The Indian American community is 1.8 million strong. Among the immigrant groups in the US, it happens to be one of the most affluent. Some Indians feel that this level of prosperity itself could make the community vulnerable to attacks at a time when the US economy is in the doldrums and Americans are losing jobs in a big way.
But Ann Pillai, a community activist living in the US since 1969, believes that hate crimes are not that many now and should not be blown out of proportion. A former hospital administrator in Boston, Pillai says she never encountered any racial ill-feeling in all her 34 years in the US.
Rajwant Singh, chairman of the Sikh Council on Religion and Education, holds a different view. "The number of incidents may have come down, but undercurrent of fear is very much there," he says. Singh, however, is relieved that the White House remains sensitive to hate crimes and the FBI readily takes up such cases.Quote this article on your site