Inderjit Singh Mukker was driving to the grocery store on Tuesday in Darien, a suburb of Chicago, when he was harassed on the road by another driver, India TV reports. When the Sikh American father of two pulled over to let the other man pass, the erratic driver allegedly got out of his vehicle and assaulted Mukker while shouting discriminatory slurs like "Terrorist, go back to your country, Bin Laden!"
Mukker lost consciousness during the beating. He sustained lacerations to the cheek and a fractured cheekbone, which required six stitches at a hospital. The brutal attack highlights the discrimination and violence the Sikh community faces every year around the anniversary of 9/11.
The Sikh Coalition, an advocacy group representing Mukker, pressed the Darien Police Department to investigate the case as a hate crime.
"A hate crime is not just an attack on an individual, it’s an attack on the entire community," Gurjot Kaur, Senior Staff Attorney for the Sikh Coalition, told us on Thursday. She was able to confirm from Darien Police Chief Ernest Brown that the department plans to investigate the case as a hate crime.
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Under state law, residents of Illinois are protected on the basis of their actual or perceived race, color, creed, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, and physical or mental disability. The attack on Mukker could conceivably check at least half of those identifying boxes.
Every year, as Sept. 11 approaches, the Sikh Coalition has observed in increase in the number of attacks on Sikh-Americans.
"In the last few years especially, we've seen a spike in violence against the Sikh community around the 9/11 anniversary," said Kaur.
"It started off immediately after 9/11. If you remember, the first 9/11 backlash murder victim was Balbir Singh Sodhi on Sept. 15, 2001. He was shot and killed in Mesa, Ariz., by a guy who thought he was, you know, getting rid of 'the terrorists' and helping the government out," she said.
Kaur connected the 2012 shooting in Oak Creek, Wis., to this phenomenon. On Aug. 5, 2012, a lone gunman opened fire on the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, killing six people. Kaur said that the racially motivated shooting in Charleston, S.C., in June of this year reminded her of that prior attack.
"We saw what happened in Charleston, and we could very much relate to that attack," she said. "People getting killed because of the color of their skin, because of their religious appearance. It’s very frightening that that’s the America that we live in today."
Part of the problem in addressing the issue of anti-Sikh violence and discrimination in the U.S. stems from the fact that the FBI only began tracking instances of hate crimes committed against Sikhs in 2015. Before this year, organizations like the Sikh Coalition have had to step in to gather such valuable information.
"We don’t have exact numbers, but we know that there were 300 incidents within the first three months since 9/11, and hundreds over the years," Kaur told Fusion. "We've done surveys across the country and 60% of Sikh students nationwide report that they are bullied because of their Sikh articles of faith."
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Nidhi Prakash is a journalist in NYC via Sydney, London, Santiago, Auckland, Mumbai. She reports on international news, healthcare, labor news, and more for Fusion.