Rajinder Singh Khalsa, Sikh Community, Still Reeling from Impact of 9/11

August 18, 2006

Source: Indian Press


On August 18, 2006 the Indian Press reported, "When Rajinder Singh Khalsa, 57, gets up in the morning, he often sees a ‘white hole’ with his left eye. Sunlight is anathema for him, as he cannot focus on anything for minutes afterwards. Many a night, he gets up screaming from his sleep; he has terrible nightmares of imminent danger, he says. He is obsessively protective of his family. When walking outside his home in New York City, he avoids eye contact with strangers. 'I still feel when somebody looks at me, he will attack me,' he explained.

It’s been more than two years since Khalsa was brutally attacked by a group of five white men when he was walking near his home. A resident of Ozone Park, a pocket where more than 25,000 Sikhs live in the borough of Queens, Khalsa had earned an award from the Red Cross for his voluntary service in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

In a city that boasts South Asian-dominated areas like Jackson Heights and Flushing, Khalsa was caught unaware when the men jumped on his chest, punched and kicked him till he lost consciousness. 'Bin Laden! Terrorist!' his attackers hollered, as they taunted his turban, religion and his ethnicity and rained down blows.

Only two of the men were convicted under the hate crime law, while the others got off with a bias crime charge. Khalsa pleaded with the judge who convicted the men to various sentences to also include community service at gurdwaras, so that his attackers come to know and understand the Sikh community and religion. To realize that the turban, long beard and the traditional kurta that Khalsa and most other Sikhs wear may have an uncanny resemblance to footage shown on television of Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda members, but in reality the Muslim and Sikh faith are as apart from each other as chalk and cheese... 'I realize that not everybody is bad,' said Khalsa, dressed in a safari suit, often sighing as memories of the past return to haunt him. 'But I cannot shake off this feeling of danger.'"