PREACHING PEACE. In this August 19, 2016 file photo, Indian
Sikh immigrant Rana Singh Sodhi kneels next to a memorial in
Mesa, Arizona, for his murdered brother, Balbir Singh Sodhi, who
was gunned down at a Mesa gas station in a hate crime four days
after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Sodhi has
preached a message of peace and tolerance in hopes of helping
others better understand his religion, the fifth largest in the
world with some 25 million adherents including about 500,000 in
the United States. Sikh men typically wear turbans and beards,
which makes some people mistake them as Muslims. (AP Photo/Ross
D. Franklin, File)
From The Asian Reporter, V29, #19 (October 7, 2019),
Sikh preaches love 18 years after brother
killed over turban
By Anita Snow
The Associated Press
PHOENIX — Indian Sikh immigrant Rana Singh Sodhi still
preaches love and tolerance 18 years after his brother was
gunned down in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist
attacks by a man who mistook him for a Muslim because of his
turban and beard.
"I want there to be more awareness, more peace in the world,"
said Sodhi, who spent much of the first year after his brother
Balbir Singh Sodhi’s death speaking at schools and houses of
worship. "I believe education is very important for our
community. I made a commitment to reach as many people as I
The community remembered Balbir on the anniversary of his
death with a special meal at a local temple.
Often working through the Arizona Interfaith Movement, Sodhi
has been recognized by the state’s chapter of the
Anti-Defamation League and by the White House under President
Barack Obama’s administration.
The shooter, Frank Roque, is serving life in prison for the
first-degree murder of Sodhi’s older brother at his Mesa,
Arizona, gas station on September 15, 2001. Balbir was the first
of scores of Sikhs as well as Muslims targeted in hate crimes
Another brother, Sukhpal, was shot and killed 10 months later
as he drove his cab in San Francisco. Authorities did not
confirm the second killing as a hate crime, saying it appeared
to be a stray bullet from a gang shooting, but the family
doesn’t doubt he died because of his Sikh identity.
In the case of Balbir, at least, "I feel like we got
justice," Sodhi said.
Despite the loss of his brothers, Sodhi, now 52, said he
considers himself lucky to live in a country that was founded by
immigrants and that allows him to practice his religion, even
while the Trump administration makes it harder for other
newcomers to settle in the United States.
Three years ago, Sodhi forgave Roque in a telephone call to
him in prison. After hearing remorse in Roque’s voice, he said:
"If I had the power to take you out from prison, I would do it
right now," according to a highly publicized recording of the
Sodhi said the family immigrated to the U.S. in 1985, one
year after anti-Sikh violence killed thousands of people in
their native India. They first settled in California, then
Balbir was shot dead while planting flowers at the gas
station just four days after the 9/11 attacks. Roque had
reportedly said he was "going to go out and shoot some
Roque was also accused of drive-by shootings later that same
day at an Afghan family’s home and a Lebanese man’s convenience
store, although no one was injured in those other shootings.
Attacks against Sikhs following 9/11 helped spark the
creation of the Sikh Coalition , the largest Sikh advocacy group
in the United States. Several documentaries about the attack on
Sodhi’s brother were produced.
Since then, the worst attack against Sikhs in the U.S. has
been the killing of six people in 2012 at a temple, or
gurdwara, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
Federal law enforcement began tracking hate crimes against
Sikhs in 2015, but many states still do not.
Most Americans know little about the monotheistic faith
founded more than 500 years ago in India’s northern Punjab
region that rejects the caste system and idolatry. The coalition
says it is the world’s fifth-largest religion with about 25
million adherents worldwide, including about 500,000 in the
Sikhs do not shave or cut their hair, and the men typically
wear a turban to protect their long locks. The men’s turbans and
beards are articles of faith that sometimes make them targets of
people who assume they are Muslim.
The Sikh Coalition has campaigned against that ignorance and
declared a major victory when the Arizona State Board of
Education in September approved new history and social science
standards that included information about Sikhism for the first
time. New York, New Jersey, Texas, Tennessee, Colorado, Idaho,
and California also include information about Sikhism in their
standards for public schools.
Earlier this year, the coalition and other Sikh groups spoke
out about the Nordstrom department store’s marketing of a blue
Gucci turban as a fashion accessory, calling it offensive.
Another group, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education
Fund , did its part in 2014 by producing a public service
announcement for television, which it airs annually to educate
people in the U.S. about Sikh Americans. The fund’s spokeswoman,
Gujari Singh, said the organization also brings young Sikhs to
Washington to work with their congressional representatives.
But continuing violence against Sikhs in the U.S. worries
Sikh-Indian immigrant Parmjit Singh, 64, was stabbed to death
August 25 during an evening walk in Tracy, California.
Anthony Kreiter-Rhoads, 21, of Tracy, was later arrested in
the killing and has pleaded not guilty. Authorities have still
not released a motive.
"When these things happen, we know that there is a very good
chance it is related to hate," said Amar Shergill, of the
American Sikh Public Affairs Association in Sacramento. An
attorney, Shergill said he isn’t involved with the case but
attended the vigil for Singh.
"The work of Rana is very commendable," said Shergill,
praising Sodhi’s chardi kala, a Sikh concept that calls
for joyous optimism in the face of great challenges.
"But the work must continue to stop the bigots."