HomeSikh AmericansImpact of Hate Crime on Family Runs Deep

Impact of Hate Crime on Family Runs Deep

By Loan-anh Pham, AsAmNews Intern

At 11 p.m. on Aug. 5, Taranpreet Kaur opened the front door to see her father, bloodied and bruised outside. What’s followed is a month of stress, anxiety and lingering fear. 

Avtar Singh, 61, was taking his usual evening walk at Harvey Community Park in Fremont, California when he was assaulted by two teenagers. He came home missing his turban, with his eye swollen and injuries to his head. 

As headlines cover the attacks on other Asian Americans across the nation, the Kaurs can’t help but feel that Singh was the victim of a hate crime, attacked simply because he was Sikh American. 

The night of the attack

Taranpreet Kaur, 22, said everything that night was normal. The family had dinner, and after dinner, her father went out for his usual walk. 

“I didn’t know about anything that had happened until I saw my dad come back,” Taranpreet told AsAmNews. “When he came back to the house, he knocked on our door. We were a little confused because he normally takes the house keys with him.” 

“We opened the door and…  we knew something had happened,” Taranpreet continued. “And that’s when we called the police.”

Taranpreet dialled 911 and talked to an officer. It was only when she was transferred to the medical team that part of the story came out: neighbors had called about a disturbance in the park, but the victim had disappeared from the scene. 

“[My father] knew he sustained the injuries, but he left the scene of the crime because he wanted to come back home,” Taranpreet said.  “He was really confused when he left.”

“He actually had no idea what had just happened to him,” Taranpreet continued. “He couldn’t remember if he had had dinner, if he had gone to the park at all.” 

By the time Taranpreet finished her call, sirens were going off outside and paramedics had been sent to pick up Singh. Because of COVID-19 precautions, no one in the family was allowed to ride in the ambulance with him. 

“They said that most likely, we wouldn’t be able to come until he was discharged,” Taranpreet said. “Thankfully, we were able to give him his cell phone so we were able to at least maintain some sort of contact.” 

Taranpreet stayed up until 4 a.m. that night dealing with the situation: calling relatives, keeping in touch with police officers (who eventually found their house keys), and keeping her mother, Balvir Kaur, calm. 

“I was the one having to kind of keep cool,” Taranpreet said. “She was upset with the fact that my dad wasn’t being able to remember anything… she was pretty scared.” 

According to Taranpreet, Singh was diagnosed with an orbital fracture and concussion. Since the injuries were not internal, her father was discharged within two hours. After picking her father up, Taranpreet said, the family drove him to the Fremont Police Department so a statement could be recorded. 

Throughout the night, Taranpreet said the words ‘hate crime’ were the last thing on her mind. 

“At the time, I was more focused on, ‘Was my dad okay?’” Taranpreet told AsAmNews. “I wasn’t necessarily thinking why someone would have done this…that didn’t come until the day after.” 

Fighting back 

Kamal Kaur, an English teacher at Milpitas High School, woke up at 4 a.m. on August 6 to go to the bathroom. As she checked her phone, she saw multiple texts from her sister Taranpreet. Her father had been attacked.

“I saw the text messages, and I was just like, ‘Oh my goodness, what is going on?’” Kamal said. “To read it was kind of like, ‘Is this real life?’” 

For her father, Kamal said, walking was a way to clear his mind and relax. Singh, a bus driver, had lost his job due to COVID-19. 

“[My dad’s] been working since he was 15, he worked in the British Indian Navy for a lot of years before coming here,” Kamal told AsAmNews. “He’s never been unemployed, so that’s really taken a huge toll on him.” 

“He actually had a job interview coming up that Friday of the week that he was attacked, and he was really hopeful for it,” Kamal added. 

The Kaur family believe that Singh was the target of a hate crime, Kamal said, based solely on his appearance. 

“There’s been an increase over the years of Sikh, elderly men being the target of violence, because of blatant Islamophobia, although our religion is is not the same as Islam,” Kamal said “In the media, especially in the United States ever since 9/11, there’s been a huge heavy emphasis on associating terrorism with somebody in a turban and a beard.” 

“We grew up in these neighborhoods and to have something like this happen in our own backyard to somebody of the community… was very personal to many people,” Kamal continued. 

Ragini Kaur grew up with Kamal and attended the same gurdwara with her family. When she heard about what happened through a Facebook post, she was stunned, Ragini told AsAmNews. 

“Far too many times we’ve heard of the news where an elderly Sikh man is attacked while taking a walk. It was shocking to see this pattern of hate crime in a suburban city that’s so diverse and inclusive,” Ragini said. “We wanted to take a stand against those who think it is okay to attack people and get away with it.” 

Ragini, the Bay Area community organizer for the Jakara Movement, coordinated a rally (adhering to social distancing guidelines) at Harvey Park on Aug. 8, a few days after the attack. Jakara Movement is a grassroots community-building organization that seeks to engage Punjabi-Sikh youth ahd the larger community. 

“About 80-90 people showed up at the rally,” Ragini said. “Elected officials of both Union City and Fremont, Captain/Patrol Division Commander of Fremont Police Department came out in solidarity and spoke as well. We even had residents of Fremont and community leaders of Fremont, Union City, and San Jose come out to show support and speak.” 

The rally, Kamal said, was a way to ‘reclaim the area’ and denounce intolerance. 

“It’s not something that should happen in Fremont,” Kamal added. 

The Aftermath 

It’s been more than a month, and her father is still trying to heal, Kamal said. While the physical injuries are fading, the mental stress lingers. 

“It was already hard enough to just kind of imagine… for anyone to just get hit and beat up in the street,” Kamal told AsAmnews. “But the hardest part was really seeing that he wasn’t mentally okay after.” 

“It’s the first time for our family to be dealing with something like this, that there’s no one kind of cure all when somebody is suffering with psychosis,” Kamal continued. “When something happens to anyone, any kind of sickness, you want them to get better.” 

The rest of the family is also banding together to alleviate the financial burden that was present even before the attack, Kamal said. Both of her younger siblings, including her brother Bhavandeep, are in college and working part-time. 

“It had been really hard because of COVID,” Kamal said. “We know that he’s not mentally well enough for employment just yet, so how are we going to make sure that we’re covered, so that they can continue to pay the house mortgage and not go under… That was the bigger kind of concern on everyone’s shoulders.” 

Even setting up a GoFundMe was a difficult decision, Kamal said. The siblings knew their parents didn’t want to ask for help and wouldn’t take it well. 

“He’s never, ever had to ask anyone for assistance,” Kamal continued. “He really believes in pulling yourself up by your bootstraps… so much so that when he was unemployed throughout COVID, he didn’t apply for government unemployment.” 

Getting justice is another concern, Taranpreet said. 

While two juvenile suspects are in custody and a court date has been set, having the suspects charged for a hate crime is still a difficult process. Since her father can’t recall what the teens yelled at him before attacking, it’s difficult to have evidence on whether the attack was hate-motivated, Taranpreet continued. 

Taranpreet is just hoping the suspects are charged, hate crime or not, she said. Her brother has been putting out posters and knocking on doors to ask neighbors to report if they saw something. 

“Hopefully, [the police] can bring some justice to the incident,” Taranpreet said. “If they were racially motivated, of course I would especially want them to have some justice because it’s not okay to  attack someone or even say something to someone who is different from you.” 

For now, Kamal said, the family is working through everything together. 

“Everyone’s just taking it day by day,” Kamal told AsAmNews. “It’s the motto of this entire year.” 

Taranpreet is studying at CSU East Bay while applying to med school. Bhavandeep is taking classes at San Jose State University. And their mom has taken up gardening. 

But for her dad, Taranpreet said, walking the neighborhood is no longer part of his routine. Instead, he walks around their front yard and goes back inside. 

You can donate to the Kaurs’ GoFundMe here.

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