HomeIndian AmericanVictims of hate share their stories, an underbelly of American life

Victims of hate share their stories, an underbelly of American life

By Sunita Sohrabji, Ethnic Media Services

Fremont, California engineer Krishnan Iyer was picking up dinner on the evening of Aug. 21 at a local Taco Bell when a man randomly confronted him with a long anti-Hindu tirade.

“You dirty mother f***s. You shower in cow urine. Nobody likes you. That’s why you get robbed daily,” said the alleged perpetrator during the incident, which was captured on video. “Dirty Hindu, you f***g Oriental,” he yelled, mocking Iyer for choosing a bean burrito, which — he said — was filled with cow dung.

As he placed his own order, the attacker looked at Iyer proclaiming he planned to eat beef, which is anathema to many Hindus. He later spat at Iyer, but missed, hitting the food counter instead.

“I was enveloped with a carnal fear,” Iyer told EMS partner news outlet India Currents. “I kept thinking, ‘how am I going to escape this situation and get back to my teenage son, who is at home alone?’ I had just gone in to pick up my food. I had done nothing to him.”

“I tried not to respond to him, but he continued,” said Iyer. As he turned to leave, the suspect followed him. “I thought I was going to get sucker-punched and killed; just another statistic,” said the avid cricket fan, who has lived in Fremont for more than 17 years. “I went and sat back down in a lighted area and continued to film the rant.”

Taco Bell workers watched the verbal assault, which continued for roughly 15 minutes before police arrived, but did not initially intervene, according to Iyer. A manager finally called police as the verbal assault continued.

On Aug. 29, the Alameda County District Attorney’s office identified Tejinder Singh, 37, as the attacker. Singh has been charged with three misdemeanor offenses: hate crime, assault, and disturbing the peace. Singh was not arrested and remains free. A court date will be set for his arraignment.

A motive has not been established. Both attacker and victim are Indian Americans: there has been speculation that Singh is a Khalistani, a group of Sikhs who have called for the state of Punjab in India’s northwest to become a separate country, owing to decades-long political animus.

Iyer said he and his son have both been very panicked after the verbal assault. “My son watched a car go back and forth outside our home the other night. We both thought it was him.” His son is nervous about returning to school. Iyer’s wife is currently in India, attending to her sick parents: she watched the video of the assault on regional television there.

Woman Assaulted in Plano, Texas

Three days later, in Plano, Texas, engineer Rani Banerjee and her friends were exchanging long goodbyes in the parking lot of the restaurant where they had just had dinner. Suddenly, they were confronted by a woman, who began a protracted attack against Indian Americans.

“I hate you f***g Indians. You curry-assed people are ruining our country… All these f***g Indians. You come to our country and you want everything free,” said the woman, later identified by Plano police as Esmeralda Upton. The entire incident was captured on video.

Esmeralada Upton. (Plano, Texas police booking photo)

At one point during her attack, Upton punched Banerjee, who was with her friends Sabori Saha, Anamika Chatterjee and Bidisha Rudra. She continued to hit Banerjee at least twice, as shown in the video. Upton then started rifling through her purse and yelled: “I swear to God, I’m going to shoot your f***g ass.”

Upton emphasized during the verbal attack that she was Mexican American. “I was born here. Were you born here?” she challenged the women.

“I have never been so terrified in my life,” Banerjee, an engineer, told India Currents. “I have lived in the Dallas Fort Worth area for 29 years and nothing like this has ever happened to me before.”

“She started advancing towards me, saying all these hurtful things about Indians. And then she started hitting me.”

‘Terrified, Shaken’

Banerjee said she did not have to go to the hospital. But days after the attack, she still bears physical and emotional scars. “Even now, I feel terrified, shaken,” she said.

Upton was also not arrested at the scene. Officer Andrae Smith of the Plano, Texas Police Department said that — had Upton been arrested that evening, she would have got off “scott free” without being charged. If officers arrive at the scene after a crime has taken place, they must obtain a probable cause affidavit from a local judge before making the arrest.

The 58-year-old realtor was arrested the following afternoon and charged with two misdemeanors: one count of Assault Bodily Injury and one count of terroristic threats. She was held briefly on $10,000 bond, but bailed out and remains free until her arraignment, for which a date has not yet been set.

Complex Dynamics

Samir Kalra, managing director of the Hindu American Foundation noted that there has been a spike in hate crimes against Indian Americans over the past month. “The dynamics of these recent incidents are becoming increasingly complex.”

“Previously, the idea was that these types of crimes were committed by white nationalists. But now, it is members of minority communities targeting one another,” he said.

HAF is working with the victims in both cases, and has alerted the Justice Department and the FBI. The organization is urging other victims to report such incidents to local law enforcement immediately.

The advocacy group is also encouraging victims to fill out its Anti-Hindu Hate and Bias Incident Form, providing as much detail as possible. It has also created a Temple Safety and Security GuideHate Crimes Victim Guide, and Domestic Terror Preparedness Guide.

This story is a project of “The Stop The Hate campaign and is made possible with funding from the California State Library (CSL) in partnership with the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs (CAPIAA). The views expressed on this website and other materials produced by Asian American Media, Inc. do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the CSL, CAPIAA or the California government. Learn more at capiaa.ca.gov/stop-the-hate.

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Follow us on FacebookX, InstagramTikTok and YouTube. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support our efforts to produce diverse content about the AAPI communities. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

The Hate campaign is made possible with funding from the California State Library (CSL) in partnership with the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs (CAPIAA). The views expressed on this website and other materials produced by EMS do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the CSL, CAPIAA or the California government.

1 COMMENT

  1. My nonprofit Eth-Noh-Tec will be presenting an event in early 2023 in which 6 professional Asian American storytellers will tell their discrimination stories with redeeming resolution followed by a panel, then small breakout groups for people to share their own stories for healing, and finally a training on safe witnessing and safe victimhood. Sharing our stories with empathic listeners is healing. Stay tuned!

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