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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Best and Worst of America

August 25, 2005- Today we interviewed SHER SINGH (pictured) who was arrested on September 12, 2001 as the first suspected terrorist after the 9/11 attacks. He was riding a Boston-bound train when it stopped in Providence, Rhode Island. He was wearing a turban and kirpan, both articles of Sikh faith. His ‘suspicious’ appearance had caught the attention of the FBI who sent federal agents and local police with bomb-sniffing dogs to the station to intercept him.

Officers rushed the entrance of the train and pointed rifles at the man: “Get your f--- hands up.” They pulled him out of the train at gunpoint and handcuffed him. One officer said, “How’s Osama bin Laden?” They led him onto the platform, where crowds of people had gathered, shouting profanities. Someone yelled, “You killed my brother.” Others shouted, “Kill him.”

Sher Singh was released within three hours of his arrest, because it was clear he was innocent. Authorities announced that he had no connection to the attacks. Yet the footage of his arrest was broadcasted and published around the world for three days, showing a tall man with a turban and long black beard, eyes cast downward, led in handcuffs by black-uniformed officers believing they had apprehended the first terrorist

We had first heard this story from Sher Singh in December 2001. Four years later, he reflected on his experience:

I felt and sometimes feel a little estranged. I feel for a split second, maybe I’m not at home here. But then I tell myself it’s all in my mind. If somebody has or had a negative opinion about my appearance or any Sikh's appearance, then it’s in that person’s mind. That person needs to open up. Home is where you are. No looking back.” He smiles.

After this happened, I got more involved in my community. I gave talks about Sikhism, attending rallies on civil rights, and talked to children on understanding different faiths. I felt that I had to give back a lot more than I had ever given back.

“I’m now a solution architect for EED; I develop solutions for the Navy and Marine Corps and help develop their information technology. I get to do very high level design and it’s a new challenge everyday.”

In his story alone, I see the worst and best parts of the American experience: Sher was a victim of racial profiling, but upon his release, he was able to choose to defend American national security, developing technologies that support troops abroad.

We continued looking at the tension between the history of discrimination in America and the American dream when we made our next visit to the office of South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow (SAALT). We interviewed the Executive Director of SAALT, DEEPA IYER (pictured). She explained a history of discrimination toward Asian Americans to provide context to post-9/11 hate violence:

"It’s dangerous to look at post-9/11 by itself. We really need to realize that there has been a history of discrimination that goes back over 100 years for immigrants in the United States. Laws by the US prevented Asians from becoming naturalized, owning land, immigrating to the US. We must remember that many South Asians challenged those laws and became active in their communities. They demanded to be treated with equality, dignity, and justice.

"9/11 was a lightening rod for sentiments against immigrants and people of color, but it did more than that. Just a week after 9/11, a high number of incidents of bias were recorded in the media by South Asians and Arab Americans. SAALT did a report within a month after 9/11 looking at bias incidents. We found 645 reported in the media in just one week. That’s a snapshot of a much larger picture of what happened in the ensuing months and years after 9/11. In the pre-9/11 atmosphere, there was a muted anti-immigrant sentiment, and 9/11 became a space for these sentiments to explode. Suddenly, it became fine to speak openly and visibly about South Asians, Sikhs, Muslims, and people who are brown as possible terrorists."

I was grateful that organizations like SAALT record these incidents and raise awareness through resources and dialogue groups. You can check out their work here.

The team is battling colds and general fatigue, but we are all staying at the lovely home of Vidya and Tonse Raju (who have supported 'the arts' for years now as Sharat's parents). We are getting some good rest here as we head for the finish line. We are joined by our final sound technician, JIM (pictured to the left of our first cameraman Don.) We have only two more interviews left in Washington, DC before we wrap up production! Here we go.

Support our endeavor.

[This entry is cross-posted on "Into the Whirlwind."]

Valarie     direct link     1 comments   Email post: 

Blogger Vinayak [At 4:36 AM]:


Nice to note that you are interesed and posted about "racial profiling" and south asian issues

There is yet another blid spot the society suffers from... in terms of men ~ woman relationships

Looking at family laws, all over the world, women are in a win win situation while men loose. If normal life within marriage favours the wife, so does divorce, child custody and alimony payments

All around the world, women have a better chance of getting child support + child support payments and men are loosers

Situation in India
Do you know that many innocent young upcoming INDIAN professionals, their elderly parents & sisters have been arrested as WIFE FRIENDLY laws are MISUSED by some WIFES and un scrupulous lawyers - IN INDIA.

A good criminal justice system works on the principle that EVEN A SINGLE INNOCENT man / women should not be punished.

one is "..innocent unless proven guilty..".

However Sec. 498A of Indian Penal code (which deals with CRUELTY TO A MARRIED WOMAN) is directly against this principle and FORCES the accused to prove innocence. i.e. the accused is guilty until he proves himself innocent.

Anything from a simple verbal duel to a serious difference of opinion could be DEFINED AS CRUELTY lead to registering false complains that lead to a criminal case

India has also passed a domestic Violence bill which makes marriage an un worthy proposition to men

The law that WAS SUPPOSEDLY meant to protect weak and establish justice has become a weapon in the hands of few un scrupulous wifes. Elderly mothers& sisters have been arrested. Unable to bear this some have died.

Many courts are aware of the misuse of law. Recently Chennai High Court (from the state of Tamil Nadu - one of the Info Tech Star performers !!) has restrained police from arresting people on Dowry related charges under sec. 498A

HC restrains police on dowry complaints :

Chennai, Sept 28: The Madras High Court today restrained the city police from receiving complaints, investigating or filing charge sheets under the Dowry Protection Act 1961.

So please be aware + take necessary precautions

If you are an Indian and a victim yourself, or if you know of other victims please use one of the forums listed below to write to us



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