The attack happened when he was putting up posters for a Republican Congressman
A Sikh community leader in Stanislaus County, California, was badly beaten while posting campaign signs, July 31.
“I have a lot of friends and I am confused, no idea from where it came from,” Surjit Malhi of Turlock, California, told indica in a call. “I am in pain. My body hurts, I still have a headache,” the 50-year-old said.
In a tweet, the Stanislaus County Sheriff Department said, ”Detectives are still investigating the assault/hate crime incident involving a Sikh man in Keyes (Turlock). No new suspect info at this time.”
As if to remove doubt about their intentions, after assaulting Malhi, the men also painted his vehicle with the racist suggestion, “Go back to ur country,” including alongside a Celtic cross, also a sign favored by the far-right.
Malhi told indica he was putting up campaign posters for Jeff Denham, the Republican Congressman for California’s 10th district, at around 11:30 pm when the two men attacked him. Malhi, an ardent Republican, said he has been putting up posters for Denham since February.
“We always put sign late at night; it’s easy, because there is no traffic, and it is after our office hours,” said Malhi. “Sometimes we have posted after midnight. And we had no problem at all.”
However, after the July 31 incident, Malhi warned off other members of the Sikh community.
“Always look around when parking – or shopping. Don’t go alone. Just be careful. You never know what can happen,” said Malhi, who have been living in the US for the past 26 years.
Congressman Denham’s campaign manager, Josh Whitfield, condemning the attack told indica, “In our area, the assault of a Sikh man is out of the ordinary, it’s not normal. Sikhs are accepted in the community and have been living in area for a very long time. We know it’s normal in other places in the country but it’s not normal in this area – that a Sikh would be assaulted like this, so close to our homes.”
Asked what may have motivated the attack, “We know two facts: This is a Sikh American who was assaulted and that he was hanging up signs for a Republican Congressman. So, we don’t know whether they attacked because of the politics or because of his race until we find these guys.”
He said Malhi and the Congressman have been friends for a long time.
In a statement, Congressman Denham said, “Hate crimes have no place in our society. The people responsible for this reprehensible act of hatred must be brought to justice. Inciting violence because of race, religion or political beliefs should never be tolerated. This is the third incident in less than two weeks where a member of my team has been targeted.”
The Washington DC-based Indian American Impact Project (“Impact Project”) condemned the attack, saying in a press statement, “Every American deserves the freedom to live, work, and pray without fear — and to exercise our First Amendment rights to free speech and political participation. From xenophobic flyers targeting Indian and Asian American candidates last November to the recent racist slurs against Attorney General Gurbir Grewal of New Jersey, it’s clear that there are forces of hate who don’t just want us to ‘go home,’ they also want to keep us away from the ballot box and erase us from the halls of power.
“We strongly condemn this attack on Mr. Malhi and hope the police will quickly investigate the incident and prosecute it to the fullest extent possible under federal and state law. We also hope this incident will prompt communities like Stanislaus County to further educate their citizens about the Sikh faith and Sikh Americans, with an emphasis on the early Sikh immigrants who helped farm and build the Central Valley in the 19th century.
The group also urged lawmakers “to stand up against xenophobic political rhetoric and support legislative efforts to combat hate violence and increase reporting of hate crimes.”
According to a report from the California Department of Justice, hate crimes has increased in the past few years. There were 1,093 reported hate crimes in California in 2017, compared to 931 incidents in 2016, and 837 in 2015.
According to South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), hate-related violence targeting the Indian American community and the broader South Asian American community, has surpassed post-9/11 levels,
According to a release, SAALT has documented 302 incidents of hate violence and xenophobic political rhetoric aimed at South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities in the United States, of which an astounding 82 percent were motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment. The 302 incidents are a more than 45 percent increase from the year leading up to the 2016 election cycle, levels not seen since the year after September 11.