Boston Saga Comes to an End, Sikh Concerns of Backlash

Boston Marathon Crime Scene

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Boston – The Indian community in Boston heaved a collective sigh of relief as the lockdown on the city and its suburbs was lifted with the arrest of the second suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing case, after hours of a suspense-filled chase and search.

On April 15, 2013, two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing 3 people and injuring 282. The two suspects identified from surveillance video, brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were ethnic Chechen Muslims who immigrated to the US in 2002 with their family. Tamerlan Tsarnaev, 26, was killed during a shootout with police and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, 19, was wounded and later taken into custody. The brothers, who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, were reported to be motivated by an anti-American, radical version of Islam.

Speaking to India America Today, several local Indian Americans recounted the tension-filled hours during an intense manhunt that shut down the entire Boston metropolitan area. All of them expressed gratitude that it was finally over, after law enforcement officials arrested the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, hiding in a boat parked behind a house in the tiny town of Watertown.

Anil Saigal, a prominent Indian American from Boston, said the entire community experienced “utter shock.” “There are several students from the Indian American community at MIT and Harvard and other local colleges,” Saigal said. “The first instinct was fear for the kids. For us the lockdown felt like a wartime experience. We were very concerned about how this will end.”

Saigal expressed his relief that the ordeal was over, saying, “It has been the closest we have been to such a terrible incident. It was very scary to think we could have been the ones to lose our lives. We are grateful that all is well.”

“It was more of a shock. Many students of Indian origin from different colleges run this event every year – and there are many parents from different cities who visit Boston to see their kids run this marathon. Many of them were at the finish line,” said Praful Thakkar, a real estate consultant with Keller Williams Realty.

Recalling the hours spent in lockdown while the suspect was at large, Thakkar added, “Though we lived about 20 miles from Watertown, it just felt as if it is in our backyard. Friday has been the most difficult day for Bostonians – and will not be forgotten easily. It was not 9/11 – but one of the worst tragedies since then.”

Puneet Singh Lamba, another Boston resident, also expressed “utter shock,” as his Sapient office is right at the Boston Marathon finish line. In previous years, he and his family had attended the marathon and had been at the spot where the bombs went off. “I could easily have been there watching, with my wife and kids,” he added with a shudder.

With apprehension of a backlash against the Sikh community, as Sikhs had a bitter experience after 9/11 and were a target of hate crime due to their turbaned appearance, Sikh leaders urged the community to be careful and vigilant for the possibility of violence directed against them.

Condemning the horrific events in Boston, Rajwant Singh, Chairman of the Washington-based Sikh Council on Religion and Education, said, “In the past, any terrorist action which resulted in American lives has led to negative impact and violence on the Sikhs, who are often targeted due to their conspicuous appearance. Many Sikh places of worship have been vandalized and attacked in the aftermath of 9/11 and we fear that the Boston tragedy might trigger another wave of reaction against members of the Sikh community.”

“The Sikh community joins Americans of all backgrounds in expressing our profound condolences and sympathies to the people of Boston, Massachusetts and the participants of the Boston Marathon, after the horrific and tragic bomb attacks that killed and injured so many people,” Singh said, adding, “This has shocked the Sikh community, which is still recovering from the attack at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple a few months ago. We feel the pain and suffering of the victims in Boston.”

On August 5, 2012, six people were shot and killed and four others wounded by a white supremacist in a mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.

Inderpal Singh Gadh, Chairman of the Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, an organization which works to create awareness and understanding about the Sikh faith and its traditions, said, “We are requesting everyone, Sikhs and non-Sikhs, to come together and hold vigilance to show our resolve and solidarity with those killed and injured.”

The post 9/11 backlash experienced by Muslims has also impacted Sikh men, who wear turbans and beards. The violence has been primarily directed at those perceived to resemble “the enemy” – a turbaned and bearded Osama bin Laden, the late leader of the radical Al-Qaeda terrorist organization. The majority of people who wear turbans in the United States are Sikhs, members of the world’s fifth largest organized religion, who trace their heritage to the Punjab region of India.

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