Marking the latest chapter in the ugly history of hate crimes against American-Asians is the senseless massacre of four Sikhs in a mass shooting at their workplace in Indianapolis, US, in which over 90 per cent staffers are of Punjabi descent. This dark stain paints the spurt in hate crimes in the country that, as one traumatised victim rued, was reflective of the ‘hard and cruel world we live in’. It comes within a month of the firing spree at Asian-owned spas in Atlanta that left eight dead. The worst Sikh massacre in the US claimed seven lives when a shooter targeted a Wisconsin gurdwara in 2012. Pulling the trigger in all these cases was a lone white gunman.
The land of dreams and opportunities that draws thousands of immigrants from Punjab every year has, unfortunately, failed to address their concerns of safety. Awareness campaigns regarding Sikh men who are at times confused with Muslims because of their turbans and unshorn hair since 9/11 are needed to improve their image. Though every heartbreaking incident prompts an outcry and some soul-searching, the US has not made effective changes to its policies that contribute to such insane behaviour. The country’s lax gun ownership laws have not been tightened. Neither has hate crime been made more stringently deterrent by upgrading it from a mere misdemeanour to a felony.
Vitriol and violence against Asian-Americans — fuelled by bias against gender, race, orientation and religion — has skyrocketed since the pandemic began. A California State University report has found that anti-Asian hate crimes surged nearly 150 per cent in 2020, while overall hate crimes fell by 7 per cent. The spread of the hate virus that is striking the Asian communities is partly attributed to former President Trump’s xenophobic and Covid-related anti-China rhetoric. The inflammatory and scapegoating atmosphere must be contained. Hope shines from President Joe Biden’s acknowledgement of the racially motivated hate crimes and promise of exploring opportunities to combat them. Asian lives matter. Their maltreatment — beating, insulting, spitting and yelling at, and killing — infringes upon their rights.