Sikh-American's father urges education after Darien road rage attack
A road rage attack in Darien may have escalated into a hate crime, authorities say, after a 17-year-old hurled racial slurs at a 53-year-old Sikh-American wearing a beard and a turban.
Inderjit Singh Mukker of Darien is recovering at home after suffering a fractured cheekbone and cuts to his face as well as swelling and bruising in the attack, his father, Sadhu Singh Rikhiraj, said during a news conference Thursday evening in Lombard.
Rikhiraj and Indian-American community leaders are calling for better education on religious and cultural diversity as well as the ideals of religious freedom on which America was founded.
"What we believe is that hate begets hate and love begets love," Rikhiraj said in condemning the attack, which is under investigation by Darien police. "That's what we teach our children. It's one of the various Sikh values. The turban we wear is a symbol of justice, love, liberty and freedom -- freedom of religion. Any religion you belong to we believe that everybody has a freedom to follow their own religion."
Mukker, a cabdriver and father of two grown children, was driving to the grocery store Tuesday evening when the altercation occurred, according to Gurjot Kaur, one of the attorneys representing Mukker through the Washington, D.C.-based Sikh Coalition. While waiting to turn left on Cass Avenue from 75th Street, a teen in a nearby car began yelling racial slurs at him and cut off Mukker several times.
"He saw Mr. Mukker's beard and turban and began shouting 'Terrorist! Bin Laden! Go back to your own country!'" Kaur said. "(Mukker) pulled off the road and hoped the youth would drive past. But instead of passing, he parked in front of Mr. Mukker, approached his car and viciously beat Mr. Mukker as bystanders called 911."
Mukker, who practices his faith at Sikh Religious Society in Palatine, was treated for his injuries at an area hospital, authorities said.
Darien police Chief Ernest Brown confirmed the altercation took place about 5:15 p.m. Tuesday at the intersection of 69th Street and Cass.
"The case is still under investigation, but we believe the situation began as a road rage incident and, based on the language used by the juvenile suspect, may have escalated to a hate crime," he said.
Authorities said no charges have been filed against the 17-year-old suspect because he has been hospitalized since Tuesday. They would not say what the teen is being treated for but indicated he may be there for several more days.
Officials said his parents have cooperated with police.
DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin would only confirm the suspect, who is not in custody, is a juvenile and the case is still under investigation.
Sikh Coalition spokesman Mark Reading-Smith said Sikhs wear their articles of faith, including a turban and beard. He said the community has faced disproportionate discrimination and targeted hate crimes in the 14 years since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"We believe Mr. Mukker was targeted and assaulted because of his Sikh religious appearance, race or national origin," said the Sikh Coalition's legal director, Harsimran Kaur.
Mukker released a written statement Thursday.
"No American should be afraid to practice their faith in our country," Mukker wrote. "I'm thankful for the swift response of authorities to apprehend the individual, but without this being fully investigated as a hate crime, we risk ignoring the horrific pattern of intolerance, abuse and violence that Sikhs and other minority communities in this country continue to face."
Mukker's father and leaders of the Federation of Indian Associations said they trust Darien police are responding appropriately to what happened and conducting a thorough investigation. But they are hoping for justice and swift action to prove religious intolerance is not acceptable.
"It shows hate still persists in our community," said Sunil Shah, founder and president of the Foundation of Indian Associations.
Rajinder Singh Mago of the Punjabi Cultural Society of Chicago said the focus should be on overcoming ignorance that perpetuates the myth that all those who wear turbans are associated with terrorism. Sikhs are "peace-loving people," several leaders said Thursday.
"We are being mistaken for terrorists just because we wear a beard and a turban and that is the mandated articles of faith. If you want to practice our faith, we have to have a beard and turban, and we have a constitutional right to practice our faith and to do that fearlessly," Mago said. "But what has happened a couple of days ago with Inderjit Singh Mukker is completely against the norms of this country, the constitution of this country and the values and the principles of this country."
Mukker was under sedation because of his injuries Thursday and doctors unable to address those gathered at Viceroy of India to condemn what happened to him. His father says their family is undecided about whether they will pursue civil legal action against the 17-year-old.