Sikhs have always stood up for justice for everyone and respecting people of different colour, creed and gender will be a big honour to Balbir Singh Sodhi, the first victim of hate following the 9/11 terror attacks, according to his brother.
As the world marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks in which nearly 3,000 people from over 90 countries were killed, Rana Singh Sodhi recalled the tragedy that struck his family just days after the terror attacks in the US when Sikh people began to be targeted because of their appearance.
“My brother, who believed in Sikhism, had a beard and turban on his head. The person thought he looked more like a Taliban. He associated our turban with those of the Taliban and shot and killed my brother,” he said in a video message issued by the National Sikh Campaign.
In a tribute, the Sikh Coalition said that on September 15, 2001, Mr Sodhi “was planting flowers outside his gas station in Mesa when he was shot and killed by a man supposedly seeking retribution for the terrorist attacks four days earlier”.
Mr Sodhi’s death marked the first recorded deadly post-9/11 hate crime, it said. His killer Frank Roque is serving life in prison.
In the video, Rana Singh Sodhi recalls receiving a phone call from his brother on the day of the terror attacks on the World Trade Centre asking him to turn on the TV and see the news.
“Our country got attacked here. Same day, I think they started showing (Osama) bin Laden images on the TV,” he said, adding that before 9/11, he was never concerned about his security.
But after the terror attacks, people started “yelling to us ‘Go back to the country” and using expletives, he said.
The day his brother was shot, Rana Singh Sodhi said he got a call from one of the employees about a shooting.
“And I called my brother and he didn’t answer and then I learned he got shot,” he said.
He said his family got justice as the killer was caught within 24 hours and put behind bars.
“That justice makes a lot of difference. What we have as Sikh values and American values, they are very equal and well connected to each other. America will always stand for justice and we have a history as Sikhs that if you see injustice right in front of your eyes, you should stand up,” he said.
Rana Singh Sodhi said: “We all humans are equal – colour, creed and gender. To honour my brother, if you love your neighbours, if you respect people with different colour, creed and gender, it will be a big honour to my brother.”
“If you love your neighbours, love all the people around you with your story, with your love, you can change this world,” he added.
Rana Singh Sodhi said that every year on the day they lost Balbir, his family members have been gathering at the gas station where he was killed to remember and honour him.
This year, they will welcome a wider group of people on this important anniversary, “so that we can pay tribute to all those who have been hurt by hate and also share the love and support that my family has felt for 20 years with the nationwide sangat,” he was quoted as saying in the statement issued by the Sikh Coalition.