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Turbans don't mean terrorists, stress Sikhs who were harassed



Published: Sun, September 16, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



A local doctor says he wants to help with the rescue efforts, but he's concerned his offer will be rejected.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Dr. Tejinder Bal isn't from the Middle East and he doesn't follow Osama bin Laden.

But because he wears a turban and has a long beard, some Mahoning Valley residents have called Bal a terrorist and told him go back to his own country.

"The stereotype is the turban and the beard equals someone that created all these problems," said Bal, of Canfield, referring to Tuesday's terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C. "We feel the same pain and sadness as everyone else."

Their religion: The turban and the beard mark Bal as a Sikh, a follower of a religion founded in the early 1500s in India.

Dr. Digvijay Singh, of Canfield, also a Sikh, says the religion stresses belief in one God, universal brotherhood, equal rights for women, and sharing the burden of hard work.

Bal said most local residents treat him with kindness and respect. However, a few mistake him and Singh for the followers of bin Laden, the Saudi terrorist who is suspected of arranging Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Bin Laden is often pictured with a long beard and wearing a turban.

"Overall, the community has been very hospitable and very nice," Bal said. "It's just when we start stereotyping that we get in trouble. It's like saying every black person is bad; they're not. Or every Irish person is an alcoholic; they're not."

Bal said that while he's been driving, some local residents have shouted curses at him. He added that his son, also a Sikh, has been asked not to report to his job in New York City because of security concerns.

Singh, meanwhile, said some of his relatives are worried that if they go outside, they will be harassed.

Both Bal and Singh are doctors specializing in pulmonary diseases who practice in Youngstown. Singh said he has considered volunteering to provide medical assistance as part of the rescue efforts in New York City. He is concerned, however, that rescuers won't accept his help because of his turban and his beard.

Wearing of turbans: People should realize that most Muslims and Middle Easterners don't wear turbans in America, Singh said.

"I want to want to educate people that a turban does not equate with Arabs at all," he said. "I don't know where that concept comes into people's minds."

Bal noted that local residents need to understand that Sikhs share the pain over the loss of life in Tuesday's attacks. "There's an equal number of prayers being said in Sikh places of worship," he said. "Our anguish is just as much."

Singh added that area Sikhs, "just want to join hands and participate in repairing all the damage that's been done. We want to join hands and be a part of the American fabric."

Singh and Bal aren't the only local Sikhs who have been treated like they're responsible for Tuesday's attacks. Dalbir Dhillon, a Sikh from Canfield who is the co-owner of Schenley Carryout and the owner of Valley View Gas, both on Mahoning Avenue, said he received threatening phone calls while at work Tuesday night.

"I said I'm from a different country" than bin Laden, Dhillon said. "People are just ignorant. They don't know the real story."

Balbir Sandhu, a Sikh from Canfield who is the co-owner of Schenley Carryout, said a rock was thrown through the window of the carryout on Wednesday.

"Out of anger, they do these sort of things," Sandhu said. "Some of them need to be educated."

hill@vindy.com




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