Among the aftershocks of 9/11, a Sikh man was killed in a fatal hate crime, confused for a person of Middle Eastern descent because of his turban and beard. South Asians reeled as pictures of Balbir Singh Sodhi flashed across television screens. But this was just the first of many cases.
In 2001, 20-year-old Valarie Kaur, a third-generation Sikh American started the journey that would become the award-winning documentary, Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath.
With her camera and cousin, she traveled to Sikh and Muslim communities, speaking to victims affected by hate crimes throughout the nation. She spoke with a Sikh man chased through Manhattan as the towers crumbled. She visited an elderly Sikh man whose wounds from being beaten with a baseball bat had not yet healed. Her concluding interview was with Balbir Singh Sodhi’s widow in India. who spoke of the love she still felt for American people.
Director Sharat Raju stepped into the picture in 2005 with his film crew. New footage, including interviews with lawyers, scholars and legislators was added, according to the film’s Web site. Kaur's blog highlights her tour to promote her film as well as discussions at schools and communities.
This month, seven years after Sodhi’s death, two years after the doc's 2006 premiere, a campaign set out to spark “50 screenings, 50 dialogues." The campaign organizers provided the film, promotional materials and dialogue topics to a number of participating communities.
Toward the end of the film, Kaur’s comical cousin Sonny turns the camera and asks her what message she had about the Sikh turban and her film.
She answered: “So other people don’t look at the turban and see fear, hatred, something laughable, something less than human,” she said. “So people don’t look at the turban and see an enemy where I see a brother.”
And here's from a transcribed excerpt of a CNN segment addressing anti-Sikh violence after 9/11:
BROOKE ANDERSON: Days after 9/11 a Sikh man in Arizona was shot to death by a man who thought he was an Arab. In 2003 this Sikh man in New York was beaten by a crowd of white men who taunted him with anti- Arab slurs.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five, six people, they were just beating, beating, beating.
VALARIE KAUR, FILMMAKER: My name is Valarie. I'm an American. I am a Sikh.
ANDERSON: Filmmaker Valarie Kaur explores bias attacks on Sikhs in her new film "Divided We Fall." While many remember the aftermath of 9/11 as a time of unity, Kaur sees a darker side, an America where some felt the need to lash out at ethnic minorities perceived as the enemy.
KAUR: The impulse for fear to drive us to discriminate and to profile others is just there, part of our culture.
ANDERSON: Kaur experienced that prejudice as she traveled the country with her cousin Sunny (ph) who wears a turban. They were mocked by a young man at a train station.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who do you think I am?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't care.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a Sikh.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A sheikh?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A Sikh, not a sheikh.
KAUR: It was the very first time in my life that I began to see myself through the eyes of others who saw me as foreign, a suspect, as not American, as less than human somehow.
- SAJAer Sandip Roy interviews Kaur on KALW radio
- A Religion News Service article on the documentary
- MySpace page: http://www.myspace.com/dwf_film
- Facebook: http://facebook.com/group.php?gid=2205170689
- To join in the "50 Screenings, 50 Dialogues" campaign, email DWF Tour Director Jodi Elliott: jodi[at]dwf-film.com