- Baljot Singh says he is “heartbroken” with the damage done at India Palace, which he owned with his father, Baljit Singh.
A Sikh American family in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is coming to terms with destruction and vandalism at their downtown restaurant. Baljot Singh, who owns India Palace with his father, Baljit Singh, says their restaurant was broken into, ransacked, and vandalized.
Singh, who spoke with American Kahani, along with his best friend Cameron Brown, two days after the vandalism, says the incident has “truly broken” his heart. The restaurant has been with the Singh family since 2013.
The family has yet to enter the restaurant to begin the cleaning up process, Singh says, adding that the police are still investigating the hate-crime, but have given them the go ahead to go in.
Brown elaborated on the extent of the damage done. The walls and doors have been spray painted with white supremacist racial slurs and political messages, he said. Along with that, there has been a lot of internal damage. “Two of the doors have been broken, and there are holes in the walls.” Tables were overturned, the crockery and glassware was smashed, murals were destroyed and computers were damaged. Estimated repairs and replacement of destroyed equipment will cost around $100,000, Singh says.
Brown has been Singh’s friend and a close associate of the family since 2013. He worked as a waiter at the restaurant after Singh’s father purchased it in 2013. “Now I am family to them, and them to me,” he says.
The incident, which occurred sometime between June 20 night and June 22 morning, has been classified as a hate-crime by the Santa Fe Police Department. The FBI has been roped in to assist the police, local news reports quoted SFPD Deputy Chief Paul Joye as saying.
Singh says he closed the restaurant at around 9 p.m. on June 20, along with Brown. For the past five weeks, the two friends have been preparing food and care packages for homeless people in the community.
Since the restaurant is closed on Sunday, it wasn’t until June 22 noon that Singh’s father opened India Palace. Singh says his father reached early to prepare for the evening diners. “Other Indian restaurants are closed on Monday,” Singh notes, so they were expecting it to get busy. “It was then that my father walked into the horror.”
When Singh reached the restaurant and saw the extent of the damage done, he says he couldn’t handle it. “I have grown up in this restaurant,” he says. “And seeing it torn down and vandalized, it was overwhelming, it hurt.”
Singh had recently opened the restaurant after closing it for a few months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They were doing takeout and delivery. As the restaurant’s chef was stuck in India and unable to fly back due to the travel restrictions, Singh’s father, Baljit Singh, had taken over the duties of the chef.
Before buying India Palace in 2013, Baljit Singh worked as a chef at the same restaurant. The restaurant has been operating in this location for the past 30 years, Singh says. It is the oldest Indian restaurant in New Mexico, serving Santa Fe since 1990.
Although the Indian community in Santa Fe is “a handful,” Singh says the restaurant was popular with a mainstream clientele. And the support from the community has been overwhelming, he says. “Many people have been stopping by the restaurant to leave bouquets of flowers, cards, notes to help clean up the damage, as well as cash,” he says.
Multiple fundraising campaigns also have been launched to aid the restaurant. A GoFundMe campaign started by fellow Indian restaurant Paper Dosa had raised nearly $56,891 by June 23 evening. Another GoFundMe campaign by Brown and Molly Dietze raised $32,224 by June 24 afternoon.
Singh says he doesn’t suspect anyone, but both he and Brown can’t help but wonder if the crime had anything to do with the Singhs being Sikhs. As a child growing up in Santa Fe with a turban, Singh recalls being harassed and bullied in school. “I was a sardar,” he says. He eventually cut his hair short. Singh says now neither he nor his father wear a turban.
The two friends also mention an altercation that happened on June 18, when a reportedly armed man had parked in the restaurant’s reserved spots in a city lot. Brown was with Singh’s father at the restaurant then, and said he had left a note on the man’s car, asking him not to park there again. But when he saw the same man “yelling” at Baljit Singh, he went outside to intervene. Brown says the man tried to pull out his gun.
Sikh advocacy groups like the Sikh Coalition and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) have condemned the incident.
“No community should ever experience this disgusting bigotry and racism,” said Sim Singh, senior manager of policy and advocacy at the Sikh Coalition. “These racist acts are meant to divide us, but we are strongest when we stand together,” he added.
“SALDEF condemns this heinous act of cowardice and hatred,” said executive director Kiran Kaur Gill. “This kind of hate and violence is unacceptable and swift action must be taken to ensure the safety and security of all Americans.”
“We will work with Baljit Singh, the Santa Fe Police, and the FBI to ensure they thoroughly investigate this crime, and that the perpetrators of this hate crime are found and prosecuted under the appropriate hate/bias motivated statutes,” Gill said.
According to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) data released on Nov. 12, 2019, Sikhs faced the third largest number of hate crimes in 2018. The data revealed that hate crimes towards Sikhs in the U.S. tripled, from 20 incidents in 2017 to 60 incidents in 2018. It said Sikhs faced the third largest number of hate crimes after Jews and Muslims in 2018, with law enforcement agencies reporting a total of 7,120 such crimes. The total number of hate crimes was slightly down from 7,175 the year before.
This April, a convenience store owner Lakhwant Singh in Lakewood, Colorado, was brutally attacked by a customer, Eric Breeman. Singh was told to “go back to your country,” while being attacked on April 29. Both the Sikh Coalition and the SALDEF have issued petitions for hate-crime charges to be filed against Breeman.
Earlier this year, a Sikh gurdwara in Orangevale, California, was defaced with racist graffiti, a few hours after it was formally inaugurated. Head priest Manjit Singh Khalsa told this writer in an earlier interview on Jan. 12, vandals spray-painted swastikas and the words “White Power” on the stone marking the entrance to the Guru Maneyo Granth Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Center.
Last July, Amarjit Singh, head priest at the Sikh Temple Modesto Ceres was assaulted by an intruder when he broke windows at Singh’s home on temple grounds, punched him, shouted obscenities and told him to go back to his own country before fleeing.