3 secrets of the Sureshbhai Patel case every Desi needs to know

1) Why was Sureshbhai Patel attacked?

Civil rights activist Shaun King explained what happened…

This is the heart of the story: Sureshbhai Patel was left paralyzed because his neighbor thought he was a suspicious Black man, and the police were primed to believe the same — though officers had figured out he was “an older Indian male” by the time he was laying on the ground bleeding from his face.

The Hindu American Foundation says they’re responding to the case by “creating a Hinduism 101 training for first responders.” This fails to address the root cause: Mr. Patel’s white neighbor asked the police to protect his wife from the “skinny black guy” on the street.

Patel wasn’t attacked because he was Indian, or a Hindu — he was attacked because of anti-Black racism, compounded by utter disrespect for those with limited English proficiency.

2) What’s different about the Sureshbhai Patel case?

Shaun King continues…

After the attack on Sureshbhai Patel:

  1. One of the assaulting police officers was fired and arrested
  2. The FBI started an independent investigation
  3. Patel’s family has raised about $200,000 to support his recovery
  4. India sent a consul to Alabama, and has been in communication with the US government
  5. The governor of Alabama sent an apology to the Indian government

Every victim of unjust racist police violence deserves this kind of response. But this is an exceptional response. Most victims and their families don’t get to see guilty officers fired or charged, the FBI brought in, outside nations showing concern, or governors apologizing. While this is just one case, this response is linked to Patel’s Indian citizenship and correlates with the fact that Indians generally sit higher up on America’s racial and wealth ladder than African Americans.

I’ve signed petitions and written letters in support of Sureshbhai Patel. But I hope for more than just a better outcome for Mr. Patel — I hope we can permanently stop incidents like this from ever happening in the first place.

3. How can we prevent this from happening again?

South Asians and African Americans have been standing up for each other for over 100 years. I spent the last month researching these histories for a new blog called BlackDesiSecretHistory.org:

  • Swami Vivekananda openly attacked anti-Black racism while speaking to White American audiences in 1900
  • Indian feminist Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay traveled through the South during World War II, making it a point to stay only with African American families, and sharing those stories with Indian media
  • Pakistani Professor Mirza Hamid Kizilbash worked to desegregate Jackson, Mississippi in 1964, despite being attacked by white vigilantes

And it goes both ways:

  • Bayard Rustin, best known as an advisor to Martin Luther King Jr., founded the Free India Committee in 1945 to advocate for Indian independence
  • Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women, was a fierce advocate for her friend, Indian freedom fighter Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit
  • Black activists and their allies helped create South Asian America. Before 1965, racist white politicians allowed only 100 immigrants per year from nations like India. The Civil Rights Movement forced the end of racist immigration laws, allowing South Asians into the United States.

Sureshbhai Patel didn’t have a choice when he was victimized.

But we can choose how to respond:

  • Will we assume that Sureshbhai Patel would have been spared if only the police officer had known more about Hinduism?
  • Or will we follow the tradition of Vivekananda and confront anti-Black racism, to protect ourselves and our Black neighbors?

And we have the freedom to choose our allies:

  • Will we treat this as a unique attack, which we have to fight by ourselves?
  • Or will we see this as part of a larger pattern, and work with other ethnic and linguistic minorities to fight for policies protecting all of us?

The choice is ours to make.

Anirvan Chatterjee (@anirvan)


Want to go deeper?

  1. Discover the amazing story of South Asians and African Americans
  2. For the short term, support Patel’s recovery fund
  3. For the long term, support groups like SAALT (@saaltweets), a national South Asian American civil rights group fighting hate by building alliances

Read more about the 100 year history of African Americans and South Asians at
BlackDesiSecretHistory.org: The Secret History of South Asian & African American Solidarity.

Thanks to Jaideep Singh, Deepa Iyer, and Suhag Shukla for helpful feedback.