It was September 11, 2001, and Inky* was enjoying having drinks in a pub in Soho.
The Sikh man, who was in his early 40s at the time, was with friends when he saw breaking news appear on the pub TV.
Inky, who lives in Hounslow, was one of many in the pub who watched the atrocity of 9/11 unfold on the screen.
Today (Saturday, September 11) marks 20 years since four hijacked planes crashed in the US, with two of them hitting the World Trade Centre in New York.
The tragedy, known as 9/11, led to the deaths of nearly 3,000 people in the US as well at least 500,000 people in the ensuing ‘War on Terror’.
The atrocity also led to a huge surge in hate crimes committed against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims.
READ MORE:Sikh civil servant ‘treated like a criminal’ after he was denied entry into Wembley for size of article of faith
And it didn’t take Inky, a turban-wearing Sikh, long to realise that Muslim, Sikh and Hindu communities in the UK were going to be affected by the tragedy.
He said: “At first they didn’t say who was responsible for it, but as soon as the term ‘Islamist terrorist’ came out, I said ‘right we’re all in for it.’
“Because those who were going to go out and hit you, don’t have the intellect to realise there is a difference between Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus.
“As soon as they mentioned ‘Islamist terrorist’ and all the pictures were them wearing turbans and photos of Bin Laden were posted…it took a day or so for it to sink in.”
“I felt nervous, apprehensive, you try to avoid places you know that trouble is going to brew”
Just two days after 9/11, Inky was a victim of verbal and racist abuse.
“[They said], ‘You f**king Bin Laden, p*ss off home’, that’s the level it started at. It was never one, it was four or five of them,” he explained.
“I felt nervous, apprehensive, you try to avoid places you know that trouble is going to brew… If you’re sensible and sensitive, you can sense where racism exists. It doesn’t need to have a sign saying ‘we are racists here’, it’s the attitude that says it all.”
Inky, now 66, describes how many Sikh men who wore turbans were also called ‘towelheads’ following the 9/11 attacks.
He added: “Until you’ve suffered and until its been aimed at you and seen it happen, people don’t believe it exists.”
Turbans are an important part of the Sikh identity and an essential part of their religion.
Sikh men and women maintain five articles of faith, known as the five Ks. These are: kes (long, uncut hair), kara (steel bracelet), kanga (wooden comb), kirpan (small sword) and kachera (soldier-shorts).
One of the articles of faith, kes , which involves keeping uncut hair, is most commonly maintained with a turban.
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Figures released in December last year showed the number of anti-Sikh hate crimes had increased in the UK by 70 per cent in the last two years, with 202 recorded in 2019-20.
And, despite the rise in hate crime toward Sikh communities in the UK, Inky highlights how “this wasn’t the first time we’ve suffered racial violence”.
Inky, who was born in Kenya, moved to the UK in 1969 and grew up in Feltham. He vividly remembers the abuse he received, from being called a ‘p*ki’ to a ‘raghead.’
He said: “When we came over to England in 1969, we had the skinheads in those days. When I was at Kingston College, we marched with the anti-Nazi league against the skinheads. I’ve got bruises, cuts and scars to show for it.
“Our parents were really worried in those days, [they would say] ‘don’t go out, you’ll get beaten up’… we were caught between two cultures at the time.”
Inky recalls his younger brother, who was just aged 12, was “beaten up coming back from an evening class” and said such “treatment has been going on ever since”.
The dad-of-two acknowledges how such abuse has endured post 9/11 in both overt and ‘subtle’ ways, from nudges in the shoulder to being ignored in shops.
In fact, Inky said he began to avoid Hounslow high street in order to escape racial abuse following 9/11.
“I’d been in these protests before, you learn from experience, you avoid going to places that you know you will get in trouble,” he said.
“All of a sudden the [racist] movement that been suppressed since the anti-Nazi league days, raised its voice again [post 9/11], because it hadn’t gone away – it’d gone underground.”
*Inky is a pseudonym as he did not want to reveal his identity.
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