Consulate of India in San Francisco attacked by protesters

Sikh protesters demanding a Sikh state in India attacked and damaged the Consulate General of India in San Francisco on Sunday following similar protests in London and Canberra, Australia.

Ever since India first became a country in 1947 after gaining independence from Britain, those who adhere to the Sikh religion have claimed their own homeland in India, known as Khalistan. In the 70s and 80s, the movement became more violent, culminating in the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 by two Sikhs. Khalistan, including some of those who settled in the US. Many of them have moved to Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, attracted by the many technology booms over the years, as well as the strong Indian community that exists in these areas.

Tensions flared again over a major manhunt in India to find a separatist Sikh leader, with protesters demonstrating in favor of Khalistan in many cities with large Sikh populations around the world. Earlier on Sunday, the Indian consulate in London was attacked, and a mass protest was held in the Australian capital, Canberra. With the Indian government taking more desperate steps, such as shutting down the internet for 27 million people in India’s heavily Sikh-populated areas, more outrage spilled over into protests in San Francisco on Sunday.

On Sunday, a large wave of protesters broke through police barriers into the consulate grounds, according to San Francisco police. There they planted two Khalistan flags and started shelling the consulate building with homemade weapons and desecrating property. Once officials regained control, the consulate was covered in graffiti and broken windows, and consulate workers took down separatist flags.

Both the US government and the government of India condemned the attacks on Monday, noting that attacking any diplomatic facility in the US is a serious crime.

“This vandalism is simply absolutely unacceptable,” said White House National Security Council coordinator John Kirby. “The State Department Diplomatic Security Service is working with local authorities. I can’t speak for the San Francisco Police, but I can say that the Diplomatic Security Service is working with the local authorities on a proper investigation, and obviously the State Department will work in terms of infrastructure to make amends, but this is unacceptable.”

The State Department also noted on Monday that “The United States condemns the attack on the Indian Consulate in San Francisco on Sunday. Violence against diplomatic facilities in the US is a punishable crime. Our priority is to protect the security of these facilities and the diplomats who work in them.”

While the police are currently investigating, the protesters returned on Monday but were detained by police behind barriers and many more were present after Sunday’s incident.

Many members of the Indian community are still outraged by the current situation in India, but most of them condemn what happened on Sunday.

“For most of us, the problems in India remained once we immigrated,” explained James Singt, a second-generation Sikh from California who helps with the green card paperwork for those coming from India and Bangladesh to the Globe at Monday. “My parents are a little more sensitive about it and were more opinionated about it. But, like every second generation family in the US, we are now connected to America. I speak Punjabi at work, but most of my friends who also had parents come from India. I am friends with an Irish American who said the same thing about his grandparents. They cared about the IRA and Northern Ireland and all that, but by the time it all got to America, where their kids were growing up, they might not care anymore.”

“What we saw yesterday was understandable outrage, but projected in a bad way. You just don’t attack a consulate or an embassy like that. Most Sikhs are actually quite laid back, especially those who were born and raised here. Yesterday there were those who came recently and were still angry about what happened at home. It’s good to remember where the family came from. Germans here still celebrate Oktoberfest, and Mexicans still celebrate Cinco de Mayo. It’s part of who we are. But do something like attack the consulate? Almost all of us consider this extreme and something that should not have happened.”

The protests are expected to continue this week.

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