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Sikh Americans Respond to Fresno Attack Online with #WhyWeAreHere

Sikh Americans and allies have turned to Twitter, using the hashtag #WhyWeAreHere to speak up against discrimination.

The Fresno Police Department has reported that it is investigating the early morning attack of an elderly Sikh American man last Saturday in Fresno, California, as a possible hate crime.

According to NBC Los Angeles, 68-year-old Amrik Singh Bal was waiting to be picked up to go to work while wearing his Sikh articles of faith — a blue turban and a long white beard — when two Caucasian men allegedly stopped their car, got out of the car, chased Bal down the street, beat him while shouting obscenities, and also hit him with their car.

Bal suffered abrasions on his face and hand, according to the Fresno Bee, as well as cuts requiring stitches on his ear and head, a broken collarbone, and leg pain.

“There is always the potential that this is motivated by hate,” said Fresno police chief Jerry Dyer in a Fresno Bee video. “Which is why we are investigating it as a hate crime based on the dress of the victim, the fact that this was an unprovoked attack, there does not appear to be any robbery-type motive involved, and he was physically attacked, repeatedly, while they were yelling at him.”

The Fresno Police Department is working with the FBI and coordinating efforts with both the District Attorney and U.S. Attorney’s offices. Either state or federal charges may be filed. A $12,000 reward for information is also being offered.

"The vicious attack on Mr. Bal becomes yet another incident of suspected hate that innocent Sikh Americans have experienced in our nation in recent weeks," Harsimran Kaur, the legal director of The Sikh Coalition, which is representing Bal, told NBC News. "We are heartened to see the quick and coordinated response by the local Sikh community and law enforcement officials, which has led to an immediate hate crime investigation into this case."

Although the Sikh religion originated in the Punjab region of India and although Sikhs have been part of the U.S. for 125 years, Sikh Americans have often been targeted in the wake of the September 11, 2001, because some people mistakenly associate Sikh turbans and beards with terrorism.

Violence against Sikh Americans has become more frequent since the recent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

Because early news coverage reported Bal's attackers shouted, “Why are you here?” while beating Bal, Sikh Americans and allies have turned to Twitter to answer that question, using the hashtag #WhyWeAreHere to continue the conversation started by earlier hashtags #MySikhAmericanLife and #BeLikeDarsh.

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Clarification: An earlier version of this post said only some reports indicated Amrik Singh Bal was hit by the car. The discrepancy is in where he was hit by the car, not that he was hit.

Update: The original $5,000 reward being offered has been increased to $12,000.