Protests in Italy over torching of Sikh
A homeless Sikh construction worker is in hospital in Rome after being attacked and set alight while he slept on a railway station bench.
Navtej Singh Sidhu, 35, is being treated for a fractured skull and third degree burns to his body. Doctors have carried out a skin graft to his legs in the first of a series of operations that will keep him in hospital for several months.
Police have arrested two adults and a minor and charged them with attempted murder. Petrol was reportedly used in the attack, which has become a major talking point in Italy.
Rome’s mayor Gianni Alemanno has stated on television that he will give Mr Sidhu a permanent job and accommodation when he is well enough.
The president of Rome’s Via Aurelia Sikh temple, Balbir Singh, said it was a racist attack and it has been condemned as such by Italy’s president Giorgio Napolitano, who said it was one of a number of horrifying incidents in the country.
He said they were symptoms of a widespread and growing trend and appealed for those with institutional, cultural and educational responsibility to work to put a stop to “any display of xenophobia, racism and violence”.
One of the issues raised by the incident is the red tape which governs the obtaining of work permits in Italy.
Mr Sidhu took on illegal immigrant’s status when he lost his job as a builder’s labourer four months ago after his residency permit expired.
Critics of the system say that the residency permits expire after only four or five months but it can take seven to eight month to get them renewed. Applicants become ‘illegals’ through no fault of their own, it is claimed.
Navtej Singh Sidhu was attacked in the Lazio coastal town of Nettuno, in the Province of Rome, which is home to up to 20,000 Sikhs. There may be as many as 30,000 Indians living in the province, mostly working as labourers mainly in agriculture.
Singh Agit, a Sikh temple leader from Padiglione, said the assault was worrying. He could not recall such a serious attack on a Sikh locally.
He called on Silvio Berlusconi’s government to end the bureaucracy over work permits and to give immigrants the same entitlements as Italians, including pay, benefits and affordable accommodation.
The government was criticised for helping to foster anti-immigrant feelings. Opposition leader Walter Veltronie said the attack reflected the xenophobic preaching and climate of hate and fear created by the centre right administration.
Racist attacks in Italy last year included the burning of gypsy camps in Naples and the killing of a Burkina Faso immigrant in Milan.
Acknowledging the support they receive in the face of hostile acts, Jewish leaders have expressed their sympathy for Mr Sidhu.
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