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Originally published Sunday, December 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Sikhs bring comfort to injured cabdriver

It didn't take long for word to spread through the Sikh community when cabdriver Sukhvir Singh was beaten by a drunken passenger who called...

Times Southeast Bureau

It didn't take long for word to spread through the Sikh community when cabdriver Sukhvir Singh was beaten by a drunken passenger who called him an "Iraqi terrorist" and threatened to kill him.

In the days after the Nov. 24 attack, the area's tight-knit Sikh community worked quickly to help Singh, a Kent resident who moved here from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, with his family in 1999.

A national advocacy group, the Sikh Coalition found him an attorney within days. Friends and community members asked if they could help Singh with money. A SeaTac-based Indian radio station shared his story live on the air. Around 400 people attended a candlelight vigil in Singh's honor.

Those closest to the Sikh community say they're not surprised by the swift response to Singh's attack.

Growing population

Since the late 1980s, the Sikh population in Southeast King County has grown fast, said Harinder "Paul" Bains, president of the Gurudwara Singh Sabha of Washington in Renton, the state's largest Sikh temple.

In the 1980s, many Sikhs fled to the U.S. to escape political instability in India.

These days, Sikhs continue to move to the area because of the community established here and to be near local gurudwaras.

Bains estimates the Sikh population in the state to be at around 25,000 to 30,000 and many of those who live in the state call Renton and Kent home.

"People want to be close to the gurudwara," Bains said. "In Sikh culture, this is our religious and social focal point."

The week after Singh was attacked, about 2,000 people attended a Sunday service at the gurudwara when a spokesman from the Sikh Coalition told the story of Singh's attack.

Singh says he is deeply religious and visits the gurudwara several times a week.

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Grateful for support

Singh says he is grateful for the supporters who have comforted him in the days since he was attacked, but he is eager to return to work.

His doctors have advised him to stay home for much of December. Now he is worried about money.

"Before this, I thought America was a beautiful country, somewhere where people are treated equally," Singh said.

But the 49-year-old husband and father of two says he is not deterred.

"The sympathy has helped," Singh said. "My faith is in the justice system."

The King County Prosecutor's Office has charged Luis Vázquez, the 20-year-old construction worker from Kent who police say attacked Singh, with third-degree assault and one count of malicious harassment, the state's hate-crime law.

Karen Johnson: 253-234-8605 or karenjohnson@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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