Baljot Singh said he and his father worked hard to build up India Palace after his father purchased the restaurant in 2013.
They saw their efforts torn apart Monday following a racist attack that caused an estimated $100,000 in damage.
The unknown vandal or vandals damaged the kitchen, dining room and storage area. They destroyed bottles of wine, broke tables, and shattered glasses and dishes. They also spray-painted walls and artwork with racist remarks directed at the restaurant’s Sikh owners.
The incident, which Santa Fe police have labeled a hate crime, has devastated the Singh family and left the community shocked and outraged.
“This is our livelihood, you know,” Baljot Singh said. “And seeing it torn down and vandalized, it hurt. It truly broke our heart.”
Singh’s friend Cameron Brown said he reported the incident to police around 1 p.m. Monday after owner Baljit Singh called to alert him about the attack.
“As soon as I walked into the door, I saw the buffet laying on the ground, busted open. On the door, I saw white supremacist stuff,” Brown said. “ ‘Go back home.’ ‘Go back to your country.’ ”
The words “Trump 2020” and racial slurs were spray-painted around the restaurant, he said.
Singh and Brown have been using the restaurant for the last five weeks as a place to prepare food and care packages for homeless people in the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. The vandal or vandals destroyed these supplies, leaving packaged goods strewn across the restaurant’s dining room.
Baljit Singh said it was the first time he had faced such an incident at India Palace, which has been operating just a block off the Plaza on Don Gaspar Avenue for some 30 years.
While he was dismayed by the destruction, Singh said, he also was upset about the more than three hours it took for Santa Fe police to respond to a report of the crime.
Deputy Chief Paul Joye said the delay was due to officers responding to a report of a robbery about 20 minutes earlier in the 1000 block of Velarde Street, off Agua Fría Street.
The crime at India Palace is considered a burglary because someone broke in and damaged property, Joye said, while a robbery involves force or the threat of force or violence.
“We have to prioritize life over property, and a robbery is a crime against a person,” Joye said. “That’s an immediate threat to life.”
He said the attack at India Palace is considered a hate crime, which is not a separate charge. Rather, it is label police use when the motivation for a crime is based on factors such as a person’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity, Joye said.
Under New Mexico law, the hate crime label can lead to enhanced penalties.
The Sikh Coalition, a civil liberties and advocacy organization based in New York, released a statement Tuesday morning saying the FBI, as well as local and state government leaders, are part of a task force looking into the attack.
The FBI did not confirm its involvement in a task force.
But Frank Fisher, a spokesman for the agency’s office in Albuquerque, said it has offered its assistance to local police.
“If in the course of the local investigation, information comes to light of a potential federal violation, the FBI is prepared to investigate,” Fisher said.
The India Palace attack has been widely condemned by public officials and advocacy organizations. It comes amid heightened awareness of racial issues in the state and across the nation following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed in police custody in Minneapolis.
Demonstrations have been held in New Mexico in support of the national Black Lives Matter movement, which is calling for defunding police and for an end to systemic racism. Indigenous advocacy groups also have called for the removal of monuments they decry as racist.
Other groups have pushed back against Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber’s plan to remove some monuments from downtown sites.
The obelisk on the Plaza, a war monument that was the focus of a protest last week, was tagged with graffiti Monday.
Webber addressed the racial attack on India Palace in a statement Tuesday morning, calling the hate crime “sickening and appalling.”
“We need to stand up as a community and denounce this despicable act,” Webber said. “We will find whoever did it and punish them to the full extent of the law.
“The Singhs are a long-standing Sikh family that has used its own resources to feed homeless Santa Feans through the goodness of their hearts,” he continued. “For them to be attacked this way breaks our hearts.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham posted a Twitter message Tuesday morning saying she had spoken with Baljit Singh and “let him know that our community is with him.”
“We will not stand for such hatred in New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said.
City Councilor Signe Lindell arrived at the restaurant early Tuesday afternoon and said the vandalism would be discussed at Wednesday’s council meeting.
“People are heartbroken about this,” Lindell said. “Just heartbroken. I mean, it’s kind of this step into a place that we just don’t even want to imagine.”
The Anti-Defamation League’s Mountain States Region released a statement Tuesday saying the organization was “deeply disturbed” by the incident.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations also condemned the attack.
“No community should ever experience this disgusting bigotry and racism,” said Sim Singh, senior manager of policy and advocacy at the Sikh Coalition.
“These racist acts are meant to divide us, but we are strongest when we stand together,” he added.
Support for the restaurant has poured in from the community. Many people stopped by the restaurant Tuesday afternoon to leave bouquets of flowers, cards, notes saying they wanted to help clean up the damage and even cash.
Multiple fundraising campaigns also have been launched to aid India Palace. A GoFundMe campaign started by fellow Indian restaurant Paper Dosa had raised nearly $57,000 by Tuesday evening.
In all, the campaigns had raised more than $100,000.
Some people were posting messages on social media questioning whether the attack was a hoax. Brown said he had seen such comments.
“I wish this was not real. I wish this was not happening, but it’s happening,” he said.
Brown and Baljot Singh said they do not know who is responsible for the attack. They cited a violent incident Thursday involving an armed man who had parked in the restaurant’s reserved spots in a city lot, though it was unclear if the altercation was related to the break-in.
Brown said he had left a note on the man’s car, asking him not to park there again.
Later in the day, when Brown was inside the restaurant speaking with a customer on the phone, he could hear the man yelling at Baljit Singh, he said. He went outside to intervene.
“It just gets worse and worse, and he decides he’s going to try and fight with me and then he tries to pull out his gun,” Brown said.
Sikhs, members of a South Asian religion, have faced increased discrimination since 9/11. The FBI’s 2018 report on hate crimes found there was a 200 percent increase in anti-Sikh incidents from the previous year.
Baljot Singh said he was often bullied in school for wearing a turban while he was growing up and has “been called a lot of nasty things, and it just wasn’t right.”
“A lot of people are not educated about what the Sikh culture is, and they need to be,” he said.