On this date of March 21, 1960, the police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire on a group of peaceful protestors demonstrating against that country’s apartheid laws. In commemoration of the 69 people that were killed on that day, the United Nations called on in 1966 the international community to intensify its efforts to banish all forms of racial discrimination.
Despite celebrating this important day, there is still a lot of work to be done.
About two years and a half ago on February 23 in the Helsinki suburb of Vantaa, a Pakistani man was brutally attacked by three young white Finnish youths.
Writes the Helsinki Times: “Assailants inflicted 20-30 stab wounds on the victim using knives and other edged weapons. His lips were also cut and was stabbed near the eye. Fortunately, the victim was transferred to the hospital urgently and underwent major surgery. Although still in ICU [intensive care unit] and in critical condition with severe injuries, his situation is not life-threatening anymore, and he has regained consciousness.”
Much to the amazement of the family and other NGOs, the police did not consider what happened to Rashid a hate crime.
“The police called us the following day after what happened to my husband,” said the wife of the victim. “The first question I asked the police if it was a hate crime. They said it wasn’t because the suspects were intoxicated.”
The three youths received 9.5-year prison sentences each after they raised the charges in April from attempted manslaughter to attempted murder.
What does this day, The International Day for the Elimination of Racism, mean to Rashid and Sobia?
“We left our own country, our people, and family to live in peace in a foreign land, but this horrible matter happened to Rashid and us,” she explained.
Sobia said that apart from having a profound economic, social, and psychological impact on their lives today, the family has not recovered from what happened. “It made us lose trust in Finland as a safe country,” she added.
Sobia states that she and her husband continue to get suspicious looks from strangers when they are in public.
“You can tell when you are not wanted because some people give you angry looks,” she said. “And this is because you may have dark hair and don’t look like them.”
What happened to Rashid and the rest of his family after that February evening shows that only one day to celebrate the elimination of racism is not enough.
It is also a reminder that racism can strike at you.
*The announcement was also published in Migrant Tales.