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Rallying around the India Palace

The only good result from the hateful trashing of downtown Santa Fe’s India Palace restaurant has been the overwhelming reaction against it.

By late last week, well more than $100,000 had been raised through online campaigns to offset the extensive damage discovered on Monday. The fundraising efforts cropped up independent of India Palace’s owners and were started by folks saddened by the attack on a beloved local business.

Baljit Singh, left, and his son Baljot Singh, owners of the India Palace restaurant, walk through their business that was heavily vandalized last week. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Just about everything in the India Palace, from dishes and bottles of wine to the kitchen equipment, was ruined by someone who also spray-painted anti-Muslim slurs, “white power” and “Trump 2020” on the walls.

This would be awful if it happened at a local McDonald’s. But India Palace has always been a special place. The great and reasonably priced food is only part of its appeal. Handpainted murals and other elaborate decor all around its cozy spaces made dining at the India Palace like a brief visit to another world.

In recent weeks, the restaurant has been providing food and other items for the homeless during the coronavirus pandemic.

Of course, the physical damage to the 30-year-old business isn’t the worst thing here. The family of owner Baljit Singh says it should able to resume takeout and delivery service soon.

What most shocked Santa Feans as well as people all over the world (the story was picked up by international news outlets) was the crazy, hateful and stupid graffiti left behind by the vandal or vandals.

We say “stupid” because the Singhs are members of northern New Mexico’s extensive and long-standing Sikh community, not Muslims. This destructive assault would be just as tragic if the owners were in fact Muslim. But it’s a shame that since the 9/11 attacks, the turban-wearing Sikhs have had to contend with ignorant haters who confuse them with other people.

Singh says he’ll never forget seeing his business mostly destroyed. His son Baljot Singh said he basically grew up in the restaurant. “I completely lost it,” he said of his reaction to seeing the ruins for the first time.

Soon after news of the vandalism got out, local residents began to organize.

In addition to those who started fundraising drives, many came to India Place to leave flowers and cards with phone numbers so they could assist in cleaning up. The Santa Fe police have categorized the incident as a hate crime.

The case may be hard to solve. India Palace apparently had no surveillance cameras of its own. But the police have said there is relevant video that they hope will help identify the perpetrator.

Of course, in the current political climate and with Trump’s name being thrown into the mix, there are social media posters who say the vandalism was fake. An Albuquerque radio host has suggested state and local authorities have “rushed to judgment” about the motives for the attack, implying that vandals could have sprayed the racist graffiti as a diversion.

That wouldn’t make the words any less shocking or despicable.

State Land Commissioner Stephanie Garcia Richard surely spoke for almost everyone in the Santa Fe community when she addressed a small Indian Palace rally on Wednesday.

“I hope you receive a message from your fellow New Mexicans that we will not tolerate these acts,” she told the Singhs. “That is not us.”