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Hate Crime Victim Speaks of Ordeal


The Standard-Times, Dartmouth, MA, Jul. 3, 2003

"Resting on an old mattress next to several Hindu texts, Saurabh Bhalerao struggled yesterday to describe the four men police said brutally attacked him last week because they thought he was a Muslim. 'Ignorance is the best word I can use,' he said, whispering through a [broken] jaw wired shut. 'They do not know about the world outside the United States.' Prosecutors said Mr. Bhalerao, a 24-year-old delivery man for Sarducci's Subs & Pizza in New Bedford, was beaten, burned, stabbed and dumped on a Fairhaven road by four assailants after he delivered a chicken pizza to a Weld Street apartment on Jun. 22."
"Police arrested three suspects in the attack last week. Detectives have identified a fourth named in court documents only as 'Chris' and expect to arrest him in the next few days, Fairhaven Police Chief Gary F. Souza said. Mr. Bhalerao said he followed the arrests from his bed in the intensive care unit of Rhode Island Hospital, where he was taken hours after the attack. He returned on Saturday to the Dartmouth home he shares with three other Indian students from UMass Dartmouth, but it will likely take him two to three weeks to physically recover. Speaking with conviction, the student from Indore, India, said he will absolutely finish his master's degree in engineering at UMass Dartmouth. Yet his voice softened and his head bowed slightly when he contemplated going back to his old delivery job in New Bedford. 'There are some hard lessons to be learned in life, but I am cool,' he said, remaining non-committal [about returning to his pizza delivery job]."
"Despite the attack, Mr. Bhalerao said he believes the alleged perpetrators do not represent the larger community. He said the U.S. is generally a tolerant community. 'Sometimes there are those sorts of people who spoil the big impression,' he said. Various organizations in the region already have adopted his cause. The First Congregational Church in Fairhaven held a service last night to pray against hate, the church said. Another group, the Indian Forum for Political Education, scheduled a rally against hate crimes for 7:30 p.m. tomorrow on the steps of City Hall in New Bedford, group chairman Ravi Sakhuja said. UMass Dartmouth also has taken up a collection for Mr. Bhalerao's benefit."
"At least one Islamic advocacy group called the attack just one in a series of hate crimes sparked by the political atmosphere following the Sep. 11, 2001, terror attacks. Mr. Bhalerao, however, wasn't so sure. 'Originally they had the intention to use force to rob, but later, when I told them I am from India, they got really furious thinking that I am Middle Eastern,' he scribbled on a piece of paper, the only way he can communicate lengthy thoughts. 'It seems too unrelated,' he said, wondering what motivated the violence. 'Something is really wrong with their backgrounds.' "
"Mr. Bhalerao's parents and younger sister plan to leave India soon to visit him. Even in his native country, the press has carried accounts of the crime. Rohit Kale, 25, lives with Mr. Bhalerao and is helping prepare food and medicine and change his friend's dressings. The two first met in college. 'It's very shocking for something like this to happen to someone. It's not human nature to beat up someone for this reason,' he said."