"Two teens beat a 70-year-old Queens man after asking him if he was Hindu or Muslim, police said Friday." [NYDN]

This happened in Corona, Queens. The cops are searching for two Hispanic males. On one hand, it’s a savage act, plain and simple. On the other hand, there’s an element of sophistication within this savagery. The stereotypical American bigot, you imagine, doesn’t stop to consider such fine nuances as Hindu vs. Muslim before initiating an all-out assault — it’s all just a whole bunch ‘o’ brown, right?

But of course, it’s not, as is made clear by the suspect profiles — “dark haired” Hispanics going after someone who’s presumably South Asian, and just as dark.

This question, "Are you Hindu or Muslim?" is so strange to encounter in a New York crime story, especially for an Indian guy like me. For anyone who has roots in South Asia, it’s the question seemingly repeated, ad nauseum, throughout all spasms of Hindu-Muslim violence.

After all, many Hindus and Muslims in India or Pakistan are ethnically identical, distinguished only by their religiously-ascribed clothing or something just as superficial. During any episode of inter-religious butchering, the question is presumably thrust at anyone who doesn’t fit into a clear category. But even rampaging mobs can be savvy, and know very well that the person being asked is willing to answer with whatever identity is most practical at that moment.

From this cynicism was born a test of sorts: if the mob doubts the veracity of the answer — suspects that the person is in fact Hindu when he said Muslim, or vice-versa — it forces him to drop his pants, and reveal whether he is circumcised (Muslim) or not (Hindu).

The body, it figured, couldn’t lie.

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