New York Sikhs march to protest hate crimes

July 1st, 2008 - 1:09 pm ICT by IANS  

New York, July 1 (IANS) The Sikh community here marched through the streets in Queens borough protesting a spate of hate crimes against Sikh school students and calling upon the Department of Education in the city to take proactive action to stop the menace. Nearly 200 people Monday marched from the two gurdwaras in Richmond Hill, which has a large Sikh population, to the Richmond Hill High School, where Jagmohan Singh Premi, 18, was punched in the face June 3 after a student tried to remove his patka (smaller turban). School authorities suspended the attacker from the school soon after.

Within a week of that incident, Gurprit Kaur, a 12-year-old student at Public School 219 in Flushing, discovered that a fellow student had cut off a portion of her religiously-mandated uncut hair.

Last year, 15-year-old Harpal Singh Vacher’s turban was yanked off and his hair sheared with scissors by a fellow student in a school in Elmhurst, also in Queens. The attacker was later convicted of hate crime.

Sikh men are mandated to wear a turban and keep unshorn hair. They became targets of bias crimes because of their distinctive look, more so after 9/11.

The Sikh Coalition, a New York-based advocacy and rights group, released a report in April which said that almost 60 percent of the 400 Sikh students surveyed had suffered bias-based harassment or violence in city schools.

Sonny Singh, a spokesperson for the coalition which organised the protest march, told IANS: “Both the recent victims and their families marched with the community leaders. Premi even addressed the assembly at the end of the march.”

John Liu, New York Council Member who is on the Council’s Education Committee, also addressed the protesters.

“Continuing inaction by the department of education in the face of repeated bias attacks in our public schools is utterly reprehensible, not only because of the bigotry and hate involved but also because the department refuses to acknowledge the magnitude of this persistent problem,” Liu said.

In both Premi and Vacher’s case, he said, the department ignored warning signs and pleas for help from the victims.

Schools chancellor Joe Klein had earlier met the Sikh community and said new bias regulations were being implemented.

Sonny Singh, however, said the education department is reactive - it takes action only after an incident. “But the community wants it to be proactive to prevent hate crimes. And we have resolved to keep taking to the streets to achieve our aim,” Singh said.

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