By Ivan Pereira
The Queens Sikh community gathered in the streets of Richmond Hill Monday to demand city action following two recent attacks on their youth by fellow students.
On June 9, a student cut four inches off 12-year-old Gurprit Kaur's religiously mandated long hair at PS 219 in Flushing.
Six days earlier a Richmond Hill High School student, Jagmohan Singh Premi, was punched in the face by a classmate who also tried to remove his turban, which is called a patka.
“Sikhs are vulnerable to attack because of our articles of faith. We want to say we don't tolerate this,” said Sonny Singh, a Sikh Coalition community organizer.
The city's Department of Education said it was investigating the attacks against Kaur and Premi, but no charges have been filed so far. Premi, his parents and more than 100 of his fellow South Asians shouted that message during a six-block march from his organization's offices on 95th Avenue and 118th Street to Richmond Hill HS.
“Stop the hate, educate. DOE, we're not fools, no more hate in our schools,” the demonstrators said as they walked through the streets.
The protesters said they believed the city's Department of Education is not makingracial tolerance a top priority in city schools. Sikh Coalition member Bandana Kaur said the prejudice discourages students and hurts their chances to achieve their goals.
“When something like this happens in the community, not only is it impeding the progress of the student, it's hurting their belief that they can grow and advance,” she said.
Premi agreed and said through an interpreter that he was too scared to go to school since he was the victim of racial bullying by the classmate who assaulted him for the entire school year. The 18-year-old immigrant, who immigrated to New York with his family two years ago, added that he was shocked that students in such a diverse city would act out like that.
City School's Chancellor Joel Klein met with the teen after the incident and promised that the DOE would work to make sure that it does not happen again.
But Sikh residents wanted more substantial results.
City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), who marched in the protest, suggested that the DOE adhere more to the Diversity of All Students Act that the City Council passed in 2004
The act mandates that the DOE keep track of bias attack complaints throughout city schools.
“When the Department of Education turns a blind eye to this harassment and bullying, they encourage more,” Liu said.
The Sikh Coalition announced it would conduct similar marches in the future, if more of its young members are assaulted or threatened.
“When the community does something like this, it shows the gravity of the issue,” Kaur said.
Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.