Sikhs protest hair cutting school attack

Click here for photos from the rally

Over 300 members of the Sikh community marched from Richmond Hill to Jamaica on Monday, June 30, protesting what they see as an upswing in hate crimes in public schools.
The Sikh community learned last week that a female student cut off about three inches of 12-year-old Gurprit Kaur’s religiously-mandated long hair at Public School 219 in Flushing earlier this month, according to reports. The latest episode happened only five days after Jagmohan Singh Premi, 18, was punched in the face with a key during class in Richmond Hill High School after his attacker allegedly tried to remove his turban.
The names of the attackers in these incidents were not released because they are both minors.
“We promised that if another incident occurred we’d march,” said Amardeep Singh, executive director of the Sikh Coalition. “It’s our intention to keep marching if the Department of Education (DOE) doesn’t defend Sikh children from attacks.”
A similar episode to the latest one occurred last year when a Sikh boy’s hair was forcibly cut during school.
The march began at the Sikh Cultural Society on 118th Street and ended at Richmond Hill High School on 114th Street.
“Sikh children simply continue to suffer in New York City,” wrote the Sikh Coalition on their web site. “This past April, the Sikh Coalition released a civil rights report that found that more than 60 percent of the over 400 New York City Sikh public school students . . . surveyed suffered bias-based harassment or violence in city schools.”
Following the incident involving Premi, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein vowed to reform the tracking of hate incidents in schools and to distribute anti-bias brochures to students and teachers in every school.
But that is not enough, Singh said. “Let us commend the DOE for putting in place a defining and tracking system,” he said. “But if there’s no system for Sikh children, they’ll be nicely tracking a problem that’s progressing.”
Singh recommended that educators learn about the issues that Sikh children face when they go to school. Also, the Coalition wants students to learn about Sikhism, which has approximately 21 million followers worldwide, and its articles of faith, like the turbans and beards of male practitioners.
One important facet of the religion is that “Under the principals of their faith, Sikhs are mandated to leave all hair on their bodies uncut, wrapping the hair on their heads underneath a turban,” according to the Sikh Coalition.
“They need to commit to doing it,” Singh said. “We want them to go the full 100 yards.”
Councilmember John Liu and other elected officials showed their support for the Sikh Coalition at the march.
“The Department of Education’s continuing inaction in the face of repeated bias attacks in our public schools is utterly reprehensible,” Liu said. “The recent assault on Gurprit Kaur and other students is outrageous - not only because of the bigotry and hate involved, but because the DOE refuses to acknowledge the magnitude of this persistent problem.
By turning a blind eye towards harassment in public schools, the DOE has failed to provide a secure learning environment and is putting our students in peril,” he continued. “In this case, the DOE is as culpable as the individual who actually perpetrated this attack against Gurprit.”

More from Around New York