(New York, NY) June 5, 2008 - New York City's Sikh community has again suffered the indignity of another hate crime against a Sikh student. This past Tuesday (June 4, 2008), Jagmohan Singh Premi, a student at Richmond Hill High School, was punched in the face after a student intentionally attempted to remove his patka (smaller turban). The perpetrator has a long, documented history of harassing Jagmohan in school, making fun of his patka and beard, and attempting to pull off his patka.
Sadly, Sikh children continue to suffer in New York City. In May 2007 a Sikh boy's hair was forcibly cut by another student in a hate crime. This past April, the Sikh Coalition released a civil rights report that found that more than 60% of the Sikh students we surveyed suffered bias-based harassment or violence in city schools. The Coalition's report specifically cited Richmond Hill High School as a "problem school" for Sikh children.
Jagmohan Singh a day after the hate attack. Doctors said he suffered a facial contusion and possibly an orbital fracture.
The Hate Assault
Jagmohan, a student at Richmond Hill High School in Queens, New York, was sitting in class when a student partially untied his patka. With his patka untied --- and with his teacher in the classroom --- Jagmohan tried to quickly secure it. At that moment Jagmohan's tormentor punched him in the face with a key between his knuckles.
Doctors stated that Jagmohan has a facial contusion as a result of the attack. In addition he has a possible orbital fracture. He will have a follow-up appointment in the coming days.
An Outrage: A Tormentor Won't Stop and School Can't Stop Him
Jagmohan's tormentor has a long history of harassing him at school. He pulled on Jagmohan's beard in class and squeezed his jurdha (hair top knot). He continually made fun of Jagmohan's patka and jurdha, asking Jagmohan if he ever washed his hair and demanding that Jagmohan remove his patka and show him his hair.
Jagmohan reported this harassment to teachers, but the tormentor was not stopped by teachers or administrators at Richmond Hill High School. Though the tormentor had been suspended earlier this year specifically because he tried to remove Jagmohan's patka, he continued to harass Jagmohan during their shared classes. That harassment culminated in Tuesday's violence.
Coalition Takes Immediate Action
Yesterday morning, the Sikh Coalition's Executive Director received a phone call
from Sarabjit Singh, a family friend of Jagmohan Singh, describing the incident. After speaking with the family and confirming the assault, a team of three Coalition staff members immediately left for Richmond Hill to interview Jagmohan Singh and his parents at their home.
Sikh Coalition staff then took the following actions yesterday:
- The Coalition initiated contacted with the Hate Crimes Task Force of the New York City Police Department. Two Hate Crimes Task Force investigators interviewed Jagmohan Singh yesterday at his home in the presence of the Sikh Coalition's staff attorney and other staff members. The Coalition has requested that this matter be pursued as a hate crime directly with the Hate Crimes Task Force.
- Coalition staff accompanied Jagmohan Singh's father for a meeting with school officials at Richmond Hill High School. The Coalition staff and Jagmohan Singh's father had an extended discussion yesterday with the Administrative Dean and Security Coordinator at Richmond Hill High School. The Coalition is concerned that the Dean did not totally understand the religious implications of Jagmohan's patka being untied by another student. The Dean was aware that Jagmohan's tormentor had harassed Jagmohan in the past.
- The Coalition initiated contact with the New York City Schools Chancellor's office. The Chancellor's office informed the Coalition that it had initiated an investigation into the matter.
Richmond Hill High School: A School with a Documented History of Violence Against Sikhs
The Coalition has documented harassment of Sikh children specifically at Richmond Hill High School since June of 2007 when we released our report "Hatred in the Hallways" on bias against Sikh school children in New York City. On July 16, 2007, the Coalition directly raised the issue of anti-Sikh harassment at Richmond Hill High School at a meeting with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein in materials submitted to the Chancellor and his staff at that meeting.
Read the Sikh Coalition's October 2007 New York Times Editorial on the Failures of New York to Address Bias in Schools
(Online or PDF)
In April 2008, the Sikh Coalition discussed Richmond Hill High School in its report "Making Our Voices Heard: A Civil Rights Agenda for New York City Sikhs." Page 10 of that report specifically lists Richmond Hill High School under the heading "Problem Schools." The Coalition found that over half of all Sikh students at Richmond Hill High who responded to our survey reported being harassed at school.
The Coalition is outraged by what happened to Jagmohan Singh. His school has a history of violence and harassment against Sikh students, which has been documented by the Sikh Coalition. The Department of Education is aware of our findings and yet Jagmohan was tormented for months because of his faith. This is simply not acceptable.
The Coalition is frustrated that our work on these issues has not resulted in enough action from the Department of Education or the city to stop these attacks. However, we will continue to work to ensure that the bias-motivated element of this crime is recognized by the Queens County District Attorney's office. The Coalition will also work with the New York City Department of Education to ensure Sikh children are safe in school and can focus on learning.
As always, the Coalition continues encourages all Sikhs to fearlessly practice their faith and stand up for their rights. If you or someone you know has been harassed because of your Sikh faith, please contact us here.