(New York, NY) June 30, 2008 - Hundreds of Sikhs, stung by two recent incidents of hate crimes against Sikh public school students, marched through the streets of Richmond Hill, Queens today to protest attacks on Sikh children in city schools. The march, estimated by police to number over three hundred, included a large contingent from Boston and Sikhs from New Jersey, Maryland, and North Carolina.
On June 9, Gurprit Kaur, a student at Public School 219 in Flushing, Queens, discovered that another student had cut off a portion of her religiously-mandated uncut hair and discarded it. This is the second major attack on Sikh public school student in June. On June 3, Jagmohan Singh Premi was punched in the face after a student intentionally attempted to remove his patka (smaller turban).at Richmond Hill High School. In addition, during May 2007 a Sikh boy's hair was forcibly cut by another student in a hate crime.
The march started from the Sikh Cultural Society Gurudwara, picked up more marchers at the Baba Makhan Shah Lubana Gurudwara, and then ended 7 blocks later at Richmond Hill High School the site of the attack on Jagmohan Singh Premi. Sikhs home and business owners in Richmond Hill even joined the march as it passed their homes.
The Sikh Coalition has found that Sikh children are particularly vulnerable to bias-based harassment. This past April, the Sikh Coalition released a civil rights report, "Making Our Voices Heard: A Civil Rights Agenda for New York City Sikhs," which found that more than 60% of over 400 Sikh students that the Coalition surveyed had suffered bias-based harassment or violence in city schools.
While the Sikh community continues to express grave concerns about the safety of its children in city schools, the Department of Education and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein is beginning to appropriately respond to the problem of bias-based bullying against all children in city schools. On June 6, Chancellor Klein personally expressed regret to Jagmohan Singh Premi, the victim of a bias-based attack at Richmond Hill High School.
In addition, on June 6, Chancellor Klein announced that he had recently ordered "the drafting of a new Chancellor's regulation that incorporates recommendations from the Sikh Coalition." Chancellor Klein also said on June 6 that the Department will "distribute an anti-bias brochure to every middle and high school student in the City that defines harassment, advises students of their rights, and outlines appropriate actions in response to acts of harassment." In addition, Chancellor Klein said that the Department will expand its "incident reporting system to comprehensively track bias-related incidents in our schools beginning in September."
The Sikh Coalition commends the Department of Education and Chancellor Klein for pledging to create a system to monitor and address incidents of bias-based bullying in city schools. This announcement by the Chancellor, while short of the protections called for in the Dignity in All Schools Act (passed by the City Council in 2004), is a major step forward in the fight to protect all students from biased-based harassment in city schools.
Nevertheless, the Sikh Coalition calls on the Department of Education to enact a plan to protect Sikh children specifically from bias-based harassment in city schools. It is the Sikh community's intent to continue marching in larger and larger numbers until steps are taken to protect Sikh children in particular from bias-based harassment.
Major Media Coverage of the Rally
Fox 5 TV
New York One TV
New York Times
A Community Engaged
Sikh parents and children begin the March for Sikh children. The city police department estimated that over three hundred people participated in the march.
Children hold signs that say "Keep Kids Safe" and "Protect Sikh children"
Sangat members all raise their hands when asked whether they are ready to march again if the Department of Education fails to do enough to protect our children
Based on the Sikh Coalition's April civil rights report, which surveyed over 400 Sikh children, and found that more than half suffered bias-based harassment, it is clear that Sikh children need particular help to overcome ignorance in city schools. The Sikh Coalition calls on the Department of Education to inform and train teachers on the particular dangers faced by Sikh students. The Coalition also calls on the Department to teach students about Sikhs and Sikh concerns in order to reduce bias and bigotry.
Council Member John C. Liu, a member of the Council's Education Committee, stated: "The Department of Education's continuing inaction in the face of repeated bias attacks in our public schools is utterly reprehensible. 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. Just weeks ago, Jagmohan Singh Premi was physically assaulted after being taunted about his faith, and Harpal Singh Vacher was attacked in a similar assault a year ago. In both cases, the DOE ignored warning signs and pleas for help from the victimized students. 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. In this case, the DOE is as culpable as the individual who actually perpetrated this attack against Gurprit."
The Coalition thanks the Sikh Cultural Society Gurudwara and Baba Makhan Shah Lubana Gurdwara for steadfastly supporting the march and rallying sangat members to the join the march. The Coalition also thanks Desis Rising Up and Moving and the Council on American Islamic Relations - New York who both spoke at the march and the New York Civil Liberties Union for providing legal observers for the march. In addition the Coalition would like to acknowledge Jus Punjabi TV for covering the lead up to the march. The Coalition is also thankful to the other march cosponsors: Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, New York Immigration Coalition, New Immigrant Community Empowerment, Coalition for Asian American Families and Children, Sikh Center of Flushing, and United Sikhs. Finally, the Sikh Coalition particularly thanks Council Member John Liu for continuing to stand with our community.
As always, the Coalition encourages all Sikhs to fearlessly practice their faith and stand up for their rights. We ask that you sign our petition on this issue.