(New York, New York) June 21, 2008 - The Sikh Coalition is dismayed to report that a twelve-year-old Sikh girl's hair was maliciously cut by another student. 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 braided hair and discarded it.
The attack on Gurprit occurred only five days after Jagmohan Singh Premi was punched in the face when a student intentionally attempted to remove his patka (smaller turban) at Richmond Hill High School, in Richmond Hill, Queens. It also occured a just a year after Harpal Singh's hair was forcibly cut by another student in a city school.
Sikh children simply continue to suffer in New York City. This past April, the Sikh Coalition released a civil rights report that found that more than 60% of the over 400 New York City Sikh public school students the Coalition surveyed suffered bias-based harassment or violence in city schools.
On Monday, June 9, 2008 at approximately 11:00 am while in English class, Gurprit's classmate told her that a portion of her braided hair had been cut off. Gurprit did not notice while her hair was being cut behind her back. Given the deep spiritual significance of her hair, Gurprit was extremely upset. She immediately conveyed her dismay to teachers.
Gurprit's school conducted an investigation and within hours advised her that a classmate (a juvenile who shall remain nameless) had admitted to cutting her hair during a class they share together and where they sit next to each other. The school returned Gurprit's hair to her wadded in a tissue. The perpetrator was suspended the same day.
Sister and Brother Suffer Silently for Years
Sadly, the perpetrator specifically harassed Gurprit because of her and her brother, Talwinder's Sikh faith. The perpetrator made fun of Talwinder's jurdha and patka (smaller turban), saying "Your brother has a ball on his head. I am going to rip it off and throw it at him."
Once when Gurprit came to school with her hair in a bun, the perpetrator said, "Now you have a bun on your head just like your brother." The perpetrator also referred to Talwinder derisively as a "Hindu" in front of Gurprit.
The perpetrator knew that cutting hair was against Gurprit's religion. Several months ago, the perpetrator specifically asked Gurprit why she did not cut her hair. Gurprit responded because her religion does not allow it.
Gurprit's brother Talwinder, a sixth grade student, is routinely subject to ridicule because of his Sikh articles of faith. Other sixth-graders call him "potatohead" and "turbanator." Students would say that Talwinder has a bomb on his head, and to get away from him because he is going to blow everyone up.
The harassment Talwinder has suffered this year is nothing new. When Talwinder was in the fifth grade, a student tried to touch and remove his patka. When he was in the fourth grade, the school suspended a student for harassing Talwinder about his turban and hair.
When asked by the Coalition's staff whether he liked school, Talwinder responded, "I like school, but not the kids."
Enough is Enough: Sikhs of New York City to March for Sikh Children on June 30th
The Sikh Coalition along with Gurprit Kaur and Jagmohan Singh Premi's parents are organizing a march through the streets of Richmond Hill, Queens on Monday, June 30th. The march will end with a rally at Richmond Hill High School, the school where Jagmohan Singh Premi suffered a bias-based assault this month.
The purpose of the march is to push the New York Department of Education to end bias-based harassment of Sikh children in city schools. It is about time that the Department recognize that Sikh children in particular are vulnerable to bias-based harassment and violence in school. The Sikh Coalition calls on all Sikhs to march with us on Monday, June 30th or sign the community petition to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein asking him to take action to protect Sikh children from bias-based harassment in city schools.
Coalition Action and Department's Response
Sikh Coalition staff was on site at Gurprit Kaur's home and at her school within 24 hours of receiving a call from her father requesting assistance. School officials have since met with the Coalition to discuss diversity educational programs to be implemented at the beginning of the new school year in the Fall. The Department has not been clear on whether these programs will include specific education for teachers and students on Sikhs and Sikh concerns in school. The Coalition calls on the Department to implement a more Sikh-specific program since Sikh children are uniquely vulnerable to bias-based harassment.
In addition, the Sikh Coalition has formally requested that the Department share with the Coalition the Department's planned Chancellor's Regulation on addressing bias-based incident in city schools. The Department has agreed to meet with the Coalition before any such regulation is made public or implemented so that the Sikh Coalition can have input on its implementation.
As always, the Coalition continues to encourage all Sikhs to fearlessly practice their faith and stand up for their rights. We ask that you sign our petition
and attend our March for Sikh children