This past Sunday afternoon, on October 25, 2015, Connecticut resident Parampal Singh Ghai and his father were driving on I-95 north, headed back to his parents’ home in Long Island after a family birthday celebration in Virginia. They decided to fuel up with snacks at the Maryland House Service Plaza in Aberdeen, Maryland, north of Baltimore.
Parampal ordered apple pie among other food items at Nathan’s. While he waited for his food, he noticed a Nathan’s employee calling customers by their name and handing them their order. Parampal, who had not been asked for his name when he ordered, looked down at his receipt. To his horror, he saw the cashier had written his name as “Osama” on the receipt.
He quickly moved to confront the cashier about why she was discriminating against him, calling him “Osama”, and humiliating him. She said nothing and smirked. Meanwhile, another Nathan’s employee and a customer laughed at Parampal, deepening his humiliation. Parampal, who had lost his appetite, returned his food.
The Sikh Coalition is appalled by the cashier’s unacceptable, outrageous, offensive and discriminatory behavior. We are working closely with Parampal as he considers his legal options. Unfortunately, Parampal’s humiliating experience falls in a long line of harassment and discrimination faced by our community.
Since the 9/11 attacks, Sikh Americans, who wear religious turbans and maintain unshorn hair, have repeatedly endured bigotry and violence because of a mistaken and offensive affiliation with members of the Al Queda terrorist network. Many have been called racial slurs such as “Osama,” “raghead” or “terrorist,” at the workplace, on the streets, and at school. Just last September, Inderjit S. Mukker, a father, was physically attacked on his way to the grocery store in a Chicago suburb and also called a “terrorist,” “Bin Laden,” and told to “go back to your country.” Sikh school children have not escaped the backlash. In a recent national survey, the Sikh Coalition found that approximately 67% of turbaned youths nationwide report being bullied and verbally harassed because of their Sikh religious identity. The Sikh Coalition has also represented Sikhs who have faced verbal harassment in the workplace, including at Autozone, an auto parts company, that allowed a Sikh employee to be repeatedly harassed and subjected to “terrorist slurs” by customers such as “Bin Laden.”
This behavior is unacceptable and has no place in America. Please join us by reaching out to Nathan’s on Twitter and Facebook, and asking them to take immediate remedial action – including educating their employees on respecting cultural and religious diversity and engaging in Sikh awareness training – to ensure that no other customer receives a heaping dose of racism with their order of apple pie.