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Queens Chronicle

Sikhs Protest School Harassment

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Posted: Thursday, July 3, 2008 12:00 am

Nearly 100 Sikhs marched through the streets of Richmond Hill on Monday morning in protest of the harassment Sikh children are enduring at the hands of their peers inside the city’s public schools.

In less than one week, two Sikh students were attacked in what their community leaders are calling hate crimes resulting from inaction by the city Department of Education.

“These attacks on Sikh children are extremely disturbing,” said Amardeep Singh, executive director of the Sikh Coalition, which organized the protest. “Sikh children and their articles of faith continue to be the special targets of attack. When will attacks on Sikh children in particular end? … We’re fed up because our schools have not done enough to protect our children.”

Singh and Sikh community leaders vowed to protest in the case of another bias-based attack after a June 3 incident in which a Sikh teen was assaulted at Richmond Hill High School, despite repeated complaints from his parents to school authorities and from members of the Sikh Coalition to DOE officials regarding bias-based bullying in city schools.

The DOE has taken no actions to protect Sikh students, according to Singh, who has met with Schools Chancellor Joel Klein and his staff every two months since July 2007 to discuss the problems facing Sikhs at public schools.

“We’re fed up and we’re not going to take it anymore. When these incidents occur we’re going to take to the streets again and again and again until we have justice for our children,” Singh said. “Our children deserve love, they deserve the ability to get an education free of bias and harassment.”

Klein agreed to implement a regulation suggested by the Sikh Coalition that defines, tracks and addresses bias-based harassment and problem schools on June 6, after personally expressing regret to 18-year-old Jagmohan Singh Premi. The student had suffered an orbital fracture during the June 3 attack in which another student untied his patka (small turban) and punched him in the face with a key between his knuckles.

But, just three days after Klein’s promise to protect Sikh students, another incident unfolded at P.S. 219 in Flushing. Gurprit Kaur, a 12-year-old Sikh girl who was taunted regularly throughout the school year, discovered on June 9 that a classmate had cut off a four-inch portion of her religiously-mandated uncut hair and discarded it.

The principal of P.S. 219 suspended the hair-cutting student and provided counseling services to Gurprit, according to the DOE. School officials also met with the Sikh Coalition and are in the process of writing the new regulation.

Additionally, the DOE said it will distribute to all middle and high school students in the city anti-bias brochures that define harassment, advise students of their rights and outline appropriate actions in response to harassment.

“We’re fed up because we’re Americans also and we expect to have the rights that every American has,” Singh said. “We’re fed up because we know our constitution promises freedom of religion for all, but we’re not enjoying freedom of our religion.”

Escorted by Capt. Charles McEvoy, commanding officer of the 102nd Precinct, and about a dozen police officers, the protesters were able to rally safely and quickly without disturbances. Joining them were City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) and members of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“The Department of Education’s continuing inaction in the face of repeated bias attacks in our public schools is utterly reprehensible,” Liu said. He called the recent attacks outrageous “not only because of the bigotry and hate involved, but because the DOE refuses to acknowledge the magnitude of this persistent problem.”

The education department ignored warning signs and pleas of help, Liu added, and by “turning a blind eye” toward harassment in public schools, it has failed to provide a secure learning environment and is putting students in peril.

Fed up with the ever-growing list of offenses the Sikh community has experienced, Singh concluded the protest with a message to all: “It’s time that New York and … America recognized that Sikhs are a part of this community and we will demand our rights.”

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