The city’s largest Sikh community, in Richmond Hill, responded to the recent attack on a Sikh man in Manhattan with a familiar message: We won’t live in fear.
Dr. Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh-American professor from Columbia University, had his jaw fractured when he was attacked by a mob of more than 20 people on Sept. 21 in Harlem. The assailants allegedly shouted “Osama” and “terrorist” before grabbing his beard and beating him to the ground. The incident is being investigated by the NYPD as a hate crime.
“We are all troubled by the rising number of hate crimes in a city that we all refer to as home,” said Sona Simran Kaur Rai, a spokeswoman for Singh and a member of the board of directors of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in a press release on Monday.
In response to the attack, members of Richmond Hill’s Sikh community and area officials rallied on the steps outside the Sikh Cultural Society at 95-30 118 St. — the largest gurdwara, or Sikh temple, in New York State — to protest the attack and denounce hate crimes against Sikhs.
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows), who represents much of Richmond Hill, led the rally, where he was joined by many of his colleagues and candidates for citywide office.
“In a nation that thrives because of its long-standing commitment to diversity, religious tolerance and freedom, it is unacceptable that Sikh Americans have been the repeated targets of hate crimes,” Weprin said. “Mass violence and hate crimes against any group of people are intolerable and preventable.”
Because of their trademark beards and turbans, Sikhs are often mistaken for Muslims, although Sikhism is a completely different religion based in northwestern India. According to the SALDEF, there have been more than 300 hate crimes against Sikh Americans in the years following the 9/11 attacks, including intimidation, vandalism of religious centers or personal property, assault, discrimination in the workplace, rape and murder.
It was just 14 months ago when Richmond Hill’s Sikh community stood on the same steps along with Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to condemn the shooting at a Wisconsin Sikh Temple that killed six people and injured four others. Though no motive was ever discovered for the shooting, law enforcement has been treating the incident as a hate crime and act of domestic terrorism. The perpetrator was a white man who was killed by a police officer at the scene.
Weprin also noted that the new Miss America, New York native Nina Davuluri, received bigoted messages on Twitter after she was crowned that accused her of being an “Arab” and a “terrorist.” Her parents are from India.
“Unfortunately, hate is still around,” Weprin said.