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Action needed to protect Sikhs

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  • Leonie Haimson
    Action needed to protect Sikhs Albor Ruiz, NY Daily news Wednesday, July 2nd 2008, 9:41 PM
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 3, 2008
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      Action needed to protect Sikhs

      Albor Ruiz, NY Daily news

      Wednesday, July 2nd 2008, 9:41 PM

      http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/education/2008/07/02/2008-07-02_action_needed_to_protect_sikhs.html

      Amardeep Singh (l.), executive director of the Sikh Coalition, appeared at Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Queens, after a Sikh student’s hair was cut.Bates for News

      Amardeep Singh (l.), executive director of the Sikh Coalition, appeared at Newtown High School in Elmhurst , Queens , after a Sikh student’s hair was cut.

      Promises, promises. That's what Sikh parents and their children heard from Schools Chancellor Joel Klein on June 6.

      Promises that the hateful attack one Sikh high school student, Jagmohan Singh Premi, had suffered three days before inside his own classroom would not be repeated. Promises that Sikh children would be safe in the city's public schools.

      Instead, three days later, on June 9, Gurprit Kaur, 12, another Sikh student, was assaulted in Public School 219, in Flushing, Queens. She had her hair cut against her will by another pupil, who was immediately suspended. The Sikh Coalition has said that the bully knew that the girl's long hair was mandated by her religion.

      As for young Gurprit, she is not asking for much: "I want to be safe in school," she said.

      The attack on Premi had taken place on June 6 at Richmond Hill High School. The 18-year-old was punched in the face by another student who had tried to remove his turban. The attacker, who had a long history of harassing the Sikh boy, was holding a key between his knuckles and inflicted a fracture on him.

      Promises. The New York Sikh community is not willing to be pacified any longer by them while their children are the victims of hate crimes in their own schools.

      After the first attack, Klein said that the Education Department would adopt measures to guarantee the students' safety. Not surprisingly, when another child was assaulted, Sikhs and many other New Yorkers reacted with outrage.

      "The Department of Education's continuing inaction in the face of repeated bias attacks in our public schools is utterly reprehensible," said Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing), "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."

      The problem is not new. One year ago another Sikh boy was attacked in a public school. Harpal Singh Vacher was assaulted in his Elmhurst high school by two students who forcibly cut his hair.

      "We're fed up with the DOE's inaction," said Amardeep Singh, executive director of the Sikh Coalition, who helped to organize a march to protest the bullying of Sikh students.

      On Monday about 200 Sikhs and their allies marched through the streets of Richmond Hill to make sure that the Education Department acknowledges the problem and takes whatever steps are necessary to fulfill Klein's promises. They demanded that the city take action to specifically protect Sikh students from being harassed because of their appearance or religion.

      The harassment is more prevalent than the DOE has been willing to admit. A report released by the Sikh Coalition in April found that more than 60% of more than 400 Sikh students surveyed had suffered bias-based harassment or violence in city schools. Urgent measures are needed to protect Sikh students.

      In a statement issued on June 6, Klein said that addressing and preventing bias crimes in school is a priority for him and the Education Department. Commendable as the statement is, words are not enough.

      The Sikh Coalition is asking the Education Department to go beyond punitive action against bullies and to educate teachers on the particular dangers faced by Sikh students, and to teach other students about Sikhs and their concerns.

      "We hope next year we will not have to protest any more," said Sunny Singh, the coalition's community organizer. "We hope the DOE makes this problem a higher priority, and take pro-active measures to protect the children. We hope we can become partners."

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