Sikh student attacked in Queens

June 6, 2008 5:05:03 PM PDT
A student in Queens was attacking by a classmate this week, and it could be bias crime.The photo above was taken of Jagmohan Singh Premi the day after the attack.

Authorities say another student tried to remove his turban before punching him in the face. It happened at Richmond Hill High School.

Eyewitness News reporter NJ Burkett has more.

Critics say Richmond Hill High School has a problem. They say Sikh students are routinely harassed and that the Department of Education needs to do more about it. What happened on Tuesday, they say, is only the latest incident.

Premi says it went on for months, from taunting to harassment at the hands of a fellow student. He says he was punched in the eye after the student tried to remove his turban. It happened at his ESL class, where he had been trying to learn English.

"I am sad this could happen in America," he told reporters. "I need my school to protect me."

Jagmohan is one of thousands of New Yorkers who practice Sikhism, an Indian religion that forbids men to shave or cut their hair, which must be worn in a turban.

Activists claim that half the Sikh students at Richmond Hill High School have been harassed and that school officials have done little or nothing about it.

"It's been a year that we've been raising Richmond Hill High School as an issue, and now we have before us a boy who was punched in the face," said Amardep Singh, of The Sikh Coalition. "And that was the culmination of a year of harassment."

Schools Chancellor Joel Klein met with Jagmohan briefly on Friday, and he insisted that changes are on the way.

"I made it clear to everyone that this is a priority, and we don't tolerate harassment in our schools," Klein said.

But critics say they have heard it all before.

"Start taking statistics," Singh said. "Keep records of harassment and bullying, especially in cases where there is discrimination and bias and hate involved."

The chancellor admits the department needs to be more thorough in tracking bias incidents in the New York City school system. And he says they will be. But critics say they need to do more than just teach tolerance. They say students must learn more about the Sikh religion so that they can better understand their fellow students.

The following is the full text of Klein's statement:

"I have spoken with the student and his father and assured them that this incident will be investigated and that I am committed to providing him a safe learning environment. I won't tolerate any harassment based on race, religion, or gender in our schools. Because addressing and preventing bias crimes in school is a priority, I recently ordered the drafting of a new Chancellor's regulation that incorporates recommendations from the Sikh Coalition. Additionally, we will distribute an anti-bias brochure to every middle and high school student in the City that defines harassment, advises students of their rights, and outlines appropriate actions in response to acts of harassment. As part of this effort, we are also expanding our incident reporting system to comprehensively track bias-related incidents in our schools beginning in September."