Would invite my attackers to Gurudwara: Sikh professor

Last Updated : 24 September 2013, 06:05 IST
Last Updated : 24 September 2013, 06:05 IST

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A Sikh professor, who was brutally attacked and injured by a mob of up to 30 people who called him "Osama" and "terrorist" here, has said he would invite the attackers to visit the Gurudwara and interact with members of the community to better understand his faith.

Prabhjot Singh, assistant professor at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs, said it is "absolutely critical" to work with students and community organisations to spread awareness about other faiths and religions.

"If I could speak to my attackers, I would ask them if they had any questions, if they knew what they were doing. May be invite them to the Gurudwara where we worship, get to know who we are... Make sure they have an opportunity to move past this as well," a sombre looking Singh, wearing a blue turban, said in a press conference here yesterday.

Singh was brutally attacked by about 20-30 young men who repeatedly punched him and "pulled his beard" as he was walking in the city's Harlem neighbourhood on Saturday night. He was rushed to a local hospital, where he also works as a physician, and admitted with severe bruising, swelling, small puncture in his elbow and fracture in his lower jaw.

The New York Police Department has released a surveillance video of the suspects believed to be involved in the attack. The grainy clip shows a group of young 15-20 suspects riding their bikes shortly before they encountered Singh as he walking with a friend.

Two days after the attack, Singh, who has lived in the city for 10 years, said he will not be deterred from his goal of engaging with communities to educate and uplift people to make them become better human beings.

There is need to understand "who gave these kids the green light to hate."
"These sort of things are not who we are. This is not an America that I recognise," he added. He said the attack will not change "how I move around the neighbourhood."

He would continue going to all parts of the city, "will still go there and still be received with the degree of welcome that I have received.

"It is clear that the associations between beards and turbans and terrorism are devastating for an entire community, so I want to continue working to show that core American values are core Sikh values as well," said Singh.
"Most importantly, I want it so that my 1-year-old has nothing to fear in this neighborhood.
"It makes me even more committed to our community and redoubling our efforts," he said.
"I want to live in a community where somebody feels comfortable asking me what is on your head, why do you have that beard, what are you doing here, are you American. We should be able to ask those questions.

"I want to live in a community where young men instead of having to scream out and act out, can engage and learn about it some other way," Singh said as he lisped a little due to the injury to his mouth.

Recalling the attack, Singh said as he passed the group of men, he heard one of the men shout "get him Osama" and "terrorist".

"There is a sensational aspect to this and there is painful aspect to this. I was called 'Get him Osama', I heard terrorist, my beard was pulled. It certainly felt that it was motivated by my appearance."

Singh is working with the New York police department's hate crime unit, which is trying to solve the case on a "priority" basis.

Last year, Singh had written an op-ed in the New York Times days after six Sikh persons were killed in a tragic shooting at a Wisconsin Gurudwara in August.
"The legacy of anti-Sikh violence and its contemporary prevalence make it painfully obvious that anti-Sikh violence is often purposeful and targeted. The government must begin tracking and counting anti-Sikh hate crimes, just as it must continue to vigorously combat bias and discrimination against all Americans, including Muslims.
"We must do away with a flawed and incomplete assumption of 'mistaken identity' regarding Sikhs; until we do, we will all be the ones who are mistaken," he had written in the op-ed titled 'How Hate Gets Counted.'

Singh said Sikhs across the world are known for their helpful nature and decorated service in the military.

"You see a (Sikh) face and look for help, that is what we are here to do," he said.
Rights group the Sikh Coalition said the attack on Singh is a "tremendous blow" not just to Sikh Americans but to the ideals of all New Yorkers.

"What happened did not happen in a vacuum. Here in New York City we regularly receive reports that Sikh school children are called 'Bin Laden' or 'terrorist' by classmates and sometimes endure physical violence," Programme Director of the Sikh Coalition Amardeep Singh said.

The incident comes less than two weeks after the first- ever nationwide public perception assessment of Sikh Americans, titled "Turban Myths," showed 70 per cent of Americans misidentify turban-wearers in the US as Muslim, Hindu or Buddhists.
The study, conducted by Stanford University researchers and sponsored by Sikh American Legal Defence and Education Fund, also showed that nearly half of Americans believe "Sikh" is a sect of Islam, and more associate the turban with Osama bin Laden than with named Muslim and Sikh alternatives.

"Unfortunately our research confirms that Prabhjot's experience is not the result of isolated misperception and intolerance," said Jasjit Singh, SALDEF's executive director.

"Here you have a practicing doctor, a teacher and a community servant falling victim to hate in the largest and proudest melting pot in America. This violence is an affront to all Americans' core values."

Published 24 September 2013, 06:02 IST

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