An Indian-origin Sikh taxi driver – whose turban was knocked off and who was told “turbaned people, go back to your country” by an unidentified man in the US – says he is “shocked and angered” to be assaulted and that no one should experience such hate.
In a statement on January 3, community-based civil and human rights organisation The Sikh Coalition said that New York City resident Mr Singh was physically attacked and berated near his cab at JFK International Airport.
Mr Singh had parked his cab at the Terminal 4 taxi stand when another driver blocked his vehicle. When Mr Singh picked up a customer, he stepped out of his car to ask the other driver to move. The other driver attempted to hit Mr Singh with his own car door; he then began repeatedly punching Mr Singh in the head, chest, and arms, knocking off his turban, it said in a statement.
The other driver referred to Mr Singh as “turbaned people” and shouted at him to “go back to your country,” according to the statement.
“I was shocked and angered to be assaulted for doing nothing but minding my own business. While working, no one should experience such hate. I am hopeful that the police can identify, arrest, and charge the person who attacked me so that I can move forward,” the Sikh taxi driver, identified only as Mr Singh out of respect for his request for privacy, told The Sikh Coalition.
Mr Singh filed a report with the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) immediately after the incident. The Sikh Coalition said it is currently working to ensure that the report “paints an accurate picture of the attack given the language barrier during the initial conversations”. The organisation’s staff accompanied Mr Singh to a meeting with a detective to provide language assistance and legal support.
“We have every expectation that bias will be considered as a factor in this outrageous attack, given the evidence of what the other driver said and did to Mr Singh,” said Amrith Kaur Aakre, Sikh Coalition Legal Director.
“The Sikh Coalition is appreciative of all who have stepped forward to support Mr Singh and called attention to his assault. As the investigation moves forward, we will work towards a just outcome that holds the attacker accountable for his actions, while also reiterating that the Sikh community remains an integral part of New York City,” Ms Aakre said.
Navjot Pal Kaur had posted the 26-second video of the attack on January 4 on Twitter and it soon went viral.
Ms Kaur tweeted, “This video was taken by a bystander at John F Kennedy international Airport. I do not own the rights to this video. But I just wanted to highlight the fact that hatred continues to remain in our society and unfortunately I’ve seen Sikh cab drivers get assaulted again and again.”
Simran Jeet Singh, author and Director for the Aspen Institute’s Inclusive America Project, had tweeted: “Another Sikh cab driver assaulted. This one at JFK Airport in NYC. So upsetting to see. But it’s crucial that we don’t look away…What I am sure of is how painful it is to watch our fathers and elders get assaulted while they’re just trying to live an honest life.”
“For those who aren’t Sikh, I can’t put into words what it means to have your turban knocked off – or to see someone else’s turban knocked off. It’s visceral and gut-wrenching and just so disheartening to witness,” Mr Singh tweeted.
India’s Consulate General in New York had termed the assault on the Sikh taxi driver as “deeply disturbing” and said it had taken up the matter with the US authorities and urged them to investigate this violent incident.
The US State Department also said it was “deeply disturbed” by reports of the attack on the Sikh cab driver at JFK International Airport, captured on video.
“Our diversity makes the US stronger, & we condemn any form of hate-based violence,” State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs (SCA) had tweeted.
“We all have a responsibility to hold perpetrators of hate crimes accountable for their actions, no matter where such crimes occur,” it added.
Mr Singh has retained the Sikh Coalition to provide free legal guidance as the investigation into his attacker moves forward.
The organisation said that out of respect for Mr Singh’s “privacy (given that his turban was knocked off) and in accordance with his request that he not be publicly identified, the Sikh Coalition is not further sharing that footage at this time.” It voiced concern that Sikhs in the United States continue to experience bias and hate-driven attacks on account of their visually identifiable articles of faith (including turbans) as well as perceptions about their country of origin.
According to the most recent FBI data, Sikhs remain in the top three most frequently targeted groups for religiously-motivated hate crimes and bias incidents nationwide.
In the Sikh Coalition’s experience, taxi and rideshare drivers in particular are at a heightened risk of these kinds of violent attacks, it said.