t a recent multi-faith gathering, religious leaders offered support to Queens Sikhs, following an alleged hate crime at Newtown High School where a Sikh teen’s hair was chopped off.
Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, and Hindu leaders, as well as Borough President Helen Marshall and City Councilmember David Weprin and George Gibson, local head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), spoke at the event, held at the Punjabi Palace on Lefferts Boulevard in Richmond Hill on Wednesday, June 6.
“As many of you may know, the parish of St. Benedict Joseph Labre here in Richmond Hill, which I have been honored to serve as pastor for 14 years, has had a warm relationship with the local community of Sikhs,” said Monsignor John H. O’Brien, speaking on behalf of Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, head of the Diocese of Brooklyn. “Respect for one another’s beliefs, culture and traditions are absolutely necessary if we are to maintain our vibrancy and cohesiveness.”
Two weeks earlier, 17-year-old Pakistani student, Umair Ahmed, from Newtown High School allegedly forced a 15-year-old Sikh classmate, Vacher Harpal, into the school bathroom and cut his hair. Police believe that a “Yo, mama” insult may have been the instigating factor in the attack. Ahmed was charged with a hate crime and faces seven years in prison if convicted.
“I’m very sorry about what happened to this young man,” said Borough President Helen Marshall. She later added, “We don’t like it [discrimination] to happen to anyone, let alone our youngsters.”
Several Sikh leaders explained to the crowd the importance of hair in their religion.
“As a Sikh, if you could come to me and hit me in the face with a baseball bat, I could eventually forgive you, but if you cut my hair, I don’t think that I can personally forgive you,” said Tejinder Singh, the lawyer for United Sikhs, which hosted the event in conjunction with The Interfaith Center of New York. “The last prophet asked us as a sign of faith to keep our hair in its natural state. It’s our identity.” [Link]
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