Controversial Hate Crime Is Charged In Attack On Sikh Boy

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May 29, 2007

A teenager was charged with felony hate crimes yesterday, a day after he forced a 15-year-old Sikh schoolmate into a boys’ bathroom in Queens, tore off his turban and sheared his hair, the authorities said.
According to the Queens district attorney, Richard A. Brown, the teenager, Umair Ahmed, 17, walked up to the Sikh, Vacher Harpal, in a hallway at Newtown High School in Elmhurst shortly after noon on Thursday and said, “I have to cut your hair.” Mr. Ahmed was holding a pair of scissors, Mr. Brown said.
Vacher replied: “For what? It is against my religion,” according to Mr. Brown. Mr. Ahmed, who is of Pakistani descent, then displayed a ring inscribed with Arabic words, and said: “This ring is Allah. If you don’t let me cut your hair, I will punch you with this ring,” Mr. Brown said.
Mr. Ahmed then forced Vacher into a boys’ bathroom, and Vacher began crying as he removed his turban, begging Mr. Ahmed not to cut his waist-length hair, which, in accordance with the Sikh religion, had never been cut, Mr. Brown said.
But Mr. Ahmed cut Vacher’s hair to the neckline, then threw the hair into a toilet and onto the floor, Mr. Brown said. One student, who was not charged, stood at the bathroom door and acted as a lookout, the police said. Another student, a friend of Vacher’s, saw the attack, they said. The police said a teacher’s aide notified a school safety officer after being alerted by a student.
The police and students said that Mr. Ahmed and Vacher had had an argument and that Vacher had made derogatory comments about Mr. Ahmed’s mother. Vacher had apologized, but Mr. Ahmed did not accept it, according to Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. Mr. Ahmed was arrested on charges of unlawful imprisonment and menacing as hate crimes, as well as criminal possession of a weapon and aggravated harassment, the police said.
Officials at Newtown High School refused to comment yesterday, but in a statement, a spokeswoman from the city’s Department of Education, Dina Paul Parks, said the department was “shocked and dismayed.”
Sikh men often wear turbans in keeping with their faith, which is not based in the Middle East, but in the Punjab in northern India.
Bias attacks against Sikhs spiked after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but have leveled off, said Amardeep Singh, executive director of the Sikh Coalition, a national civil rights group based in Manhattan. “We see increases during times of increased tension in the Middle East and attention on terrorism,” he said.
No one answered the door at the home of Mr. Ahmed yesterday.

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