Sikh man attacked in apparent hate crime in New York

Prabhjot Singh. (Source: Columbia University)

Prabhjot Singh. (Source: Columbia University)

The news spread very quickly yesterday that another Sikh American has been attacked in what appears to be a bias-based assault. Dr. Prabhjot Singh, a Sikh physician and professor at Columbia University, was attacked in Harlem, New York, on Saturday night by a mob of young men on bicycles who issued epithets such as “Osama” and “terrorist” during their attack. Dr. Singh was taken to hospital and discharged on Sunday with a fractured jaw and other injuries.

“We heard ‘get Osama’ and ‘terrorist.’ I felt somebody grab my beard and hit my chin. And then minutes later I was punched a number of times,” [Dr. Prabhjot Singh] said. He had to be hospitalized, his jaw wired. (PIX11)

The New York Police Department is investigating the attack as a hate crime. Hours after this assault, a Muslim woman was attacked while also being called “terrorist” during a pro-democracy rally in New York’s Times Square. It’s notable that it was just last week that Indian American Nina Davuluri, as Miss New York, was the recipient of similar epithets when she won the Miss America pageant a week ago.

Any reader of this blog will know that the bias-based attacks on Sikh Americans is not a new nor isolated phenomenon in this country. On his blog Electrostani, Amardeep Singh of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania reflects on a reality of the Sikh American experience:

Most Sikhs in the U.S. know that they are potentially subject to verbal abuse and hostility at virtually any time, though especially in large crowds. We also know that supposedly cosmopolitan cities like New York and San Francisco are actually not any better or worse than small towns when it comes to encountering mean-spirited people and thug-like behavior. What is admittedly a surprise is when that kind of name-calling turns into something else, as seems to be what happened here.

Indeed, in just the past three years, we have seen such attacks happen to Sikhs across the country in the most unsuspecting of circumstances — walking on the street, driving home from work, attending our places of worship, in the course of their work, or attending school. It is not unreasonable to believe that there are even more attacks that are untold or are unheard. To be a Sikh in America carries the burden of the ever-present threat to our safety from bigoted and perverse minds that lurk in our communities.

In a column published in The Spokesman-Review unrelated to the attack on Dr. Singh, Leonard Pitts, Jr., writes about the failure of American society to live up to its ideals when those of recent immigrant communities are slandered and attacked on the basis of their race:

Consider what that means: to give up everything you have always known and of all the other options available, decide that this is where you want to be. Presumably, one factor in that choice was America’s promise: Here you are equal, here you are free, here you may rise to whatever height aspiration and hard work will take you.So the treatment they have received is not just ugly, but embarrassing, and not just embarrassing but promise-breaking.

As is often the case after such attacks, we see the theory of “mistaken identity” be used to explain why a Sikh has been targeted — that the Sikh was confused for a Muslim. However, this is a very faulty line of thinking:

This language contains an assumption that the problem was that the hateful attacks mistook the Sikh man for a Muslim man, instead of stating what has to be stated clearly and unambiguously:  the problem is violence, the problem is hatred, the problem is xenophobia, against anyone, everyone, no matter their race, creed, color, sexual orientation, gender, and nationality.

What is mistaken on the part of such attackers is their own concepts of what is American and what are American values. Their actions contradict the stated values on which this country has been founded.

Decide if we are serious in what we claim ourselves to be. In other words, we can either keep America’s promise or else, stop making it. ~ Leonard Pitts, Jr., in The Spokesman-Review.

For his part, Dr. Singh has shown admirable resilience. Barely a day after his assault, he has made himself available to the media to speak about the attack and about his perspective going forward (see his comments in an interview with HuffPost Live and also during a press conference held today).

I can only offer him the best wishes in his recovery from his injuries, physical and otherwise.

The New York Police Department has released a video of the suspected mob moments before the assault on Dr. Singh, which can be viewed here.


  1. It’s time to update some laws. Crime using a bicycle or any wheeled device operated under muscular power should be upgraded to a felony. I know of no “criminal bicycling lobby” at the moment other that what some lawyers are endeavoring to establish on an ad-hoc basis. No doubt that when these punks are caught, lawyers will be tripping over themselves to defend said punks.

    Why were the immutable characteristics of the suspects not published? This points to an ugly fact about protected classes in the USA. We are all familiar with the line from Animal Farm: “All are equal but some are more equal than others”. Is it that the suspects belong to a category that is deemed more “protected” than the one to which Prabhjot Singh-ji belongs?

    This points to a hot-button issue about effective self-defense. The police are not omnipresent nor should or would we want them to be, for this invokes issues with other American values. How does one effectively protect oneself from a wheeled mob intent on doing harm? Sorry, Bloomberg, Cuomo, Schumer and your ilk, until hearts are changed, Sikhs need to be armed.

    I call on the student body of Columbia to do something about this. No doubt that I will run afoul with the hair stylists and glee at the fabric shops. Renounce “white privilege” by declaring a “Keshi Strike”.. Perhaps some of “college hunks” fellows can serve as escorts.

    “I Need A Head”

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