Posted by: Singh Is King | Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Pakistanis Forcibly Cut Hair Of Sikh

A Newtown High School student has been charged with a hate crime after he and an accomplice allegedly gave a fellow student a forced haircut in a school bathroom, a haircut forbidden by the teen’s Sikh religion. The accused’s sister, however, says her brother was only doing what the victim requested, and that for the past six months the pair have been good friends.

Elmhurst resident Umair Ahmed, 17, has been charged with unlawful imprisonment and menacing, both as hate crimes, as well as two counts of harassment and criminal possession of a weapon.According to a statement released by the Queens District Attorney’s Office detailing the charges, Ahmed apparently walked up to 15-year-old Vacher Harpal just after noon on May 24. He then told Harpal that he had to cut his hair, which goes against the beliefs of his Sikh faith. When Harpal told Ahmed this, Ahmed showed him a ring with an Islamic inscription and allegedly said, “This ring is Allah, if you don’t let me cut your hair, I will punch you with this ring.”

Ahmed, who police say was aided by 15-year-old Waqas Ali, then forced Harpal into the bathroom, had him remove his dastar – the traditional Sikh headdress – and then cut Harpal’s hair – which had never been cut and fell past his waist – to the neckline. He then tossed the hair into the toilet and onto the floor.

“The defendant is not accused of some schoolhouse prank, but an attack on the fundamental beliefs of his victim’s religion and his freedom to worship freely,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. Charges against Ali are still pending.
The day after the incident, Sikh groups rallied with Councilman Tony Avella outside of Newtown High School denouncing the incident.

“It’s not a matter of length, it’s a matter of making a single cut,” said Swaranjit Singh, president of the World Sikh Peace Foundation. “A single cut is against our religious beliefs.”

However, Ahmed’s younger sister, 16-year-old Nida Ilyas, also attended the press conference. The plucky teen recounted an entirely different version of events on behalf of her brother, who was still in jail waiting arraignment at the time.

Ilyas claims that Harpal and her brother had been friends for the last six months, a claim seemingly corroborated by a Daily News article that quotes Harpal’s father as stating that Ahmed was over at his house as recently as the week before the incident. According to Ilyas, Harpal asked Ahmed to cut his hair.

“Harpal was embarrassed to have that thing on his head, because he couldn’t get a girl,” she told reporters last week after the press conference ended. “He asked him to do it.”
She said that only after another student saw them go into the bathroom with the scissors and reported it to a school safety officer did the incident become a crime.

“He never jumped him,” insisted Ilyas. “Harpal asked him to do it.”
Despite Ilyas’ version of events, Ahmed is facing up to seven years in prison if convicted. He was released on $5,000 bail Friday night.

Sikh leaders called on the Department of Education and the city to provide programs in schools that explain their religion and its beliefs to prevent intolerant acts from occurring in the first place. They lamented the incident, regardless of which version of the incident proves to be true.

“What a mess,” said Amardeep Singh, executive director of The Sikh Coalition. “Either way, whether the kid did it on his own or it was forced, what a mess.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Nida Ilyas interrupts a press conference outside Newtown High School denouncing an incident in a school bathroom that is being labeled a hate crime. Ilyas claims that her brother was wrongly accused.

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