NEW YORK– A Sikh cab driver here was assaulted and his turban was taken off by four drunken passengers in an incident being investigated by police as a possible hate crime.
The incident happened on Sunday, just hours after thousands of Sikhs flocked to Times Square to mark “Turban Day”, as part of Baisakhi celebrations, reported New York Daily News on Monday.
Harkirat Singh, who hails from Punjab, said he picked up three men and a woman — all in their 20s — around 5 a.m. (local time) at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 30th Street, a few blocks south of Madison Square Garden.
According to the report, the quartet told him that they wanted to go to Bronx.
However, the passengers later complained that Singh took them to the wrong destination, but they couldn’t give Singh a straight answer about where to go next.
Singh, 25, said that the passengers were not sure about where they wanted to go which left him confused.
“The girl was saying, ‘Take the right.’ The Spanish guy was saying, ‘Take the left.’ So, at that time, I was confused,” Singh, who moved to the US three years ago, said.
Singh said they began hurling slurs and called him “Ali Baba”. They also banged on the plastic partition in his cab.
Singh said he told the group to pay $41.76 and to find another cab. He then called the police, but then one of the men got back into the cab and tried to smash the meter.
Singh said he was punched in the arm, reported New York Daily News.
Terrified and crying, the cab driver said he pleaded with the man to calm down.
“Why are you doing this, brother? We can sit. We can talk,” he recalled telling the unruly passenger.
“At that time, I was so afraid – they could have done anything to me. They were gonna kill me.”
Fearing police action, the group fled the site with Singh’s turban.
Singh did not require medical attention but filed a report with police. He was able to snap a photo of two of the passengers.
“I’m so afraid. I don’t want to work,” Singh told the Daily News at his home in Ozone Park, Queens.
“It’s an insult on my religion, also,” he said. “An insult of my faith. It’s horrible.”
Harpreet Singh Toor, the chairman of public policy and external affairs at The Sikh Cultural Society, said the incident reflected prejudice against Sikhs, who often are the butt of anti-Muslim bias despite following a different faith.