Sikh Coalition Retained in Indiana Bullying Case
February 25, 2022 (Whiteland, IN) -- Yesterday, the Sikh Coalition was retained to provide free legal support to a high school senior at Whiteland Community High School (WCHS) in Whiteland, Indiana. Our client (who remains anonymous to protect his privacy) was recently the victim of severe bias-motivated harassment and physical assault.
On Wednesday, a group of students began filming our client and other Punjabi students eating lunch in the cafeteria, saying things like “Why do you wear these turbans” and “Why are you here?” After our client tried to prevent them from filming, several students began punching and kicking him, including by specifically knocking his dastaar off of his head, and making more bigoted remarks about his turban and race. Social media screenshots from after the assault confirm that the attackers were bragging about their long-term hostility towards "the Indians,” that they were able to knock our client’s turban off, and their plans to instigate this assault.
Our client was sent to the school nurse for his injuries; he was then suspended for five days for ‘getting in a fight.’ He is not prepared to speak publicly at this time, but he did share the following statement with the Sikh Coalition: “I am shaken by what happened to me, and frustrated that I am being punished for being targeted and beaten. To attack another person’s faith--to strike at my turban--is completely unacceptable. No one should have to face that threat anywhere, let alone at school.”
As a leading civil rights organization that has worked to combat bias, backlash, and discrimination in schools for over two decades, the Sikh Coalition recognizes the important role that school administrators and staff serve in enforcing standards of conduct that protect all students. Based on our client’s experience and accounts from additional students and others in the community, it seems clear that there is a broad failure at WCHS with respect to bias-based bullying. Aside from justice in this particular case, the Sikh Coalition is calling for a wider examination of how WCHS officials handle these kinds of issues.
“Based on our client’s experience and firsthand accounts of similar incidents, we believe there is a pattern of bullying Punjabi Sikh students--especially those wearing turbans--that has gone unaddressed by WCHS administrators,” said Amrith Kaur Aakre, Sikh Coalition Legal Director. “We expect officials from the school to address this concern, rescind our client’s suspension and provide him with tutoring for the instruction he has now missed, and share a plan for the safety of him and other students like him.”
For more than 20 years, the Sikh Coalition organization has provided pro bono legal support to Sikhs affected by hate and bigotry, including in severe bullying cases. We look forward to providing updates on this important case in the days ahead.
As always, the Sikh Coalition urges you to practice your faith fearlessly.