Sikh Coalition Calls for Investigation into Bias-Motivated Attack and Broader Pattern of Bullying at Indiana High School
February 25, 2022 (Whiteland, IN) — The Sikh Coalition has been 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, February 23, a group of students began filming our client and other Punjabi students eating lunch in the cafeteria, making statements including “Why do you wear these turbans” and “Why are you here?” After our client tried to prevent them from filming, several students proceeded to assault him: they punched and kicked him, including by specifically knocking his turban off of his head, and made bigoted remarks about his turban and race throughout the assault. Social media screenshots from after the attack 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 injuries sustained during the incident. 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.
“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 (she/her), 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.”
According to a 2014 survey by the Sikh Coalition, Sikh children who maintain their articles of faith (including turbans, other head coverings, and unshorn hair) are bullied at a rate of 67 percent–well over double the national average. For more than 20 years, our 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.
Our client is not prepared to do interviews at this time, and we ask that everyone please respect his privacy. For more information about this case or our anti-bullying and legal support work more broadly, please email email@example.com.