A Sikh man of Indian origin and a Pakistan-American man who were speaking in Punjabi on a bus in the US were arrested at gunpoint and detained for 30 hours after fellow travellers claimed they were discussing a “bomb threat” in Arabic.
Daljeet Singh, an asylum-seeker from India, struck up a conversation with Mohammed Chotri after the Pakistani-American approached him while they were travelling on a Greyhound bus from Arizona to Indiana on February 20.
Both men had been released from immigration detention centres and Singh said in a statement that he had been granted parole to live and work in the US pending a decision on his refugee application.
Trouble began after the bus made a stop in Texas on February 21 and the two men were questioned by a white woman and several other passengers. The driver stopped the bus by the side of the road and other travellers restrained Singh and Chotri in their seats until police came and arrested them at gunpoint.
Though the incident occurred in February, it has come to light now because The Sikh Coalition has filed a complaint against the woman who accused the two men of discussing a bomb threat in Arabic and “acting weird”.
Following an investigation, Singh and Chotri were cleared of all criminal wrongdoing by the FBI and the local attorney’s office and released from detention.
Singh, who speaks almost no English, has asked Texas law enforcement agencies to file criminal charges against the passengers who accused him of a bomb threat and restrained him on the bus.
“The only crime I committed was wearing a turban, having a beard, and speaking in a different language to another brown man on a bus,” Singh said in a statement.
“I still cannot believe that this happened to me in America.”
The Sikh Coalition has said Singh was also humiliated and vilified in the medias several TV channels portrayed Singh and Chotri as terrorists and published photos of Singh without his turban, an insult for a Sikh. This resulted in Singh suffering from emotional distress and anxiety, it said.
“Whether it’s a Sikh man on a Greyhound bus, or an Arabic speaker on a Southwest airplane, the xenophobic fear and bigotry in our country is out of control,” Gurjot Kaur, senior staff attorney for The Sikh Coalition, told NBC News.
“By filing this complaint, we hope to bring attention to the crisis facing minority communities today. The list of things brown people can’t do on public transportation is growing — we can’t get a can of Diet Coke, we can’t switch seats on a bus or a plane, we can’t speak in a language other than English, really we can’t be human beings.”