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Sunday, Sep 22, 2019

Sikh school-bus driver recounts years of workplace abuse, bias

Sawinder Singh, a Sikh, heard and experienced these slights and insults on his appearance for 13 years as a school bus driver in Maryland.

world Updated: May 29, 2019 22:57 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Washington
Sikhs in America have been targeted for verbal, and physical abuse, mistaken, mostly, for West Asians because of their turban and beard.
Sikhs in America have been targeted for verbal, and physical abuse, mistaken, mostly, for West Asians because of their turban and beard. (AFP file photo)
         

Fellow workers called him “al Qaeda” and “Taliban” and sent him condolences on the killing of Osama bin Laden. Students he ferried to and back from school called him a “terrorist” and, sometimes, hesitated to the board the bus. Authorities were responsive to his complaints, but not enough.

Sawinder Singh, a Sikh, heard and experienced these slights and insults on his appearance for 13 years as a school bus driver in Maryland, a largely liberal state abutting the national capital, according to a complaint he filed with a government agency on workplace equality.

One time when he missed a turn while driving a bus-full of middle-schoolers, students shouted he was kidnapping them. “The driver is going to blow up the bus!” students yelled, Singh said to The Washington Post. Another time, a student boarding the bus stopped, saying, “Look at the driver! We are all going to die today!”

“How did they let you back in the country? Osama bin Laden was killed,” a transportation department colleague told Singh after the announcement of bin Laden’s death, according to Sikh Coalition an advocacy group that combats bias against the Sikh community.

Singh and Maryland state county, where he works, on Tuesday reached a settlement on his dispute triggered by a 2016 complaint.

“After years of harassment in the workplace, I am grateful that MCPS (Montgomery County Public School district) has worked with me to resolve these issues and prioritize making the work environment safer and more inclusive for all,” Singh said in a statement issued by Sikh Coalition.. “My hope is that through this process, every MCPS employee can gain a deeper respect for Sikhs and other religious minorities.”

“No employee should have to deal with the years of racial and religious harassment that Mr. Singh endured,” said Amrith Kaur, Sikh Coalition Legal Director in a statement. “All employers must be held accountable for protecting their employees. We are encouraged that MCPS is now taking the necessary steps to create awareness programs that better foster safe and inclusive workplaces.”

Sikhs in America have been targeted for verbal, and physical abuse, mistaken, mostly, for West Asians because of their turban and beard. Balbir Singh Sandhu became the first victim of a backlash in the aftermath of the September 11,2001 terrorist attacks carried out by men from the Middle East.

Six Sikhs were gunned down in a gurdwara in Wisconsin in 2013 by a white supremacist. And members of the community have complained of suffering slurs and hateful behavior all around the country, with some people forced to relocate to escape harassment.

First Published: May 29, 2019 22:56 IST