Students gathered on Low Steps and marched through Harlem on Sunday to raise awareness and protest the attack of a Sikh professor last weekend.
School of International and Public Affairs professor Prabhjot Singh, who is also a doctor with a practice in Harlem, was attacked by a large group of young men and hospitalized on Sept. 21 in what police are investigating as a hate crime. The men yelled anti-Muslim slurs and “Get Osama!” as they beat Singh with baseball bats.
Columbia Sewa, the University’s Sikh student organization, held the rally to talk about the recent violence against one of their own.
“We decided we should get together not only as Sikhs, but also as students at Columbia University, whose professor was attacked,” Sewa Vice President Gurbani Suri, SEAS ’15, said.
Wearing orange to signify their solidarity, students gathered at noon, formed a circle on the Steps, and shared stories and poems about responding to hate. They recited a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote, choosing to face the recent hate crime with love instead of anger.
“Coming together, we can completely outshine that hate,” Harmann Singh, CC ’16, said.
The group then moved from the steps and began a silent march to 110th Street and Lenox Avenue, where the professor was attacked last week. They carried signs and banners calling for tolerance.
At the scene of the crime, from 1 to 3 p.m., members of Sewa, the Hindu Students Organization, Sigma Lambda Gamma sorority, and other local Sikh demonstrators passed out free water bottles, answered questions about the attack, and invited passers-by to participate by tying colorful turbans on their heads or adding their painted handprints to a mural.
“There should be no hate because we look different,” local Sikh activist Kirpal Billing said. “These things have happened many times after 9/11 and we need to make awareness to the general public.”
“To know that so many people don’t know what their beliefs are, it’s just sad to hear,” Madeline Hirshan, BC ’14, said of the Sikh community. “I think people just don’t understand their culture.”
Sewa members informed West Harlem resident George Martorony about the attack as they tied a purple turban around his granddaughter’s head.
“It scares me,” Martorony said. “This is not about fighting, this is about abuse.”
Many students said they thought of the event as a way to bring peace and hope to the community through education.
“We knew immediately that he would want us to not sit there and lament and worry about the hate crime,” Suri said of Prabhjot Singh. “He would want us to take our feelings and do something positive.”
“I’m definitely passionate about embracing diversity and differences on campus with love,” Julia Qian, BC ’15 and representative for diversity on Barnard’s Student Government Association, said.
Sewa plans to hold further events to promote understanding this fall.
“In the long run, we have been more inspired by what he has done, inspired by his reaction, and inspired to make a change in the community,” Harmann Singh said.