When classmates on his school bus began calling him names, Harsukh Singh decided to film the incident on his cell phone. The Sikh boy, who attends Duluth Middle School in Duluth, Georgia, can be seen telling the camera his peers are “being racist to me.”
The 45-second clip shows a girl pointing at Singh screaming “Terrorist! Terrorist!” Later she says, “Quit filming us, Harsukh.” Another boy is heard saying, “You’re going to court.” Singh uploaded the video to YouTube on Feb. 26. It has garnered more than 488,000 views since being shared on Reddit.
The incident is in line with findings from a 2014 report by the Sikh Coalition that concluded 67 percent of American Sikh students experience bullying in school. That is significantly above the national average of 28 percent of all U.S. middle and high school students being bullied.
Sikhism is the fifth-largest organized religion in the world, with 29.5 million members, but just 700,000 live in the U.S. The American Sikh community agrees that life got harder after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Their turbans -- which represent honor, self-respect, courage, spirituality and piety -- are worn by devout members of both genders and are often confused with ones worn by radical Islamists.
A 2013 study conducted by Stanford University’s Peace Innovation Lab showed 70 percent of Americans misidentify turban-wearing Sikhs as Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Shinto. Nearly half of Americans said they believed Sikhism was a sect of Islam rather than an independent religion.
It was this kind of knowledge Singh tried to share with his YouTube video. In his caption he pasted a definition of Sikhism and the significance of his turban. He added, “Please don’t act like this towards people like me.”
Most YouTube commenters – Sikhs and non-Sikhs alike -- have voiced support for Singh.
“I am a Sikh too and when I was in grade 5 people used to call me ‘Paki head,’ ” one user wrote, adding that his classmates would call him “Ballsdeep” instead of his name, Jasdeep.
Another user from Singh’s town wrote, “I just want you to know not everyone from [Duluth] is a bad person. The kids on the bus are just too young to make up their own minds,” user Matt Quillen said. “It's pretty sad, but hopefully most of them might actually grow out of it and they'll regret what they did. They might actually learn what Sikh means. Don't let it get you down. Stay strong, buddy.”