Sikh American woman harassed on NYC Subway, told to go back to Lebanon

White man yells at Rajpreet Heir, “You don’t belong in this country”

By Geeta Goindi

New York, March 26, 2017 – In mounting incidents of ethnic attacks, harassment and prejudice plaguing Indian-Americans, a Sikh American woman is reeling in shock after she was allegedly racially abused on a city train and told to go back to Lebanon.

The incident came to light when the victim, Rajpreet Heir, documented her harrowing experience in a video for the New York Times. It was part of The Times’ series, ‘This Week in Hate’, which highlights hate crimes and harassment around the nation since the election of President Trump.

Heir recalls taking the subway to attend a friend’s birthday party in Manhattan earlier this month, on a Friday after work. Being new to New York City, she was checking the station on her phone when she heard a man yelling at her. Without looking at him, she put her phone away.

Mistaking Heir for a Muslim from the Middle East, the man hurled expletives while telling her to go back to Lebanon. “You don’t belong in this country”, he yelled.

Heir is a Sikh, a natural born citizen of the US. Ironically, she was born 30 miles from Lebanon, a namesake city in the state of Indiana.

“Do you even know what a marine looks like”, the man asked her. “Do you know what they have to see? What they do for this country because of people like you”.

It became evident to Heir what she had sensed beneath the surface for a long time: racism can turn violent and it does.

Fortunately for her, two fellow passengers came to her rescue. A woman tapped her on the shoulder enquiring if she was all right. When she was exiting the station, she saw an Hispanic woman informing a policeman of her ordeal. Gesturing at Heir, the woman was telling the officer that the man was a racist.

Rattled by the incident, Heir remembers leaning against a building for a while to calm her nerves, “wondering how hopeful would I allow myself to feel”, she says. The video ends here, but the repercussions remain. And post the US election, the incidents of hate and harassment abound!

Just over a month ago, another young Indian-American woman, Ekta Desai, posted a video on social media giant Facebook in which she is being racially abused and harassed on a train in New York.

On the evening of February 22, Adam Purinton, 51, a white US Navy veteran, opened fire in a bar killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injuring Alok Madasani, both 32-year-old Hindus originally from Hyderabad, and engineers by profession employed by GPS device-maker Garmin. Reportedly, the suspect mistook the two Indian men for Iranians and yelled, “Get out of my country”. A good Samaritan, Ian Grillot, 24, who came to their rescue was also shot and injured.

Following the Kansas attack, the FBI has been investigating another shooting in Washington state as a hate crime. On the evening of March 3, a turbaned Sikh man, while working on his car, was shot in the driveway of his house in Kent, a suburb of Seattle. The gunman described as a white male yelled, “Go back to your own country”, before shooting him in the arm. The 39-year-old victim has been recovering from his injury which is not life-threatening.

A day earlier, an Indian-origin store owner, Harnish Patel, 43, was fatally shot outside his home in Lancaster, South Carolina. While police are investigating the motive, another young life has been cut short. Patel is survived by his wife and a daughter who attends elementary school.

Last month, a home in Peyton, Colorado, owned by an Indian-American family was trashed with racist messages, dog poop smeared everywhere, and eggs thrown on the walls and ceilings — a sobering reminder of hate.

Photo source: New York Times video


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