NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Pakistani student at a New York City high school was charged with a hate crime on Friday, accused of cutting the waist-length hair of a 15-year-old Sikh.
The Sikh religion was founded more than 500 years ago in the northern Indian region of Punjab. Adherents do not cut their hair or beards and wear turbans.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said Umair Ahmed, 17, was charged with unlawful imprisonment as a hate crime, menacing as a hate crime, aggravated harassment, harassment and criminal possession of a weapon.
He faces up to seven years in prison if convicted.
“The defendant is not accused of some schoolhouse prank but an attack on the fundamental beliefs of his victim’s religion and his freedom to worship freely,” Brown said in a statement. “Crimes of hate can never be tolerated here.”
Prosecutors said Ahmed approached Vacher Harpal in a school hallway on Thursday armed with a pair of scissors and told him, “I have to cut your hair.”
When Harpal asked why and told him it was against his religion, Ahmed allegedly displayed a ring with Arabic inscriptions and stated, “This ring is Allah. If you don’t let me cut your hair, I will punch you with this ring,” according to prosecutors.
Once inside the bathroom, officials said, Harpal removed his turban while crying and begged Ahmed not to cut his hair, which had never been cut.
“The defendant is then alleged to have used the scissors to cut the (the boy‘s) hair to the neckline and thrown the hair into the toilet and onto the floor,” Brown said.
Late last year, six teenagers in northern India reportedly cut a Sikh boy’s hair. The incident sparked street protests and caused lawmakers to disrupt the Indian parliament.
Sikhs constitute nearly 2 percent of India’s 1.1 billion population.