Some who noticed his turban and unshorn beard called him a terrorist. Others taunted that he was Osama bin Laden. From nearly his first day as a school bus driver in suburban Maryland, Sawinder Singh, an observant Sikh, said he was targeted for the way he looked.
The harassment came from co-workers, supervisors and students, he said. One day while driving the roads of Montgomery County, he missed a turn, only to have a large group of middle-schoolers aboard shout that he was kidnapping them.
“The driver is going to blow up the bus!” he recalls them yelling.
But 13 years into his career with the county school system, Singh, 45, is turning a page on those experiences, as his lawyers and school officials settle issues raised in a complaint filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2016.
The agreement, expected to be announced Tuesday, includes efforts to improve cultural education and training on recognizing bias, which Singh said he hopes will lead to a greater understanding among employees and students of Sikhs and other religious minorities in the diverse school system.
His attorneys assert the case could have a broad reach nationally, given Montgomery’s stature as one of the country’s largest and most well-regarded school systems.
“If a school district of its caliber is doing this, then other districts will take notice,” said Amrith Kaur, legal director for the Sikh Coalition, a civil rights organization representing Singh. “I hope that it’s a wake-up call for other districts and for other employers.”
Singh, a father of three who lives in Clarksburg and has two children in the school system, started his job in 2006. He was a musician and music teacher in India — and a devotional singer at Golden Temple, the holiest shrine in the Sikh religion, he said.
He moved to the United States in 1999, following several trips to the country to perform music, and later landed a job with the school system’s transportation operations.
“Working with the school system, to me, it was a kind of honor, and especially working with students and children,” he said. “I felt that I am going to start their day and end their day. I was very happy about it.”
See full story, ‘Sikh school bus driver reported years of harassment over his turban and beard’ (Washington Post, 28 May 2019), here.
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