Sikh community shaken again in Richmond Hill

Woman kidnapped and robbed, yet another press conference

A 51-year-old Sikh woman was thrown in a van, rendered unconscious, and robbed of thousands of dollars of jewelry last week outside a popular place of worship in South Richmond Hill.

The attack marks the fourth incident against the local Sikh community within the past few weeks, with the latest victim hearing the words “mom” before being kidnapped and robbed just steps from a gurdwara.

Last month, a 19-year-old Brooklyn man was charged in a spree of hate attacks, and is accused of targeting three men of the Sikh community. A second man, a 20-year-old from Brooklyn, was also charged in connection in one of the attacks. If convicted, both could face 25 years to life in prison.

The latest press conference to denounce the attacks in the Southeast Queens neighborhood came from gubernatorial candidate Rep. Tom Suozzi, and later at Queens Borough Hall led by Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.

Speaking outside of the Gurdwara Sikh Temple last week, Suozzi and community leaders called for peace just steps away from where the latest attack took place.

“Not only has the Sikh community been attacked, but it has been some of our most vulnerable members,” said Tejkaren Kaur Bains, a licensed state attorney from Long Island. “They’ve been beaten up while they have come here to worship.”

The self-proclaimed “common sense” democratic candidate for Governor says it will take someone like himself to change state laws pertaining to bail reform. He also touted that he was one of the first state politicians to hire a turban-wearing Sikh to his office.

“My Sikh brothers and sisters are easily recognized because they’re wearing turbans,” Suozzi said. “The fact that people can’t feel safe in their neighborhoods is just wrong.”

Suozzi hinted at negative rhetoric that was seen in the previous presidential administration, where it “became common for people to attack each other based upon their differences,” he said. Suozzi also cited the latest mass shooting which took the lives of 10 in Buffalo, calling it a “racist massacre.”

“We have to remember the basic fundamental American principle that all men and women are created equal,” Suozzi said.

Tejinder Singh, a former attorney at The Legal Aid Society of New York, said that law enforcement and the district attorney’s office eventually listened to the community in the past when some collective noise was made.

He added that police come across people from the community and frequently don’t take them seriously, “because they don’t look like people who can communicate effectively in English,” Singh said.

“Our community has to get politically involved,” Singh pleaded.

Pressed on his “fund the police” stance, Suozzi said that elected officials are needed to enforce laws, pointing to his 15-point plan to tackle crime.

“I don’t think it’s that they don’t take it seriously,” Suozzi said. “I think it’s that we have to fund the police to make people feel safe, and that we as a community need to bring attention to those crimes that we want to see enforced.”

Japneet Singh, a democratic candidate for the 15th State Senate District, said that he hopes to soon be working towards an actual plan, rather than just keep talking about a solution.

“We’re sick and tired of press conferences,” Singh said. “However, we have seen no action. We are not doing proper jobs in our city, our state and our country.”

“One misconception that a lot of people have is that immigrant communities don’t want laws and don’t want rules. We left our respective countries to escape lawlessness. For us to say we don’t want laws here in the city of New York, the most diverse city, that’s absurd,” Singh said. “I’ve been here since the age of 8, and it’s never been this bad.”

SQWM celebrates new Richmond Hill office

South Queens Women’s March started out as an idea from founder and director Aminta Kilawan-Narine over two years ago, with the goal of promoting gender justice and empowering women, girls and gender-expansive people.

Although the pandemic prevented the original march from happening, it did not stop the organization from blooming into a movement that supports the diverse communities of South Queens.

Now, SQWM has a brand new office space on Liberty Avenue in Richmond Hill, and they held a ribbon cutting ceremony on April 16 to celebrate the milestone.

Many of SQWM’s 70 members attended the event, along with Council Speaker Adrienne Adams, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers and NYS Assemblyman Khaleel Anderson.

“South Queens Women’s March has made enormous contributions to the civic and community life right here in Southeast Queens and right here in the Great 28,” Adams said.

“You have empowered and amplified the voices of diverse women across this borough, connected neighbors to important resources and advocated fiercely for gender and racial justice. Your work has been so critical, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, because of our own underserved conditions.”

“It is so important to have community-based organizations at the forefront of these conversations, and South Queens Women’s March has been at the forefront of so many of these conversations,” Richards said.

“As gender-based violence reached a crisis level during this pandemic, for every one encounter we are seeing 20 that go unreported,” he continued. “I look forward to continuing to support the work of South Queens Women’s March.”

As part of their mission, SQWM has offered various programs and services to the community, including food pantries, political education, youth and professional development workshops and healing circles.

They actively seek to serve and empower historically underserved communities in South Queens, namely women, people of color and the LGBTQ community.

“A South Queens Women’s March space is a dream—a dream that the younger me wishes had growing up in South Queens. As a gender justice organization, it is critical to have a space that can be a home away from home for community members and the younger me,” Tannuja Rozario, founding board member of SQWM, said.
“Our space will be a resource hub, a safe space for survivors, a community centered space for monthly pantries, healing activities, and workshops and a space where we cultivate grassroots organizing to build a movement.”

At the event, light refreshments were provided by local businesses Tropical Isle Roti Shop, Little Guyana Pharmacy and Cafe, Shivram’s Bakery, Singh’s Roti Shop and the Shakti Mission.

SQWM also extended its gratitude to Bob Lawrence and Annie Mohan of Cadwalader, Wickersham and Taft, LLP and the Aqualia International Foundation for their support.

Performances were given by SQWM members, including Harmehar Kaur Kohli on guitar and Anjali Seegobin, Sabrina Mohammed and Sacha Sulaiman, who performed an intersectional dance routine.

To welcome SQWM’s new space to the neighborhood, Pratima Kushmani Doobay, an organizer within the faith-based circles of the Hindu community, initiated a goddess blessing before the ribbon cutting ceremony.

“In Hinduism, we often worship the goddess, and Shakti is the feminine energy, the power associated with the goddesses in Hindusim,” Kilawan-Narine said. “We’re a women’s group, and we wanted to make sure the space was blessed.”

“The most exciting part about all of this is the space being open to our members and to women and girls in our community who are looking for a safe space,” she continued. “When you walk in here, you feel that inclusion and the peace.”

Kilawan-Narine said that the efforts from SQWM are anything but glamorous, and certainly not something done for personal gain.

“We all do this for the love of the community. Not for personal gain, or for accolades and praise or for social media followers,” she said. “This isn’t charity work, it is solidarity work, and you see that in the way we treat people.”

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