A drunken passenger roughed up a Sikh cabbie and snatched the turban off his head in an assault the NYPD is investigating as a possible hate crime.
Harkirat Singh, 25, said the theft of his religious garb was the culmination of a scary encounter early Sunday with a belligerent boozehound and his three buddies that has made him too scared to drive another night shift.
“I’m so afraid. I don’t want to work,” Singh told the Daily News at his home in Ozone Park, Queens.
“It’s an insult on my religion, also,” he said. “An insult of my faith. It’s horrible.”
The immigrant from Punjab, India, said he picked up three men and a woman – all in their 20s – around 5 a.m. at the corner of Eighth Ave. and 30th St., a few blocks south of Madison Square Garden.
The quartet said they wanted to go to E. 165th St. and Jerome Ave. in the Bronx. When the yellow taxi reached that intersection, the passengers complained that Singh took them to the wrong destination — but the drunks couldn’t give the cabbie a straight answer about where to go next, he said.
“The girl’s saying, ‘Take the right.’ The Spanish guy’s saying, ‘Take the left.’ So, at that time, I was confused,” Singh said.
They began hurling slurs and banging on the plastic partition in his cab, Singh recalled.
“They’re using bad words, also. They said, ‘Ali Baba, f–k you,’” said Singh, who moved to the U.S. three years ago.
He pulled over and told the group to pay $ 41.76 and to find another cab. The woman coughed up the cash after Singh called 911 — but then one of the men got back into the cab.
Singh said the man who got back into the cab tried to smash the meter. Then he punched Singh in the arm, the cabbie said.
“After that, he picked off my turban from my head,” he said. “He wanted to snatch my phone also…It was too horrible.”
Police sources described the suspect as a clean-shaven white Hispanic man in his 20s, around 5-foot-9 and weighing 160 lbs. He was wearing red shoes and blue jeans. He had short hair.
Terrified and crying, Singh says he pleaded with the man to calm down.
“Why are you doing this, brother? We can sit. We can talk,” he recalled telling the unruly passenger.
“At that time, I’m so afraid — they can do anything to me. They’re gonna kill me.”
With cops en route, the group made a run for it — with Singh’s turban, which is a primary symbol of the faith.
Singh said he’d been wearing a turban since he was 6. The theft occurred just hours after thousands of Sikhs flocked to Times Square for the annual celebration of Vaisakhi also dubbed Turban Day.
Police say they’re only seeking one suspect, though they’d like to speak to the other three passengers. Singh did not require a medical attention but filed a report with police. He was able to snap a photo of two of the passengers.
Harpreet Singh Toor, the chairman of public policy and external affairs at The Sikh Cultural Society, said the theft reflected prejudice against Sikhs, who often are the butt of anti-Muslim bias despite following a different faith.
“I used to get mad — now I laugh at it, because if we are still ignorant about other faiths…who will make those people understand?” he asked.