OUR VIEW: Bakersfield, it’s time to honor our Sikh Community

November 6, 2019 /

In the early 1990s, a man discovered his country had killed thousands of young men. The government made these men “disappear” in the 1980s, and tried to cover up these murders.

The man who eventually made this discovery delivered a stirring speech to the Canadian parliament, explained that it was religious genocide and brought global attention to this situation. After his address to Canadian officials, he returned to his home country, where he was eventually abducted, tortured and killed.

Without knowing his country or religion, you would think he deserves special recognition, right? His beliefs and native land don’t matter, do they?

This human rights activist is Jaswant Singh Khalra, a Sikh who served as an attorney in India. He is the one who exposed the religious genocide that India conducted against thousands of his fellow Sikhs.

Today, the Sikh community in Bakersfield wants to pay tribute to Khalra by naming a new park after him. It seems fairly straight forward, as Khalra is, without a doubt, a hero, and this is the type of honor that communities across the country bestow upon heroes, except not so fast in Bakersfield.

RELATED CONTENT: ‘Do they really know us’: Sikh community says park will give sense of belonging; don’t feel support from city officials, advocates say

Many in the community, including dozens of Sikhs who are still in high school, are leading this effort to name a new park in Khalra’s honor at the corner of Akers Road and Sierra Madre Avenue, an area that many Sikhs call home.

This effort is almost two years old. Residents first tried to rename Stonecreek Park after Khalra, but received so much criticism, they gave up, but this is a new park–not an existing one–and a new moment, advocates hope. They believe that renaming the park would let Sikhs know that Bakersfield welcomes them.

However, not all Bakersfield citizens appear to be welcoming. According to a report in the Bakersfield Californian, “one woman who did not identify herself at the [Bakersfield City Council] meeting said during the public comment section that people in the Stone Creek neighborhood were scared of their Sikh neighbors.

Another man attempted to link the naming of the park to acts of terrorism carried out by Sikh militants in foreign countries decades ago. The man threatened to sue the city if they named the park after the civil rights leader.” (Regarding this last point, it’s a racist lie, pure and simple).

Yet despite these public sentiments, let’s hope, along with the advocates, that this is a new moment. After all, the Californian also reported from this same meeting that a majority of attendees supported the name change.

Right now, millions of Americans feel excluded, abandoned, ignored and neglected for a variety of reasons — ethnicity, sexual identification, religion, to name a few — and unfortunately, it’s been like this since the founding of our country. America is a great promise that’s not always kept.

Here in Bakersfield, we have a chance to make a local statement about our national situation. Khalra is a hero. He deserves this honor, which will send a message to our community and will be a point of pride for generations to come.

Kern Sol News is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.