Around 100 people came out to a meeting at Stonecreek Park on Wednesday evening to hear about and discuss a proposal by the Sikh community to change the park name.
The Bakersfield chapter of the national Sikh nonprofit organization Jakara Movement is leading an effort to rename the park in honor of Jaswant Singh Khalra, a man from Punjab, India, who was killed in 1995 after revealing to the world that thousands of Sikhs were being unjustly killed by Punjabi police while in their custody.
The majority of people in attendance at the meeting were Sikhs, and while police officers were on hand in case of any problems, there were none.
The youth-led organization is in the process of collecting signatures of support from the community and has reached out to city officials and representatives in its efforts to get the name changed. So far, about 400 people have signed the petition.
“We want the community to share their input, to give some of their suggestions, and really make this a community effort that we’re all proud of and that really brings us all together as one Bakersfield,” said Jakara Movement Executive Director Naindeep Singh.
One of the attendees to talk was Mona Sidhu, who first immigrated with her family to Bakersfield in 1976.
“I was the only Sikh at my high school at Highland High for most of my time there, and probably the only South Asian for most of my time there,” she said. “Things have changed a great deal since then. Our community is really flourishing.”
Sidhu said that is in large part due to the work of people like Jaswant Singh Khalra, who provided evidence that Sikh lives were being threatened and helped lead to the U.S. government allowing Sikhs to seek asylum in America.
“There are numerous people, including in this community, who not only would not be in America but would not be alive if not for Jaswant Singh,” she said.
Sidhu said she has heard from people who question what Sikhs contribute to Bakersfield and whether there are many of them. According to the Jakara Movement, there are around 35,000, mostly located in southwest Bakersfield.
“We’re a relatively new community, not because we haven’t chosen to assimilate. We just haven’t had the time to become the kind of community we want to be. Give us the time,” she said.
One person who could not attend the meeting was Navkiran Kaur Khalra, daughter of Jaswant Singh Khalra. Khalra recently learned about the effort to rename the park in her father’s name and recorded a short message that was played during the meeting.
“It’s really exciting and also really a moment of honor and pride,” she said. “I’m really proud of this community that we have this opportunity.”
Abneet Sandhu said she feels that the park name change is important in showing that Sikhs are a significant community in Bakersfield and that they belong here.
“This gives a chance to our youth to say ‘yes, this is my community,’” she said. “It helps our Sikh youth to participate in this community and understand that we are American citizens and that we have a voice. Something needs to be done. If not us, who? If not now, when?”
City Councilman Chris Parlier, who represents the area of Stonecreek Park, spoke at the meeting.
He said he believes the discussion about the park really needs to go to a committee for further discussion and said that at the April 11 council meeting, he will be directing staff to refer the issue to a committee.
“You need a city committee to sit down and hear all voices on both sides and develop a plan,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to come up with some great ideas.”