Behind a locked bathroom door, a 15-year-old gave birth to a baby in November in her family's southwest Bakersfield home. Moments later, the door was unlocked and opened by her 23-year-old male cousin who took the crying newborn from her.
The infant was handed to the teenager's mother, who drowned the baby and wrapped it in a garbage bag. A hole was dug in a flower bed, the child's body inside and covered with salt and then dirt.
All in an attempt to shield the family from shame.
That was the scenario laid out in court documents filed Thursday after police dug up the baby's body earlier this week. The teen's mother, Beant Kaur Dhillon, 43, told police she drowned the baby to prevent family shame, the documents said.
Dhillon pleaded not guilty in court Thursday to charges of murder, assault on a child under 8 resulting in death and willful cruelty to a child. She is listed as a licensed vocational nurse on the state Department of Consumer Affairs website.
Police also arrested Dhillon's husband, Jagsir Singh, 47, who court documents say was summoned back to the home by his wife after the baby's birth. Singh, charged with being an accessory and willful cruelty to a child, posted bail and is scheduled for arraignment March 13. Singh made no attempt to inform police of the death and allowed the child to be buried in the yard, according to the documents. And neither he nor Dhillon sought medical attention for their daughter.
Police are looking for the cousin, Bakhshinderpal Singh Mann, for his role in burying the baby and the cover-up.
The infant's slaying occurred Nov. 12 and came to light Tuesday, the same day the daughter, now 16, reported the incident to a third party who then contacted authorities, according to police.
A wake-up call
The incident has rattled neighbors and rocked the local Sikh community.
“This is a wake-up call to the community,” said Mona Gill, co-founder of the Bakersfield Sikh Women’s Association. “This is not something we can overlook. We have to make sure we address this.”
Gill said juvenile pregnancy is generally considered taboo in Indian culture, which she described as more conservative than American. She said it is not often talked about and is usually kept private.
“The family is a central pillar in the Punjabi community. A traditional family unit is expected. That probably puts a lot of pressure on a young woman. Teen pregnancy isn’t something we see commonly.”
Gill said that needs to change. The community needs to work on being more open and supportive in light of the incident, she said. Her group's Facebook page posted a message Thursday offering help to anyone in need and posted resources for youth in crisis and the county's mental health hotline.
“This is an example of an extreme case that highlights how we need to shift to a more active dialogue,” she said. “We need to get with the times. We’re can’t pretend that certain things don’t exist or happen. The world is changing, the culture is changing. We have to keep up with the pace.”
A neighborhood disrupted
The home where the incident occurred is located on Shining Crag Avenue, in a newer development of large homes ranging in price from $360,000 to more than $400,000, west of Stine Road and south of Panama Lane.
Resident Gary Singh said the neighborhood is predominantly Sikh but has residents of different backgrounds and cultures who live in harmony. Most days residents can be seen walking on the sidewalks and talking with neighbors.
But on Tuesday, that calm was abruptly disrupted when five or six police cruisers were seen parked outside a home. Then a Crime Scene Unit van arrived and next door neighbors could see police digging in the backyard. And later, a man and woman were taken away in handcuffs.