A local Sikh group is renewing its efforts to name a park in Bakersfield after human rights activist Jaswant Singh Khalra, who was killed in 1995 by police officers in the Punjab region of India.
The group, led by a number of Sikh students, originally asked Bakersfield officials to rename Stonecreek Park in south Bakersfield in early 2018.
However, after a community backlash, the group has backed off its original proposal. It now hopes to name a new park after the activist commonly referred to as the Martin Luther King Jr. of the Sikh community.
The city has plans to build the new park in a relatively new residential development 300 yards south of Stonecreek.
The 12-acre park is scheduled to be constructed in the vicinity of Akers and McKee roads in three to five years.
“We don’t want to create another controversy,” said Nazar Kooner, a local resident helping lead the push to name the new park. “We want to live here like friendly neighbors with everybody else.”
Kooner, along with several students and community members, spoke at a recent Bakersfield City Council meeting, urging the council to name the new park after Khalra.
The students, part of a local chapter of the statewide organization Jakara Movement, have led the naming efforts, saying they hoped the name of the new park would create a sense of belonging for themselves as well the greater Sikh community.
“It’s not just a park in his name, it speaks about the journey we’ve all come on,” said Manpreet Kaur, a community organizer for the Jakara Movement. “This individual represents our journey to a place like Bakersfield, to a place like Kern County. And if the city honors that, I think that speaks volumes.”
City Councilman Chris Parlier said the neighborhood around the new park is heavily composed of Sikhs. Parlier, whose ward encompasses both Stonecreek Park and the new park, forwarded the request to the city’s Planning and Development Committee.
Parlier said the committee would take up the issue later this year, adding he believed there was a real possibility the new park could be named after Khalra.
“I am supportive of our Punjab community,” he said. “I think this is a potential opportunity for recognizing their contributions to the city of Bakersfield.”
The group has offered to pay the city for the naming rights of the park, which could eliminate some barriers. However, organizers don’t know how much they’d be willing to pay if naming rights were made available by city officials.
If Bakersfield were to name the new park after Khalra, it would join at least one other California city.
The city of Fresno renamed a park after the human rights leader in 2017.
Khalra’s daughter attended the vote in Fresno, calling the park an inspiration to future generations.
Khalra is known for his investigations into the killing and cremation of innocent people by the Indian police.
He reportedly exposed thousands of illegal cremations.
In 1995, he was kidnapped outside his home and later killed by Punjab police officers, according to the Supreme Court of India.
You can contact Sam Morgen at 661-395-7415. You may also follow him on Twitter @smorgenTBC.