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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"Sikh grandmother deserves more than this"

It's hard to beat a morning walk. The cool air, the freshness of spring and the topper, getting pelted in the back by half a roll of duct tape.

Hate crime or the idiot factor? You decide.

Parmjit Kaur Pannu was taking her daily walk in her neighborhood close to the intersection of Hosking and Akers roads, near Ridgeview High.

The 63-year-old Pannu is a Sikh and was dressed in traditional Punjabi dress, a kameez -- a long shirt called a salwar -- a pajama looking bottom and a chunni, a long scarf, worn over the shoulder. She lives with her husband Avtar Pannu and her son Jaspal Pannu and his wife and young family.

Her son Jaspal drives a truck for Frito-Lay. Avtar, her husband, works at Grimmway Farms. They've been in Bakersfield for 21/2 years.

Tim Everton, a neighbor of Pannu's, saw her get pelted by the duct tape.

"She was about to turn the corner of the street we live on when a shiny red pickup slowed to allow the passenger enough of a chance to pitch an object at her and hit her in the back (it turned out to be a roll of duct tape) and also to allow this old woman, and anyone else present, to hear the stream of obscenities being hurled," Everton wrote.

"The 'crime' she was committing was relishing in the beautiful spring day in Bakersfield and maybe enjoying her life, liberty and pursuit of happiness a bit too much in the eyes of those rogues. Or perhaps it was the darker skin and the sari over her shoulders."

Everton called the police. They came and took a report, but told him they couldn't do anything unless Pannu wants to pursue it.

She doesn't. She just wants to be able to take a morning walk without getting hurt.

"The incident shook my longstanding belief in the innate goodness of man," Everton writes. "This shouldn't happen here in southwest Bakersfield or anywhere else in this city, state, or in this country."

Her son Jaspal said he knows many Indians to whom something similar has happened. People throwing beer bottles, yelling and cussing.

It's education, or the lack of it. Usually, the more you know about somebody, the more you understand and the less you hate or fear. At least, it sounds good.

There are more than 25,000 Sikhs in Kern County, according to Nazar Kooner, a local farmer in Arvin.

Many of the Sikhs (Sikh means student) came here in the early '80s to work in the carrot fields at Bolthouse and Grimmway. Word of mouth brought friends and family from New Jersey and New York.

If you ever wondered why so many Sikhs are named Singh, which means lion, it's because Singh was the name of an important Sikh leader who told fellow Sikhs to fight back when attacked.

"What happens is that Sikhs are frequently misidentified as Middle Easterners," Kooner said. "India is 6,000 miles away from Iraq. We think differently and have absolutely different cultures. We are not those bad terrorists."

That's probably what happened to the grandmother in south Bakersfield taking a walk. It's a geography problem. However, even if she were Middle Eastern, this is no way to treat fellow Americans. [Link subscription req'd]

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