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Roseville Sikh family opens their home

Families seek to build understanding following recent murder of two elderly Sikh men
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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A Roseville Sikh family is like any other family.

But Dr. Narinder Singh Parhar and his wife Baljit Kaur Parhar may take a little longer to get ready in the morning.

Both have unshorn hair, as is the custom of baptized Sikh. Each morning, the husband puts his long hair into a turban. His wife often coils her hair into a bun. The Parhars observe this practice to honor the intention of their creator.

Sikhs also pray in the morning.

Possessing a detailed, deep knowledge of his religion, Narinder Singh Parhar explains that Guru Gobind Singh established Khalsa, a class of baptized Sikhs. He declared that they must not cut their hair or shave their beards.

They must also wear a metal bracelet as a reminder to do God’s work and bear arms — now, in the form of a miniature sword — to defend the defenseless.

“That’s how the different identity came into being,” Narinder Singh Parhar says.

That physical distinction may be the motivation behind the attack of two elderly Elk Grove Sikh men who were gunned down March 4 while on their afternoon walk. Surinder Singh died at the scene and Gurmej Atwal died six weeks later on April 16.

“We were shocked that two ordinary people taking their leisure walk would be shot,” Narinder Singh Parhar says.

Elk Grove police have not declared the violence a hate crime, but some think that may have been the case considering the two grandfathers wore turbans and had thick beards.

In November, two men brutally attacked a Sikh taxi driver in West Sacramento.

Members of the local Sikh community recently opened their homes to the media to help build understanding and clear up misconceptions. Some Sikhs have faced bigotry and violence following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks from those who confuse Sikhs with Muslim extremists.

“Ninety-nine percent of the time, when you see a turban, it’s going to be a Sikh,” Narinder Singh Parhar says. “But on TV is Osama bin Laden wearing a turban and it confuses the American public. They tie the turban in with the face of terrorism. They see it as a path of destruction and hatred and (Sikhs) are now baring the brunt of the anger of American people in the fight against terrorism.”

‘A revolutionary thought’

Baljit Kaur Parhar places a tray of appetizers down on the table in her living room. The large house is ornately decorated with vases, flowers, hand-sewn tapestries and immaculate furniture. On one wall, hangs a portrait of the Parhars’ son, Prabhjot Singh Parhar.

“That’s when I was 4 years old, with my favorite Ninja Turtles T-shirt on,” he says, with a chuckle.

Prabhjot is now 23 years old and a mechanical engineering student at California State University at Sacramento. He graduated from Jesuit High School, where he played rugby. He also plays the guitar and sitar.

Prabhjot does not have unshorn hair, having chopped it off a few years ago. As an atheist, he thought keeping the long hair was disingenuous.

His older sister, Jasmine Kaur Parhar, is finishing her residency in Chicago to become a doctor.

Narinder Singh Parhar grew up in Punjab, India. He and Baljit Kaur had an arranged marriage 33 years ago. The couple moved to the United States so Parhar could do his post-graduate training in internal medicine.

They moved to Roseville nearly 14 years ago. The doctor now operates his own practice and is on the active staff at Sutter Roseville Medical Center.

He and his wife worship at a temple, or gurdwara, which is open to all.

Sikhism is a monotheistic religion founded in 1499 by Guru Nanak Dev and is the fifth-largest religion in the world, with more than 26 million followers. The majority live in Punjab, with the rest spread throughout India, Canada, Australia, United States, Singapore and other countries.

In the late 1400s, social, political and religious turmoil ravaged India. The populace was stuck between “fanatical Muslim rulers and the Hindi priesthood,” Narinder Singh Parhar says.

“The people were treated like sheep,” he says. “(Guru Nanak) challenged both the forceful political persecution and religious exploitation. He stood up to both, and it’s difficult to stand up to the establishment and authority.”

Guru Nanak sought to instill confidence among the masses and encourage them to fight injustice. He democratized spirituality and showed that awareness of God is not an exclusive right. He said everyone was equal, regardless of caste, creed and gender.

“This was a revolutionary thought at that time,” Narinder Singh Parhar says. “But to the general masses, it made sense.”

A movement was born. Today, justice and equality remain paramount to Sikhs.

‘The same people’

The Parhar family gathers around their dining room table on a recent evening. Baljit Kaur Parhar has prepared a hearty homemade Indian meal. The dishes are vegetarian, which is common among baptized Sikhs.

“You get baptized when you are ready for that commitment,” she says. “It’s called ‘taking Amrit,’ which is sweet water and rock candy.”

Cooking is her hobby. She also helps in her husband’s doctor’s office, handling the paperwork and billing.

Narinder Singh Parhar’s hobbies include reading, singing and listening to Indian music. He is a history buff and enjoys keeping informed of current events, often watching CNN and local news broadcasts with his wife.

During dinner, the Roseville family converse about typical family topics. They want non-Sikhs to understand that “we are hardworking, law-abiding people,” Narinder Singh Parhar says. “We love our neighbors, we go to school.”

“Other than (unshorn hair),” he says. “We’re basically the same people.”

Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.