Police Learn Punjabi Culture in
LIVINGSTON, January 19, 2006
People think cops live on doughnuts, but Livingston
police busted that stereotype Tuesday afternoon when
they chowed down on samosas, pakoras and other Indian
food at the Sikh temple on B Street.
The occasion was a four-hour training session on Punjabi
culture -- a first for Merced County law enforcement.
Gurujodha Singh Khalsa, a Bakersfield attorney and
converted Sikh, gave officers an A to Z lesson covering
everything from the different turbans Sikh men wear
to the role of law enforcement in India.
"It was great," said Officer Pedro Magana.
"It gives us a whole different perspective on
the culture and how they do things."
About 13 percent of Livingston's residents trace
their roots to India's Punjab state. Most Punjabis
are followers of the Sikh religion.
Chief Bill Eldridge arranged the workshop in response
to complaints from Sikhs who say police don't treat
them with respect.
Officers learned the basics of Sikh beliefs and etiquette
like how to ask Sikh men to remove their turbans and
kirpans, the small knives that some Sikhs carry.
The most important lesson was to treat Sikhs, especially
men, with great respect, said Magana.
"If you ever have to go into a home, treat the
man with respect," said Magana. "Don't demean
him in front of his family. If you do something like
that, you'll close the door and the lines of communication."
Khalsa told officers that when they enter a Sikh
family's home, it's important to take the time to
greet the male and explain to him exactly what is
Reserve Officer Tarlochan Sohal, the only Sikh officer
on Livingston's force, found the speaker who led the
Sohal, who was a cop in India before he moved to
Livingston 20 years ago, said that Indian attitudes
toward law enforcement can make communication a challenge.
"I belong to their culture, but sometimes they
hesitate to talk to me because they think of how the
police are back home," said Sohal.
Gurpal Samra, a Sikh and former mayor of Livingston,
attended the workshop and said he even learned a few
Samra said he's been in the U.S. so long he forgets
sometimes what's offensive. For example, shaking a
Sikh woman's hand is a no-no.
Samra said the presenter did an excellent job of
showing how little gestures like saying "hello"
in Punjabi can communicate respect.
"If you walk up to someone and say 'satsriakhal'
that means you're acknowledging them as a person,"
said Samra. "If you make that initial attempt,
it goes a long way."
Khalsa stressed that the Sikh community is particularly
close-knit, and that word travels fast about how officers
treat members of the community.
He joked to the audience, "If you want something
to get around, you telephone or you tell a Sikh."
Eldridge said he's hopeful that the entire Sikh community
will hear that the police are making an effort to
learn more about their culture.
The department will continue its diversity training
next month with a session on Hispanic culture.
"These are great learning lessons," said
Eldridge. "I just hope they take hold and are
carried onto the street."