Gov. Jerry Brown honors Sikh ‘peach king’

Gov. Jerry Brown, wearing a Dastaar, waits to honor Didar S. Bains, known as the peach king of California, during a ceremony at the Sacramento Sikh temple on Sunday in West Sacramento.
Gov. Jerry Brown, wearing a Dastaar, waits to honor Didar S. Bains, known as the peach king of California, during a ceremony at the Sacramento Sikh temple on Sunday in West Sacramento. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Clad in a blue head scarf, Gov. Jerry Brown went to the Sikh Temple of Sacramento on Sunday to honor the “peach king of California,” longtime political supporter Didar Bains, godfather to the region’s more than 50,000 Sikhs.

Brown praised Bains and thousands of other immigrants from India who he said have enriched the nation with their culture and work ethic.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to be here,” Brown told some 2,000 Sikhs from as far away as Los Angeles who filled the West Sacramento gurdwara.

Brown’s inaugural visit to the temple comes as more Sikhs engage in politics. Narinderpal Singh Hundal, a Sikh newspaper publisher and businessman, ran for mayor in West Sacramento, losing Nov. 4 to incumbent Christopher Cabaldon.

“The Sikh community is at a turning point that many immigrants go through; we’re no longer looking inward. We’re politically active, and the governor recognizes this,” said Sikh activist and attorney Amar Shergill.

Brown talked about his own family’s immigrant journey.

“What builds California and America is not one group or any bureaucracy … it’s individual families,” Brown said. “My own ancestors from Germany came across the plains looking for a better life.”

Brown said that, like Bains and many in the audience, his grandfather was a farmer.

Brown, elected this month to a record fourth term as governor of California, said the world needs religious and ethnic tolerance more than ever – and the nation and California benefit from immigrants.

“We tend to get stagnant without the replenishment of new people and new ideas,” Brown said. “We need to welcome people to California, to respect people here – we don’t have to look the same, think the same or worship the same. We can all flourish.”

In 2012, Brown signed into law two legislative bills – Assembly Bill 1964 and Senate Bill 1540.

AB 1964 protects workers who wear sacred turbans, hijabs and yarmulkes; SB 1540 changes how history and social sciences are taught in schools so that students learn about the history, tradition and theology of California Sikhs.

“Now, tens of thousands of California students will hear our 100-year history, contributions and faith in California,” said community spokesman Darshan Singh Mundy. “And Sikhs will never have to choose between their faith and their job – we can work as sheriffs or police officers with turbans.”

Brown praised Sikhs who have built businesses, schools and temples, and embraced Bains, who has supported Brown for more than 30 years.

“Didar’s younger than me,” said Brown, 76. “The reason I look younger is because I don’t work as hard as he does.” Bains, 74, presented Brown with a ceremonial orange sash and Sikh sword – or kirpan – which Brown promptly unsheathed.

Mundy told the large crowd that Bains, who has served as president of Sikh temples in both Stockton and Yuba City, “is known to everybody as the patriarch of one of the most renowned Sikh families in the United States, the largest peach grower in the nation, who has donated millions of dollars to nonprofits and schools from Canada to India.”

Bains, who arrived in California in 1958 from Punjab at the age of 18, is now a multimillionaire who, with about a dozen other family members, owns about 40,000 acres in Sutter, Yuba, Butte, Sacramento, Glenn and Tehema counties, said his son Karm Bains. “We are blessed. We farm peaches, prunes, walnuts and almonds and have processing plants.”

Karm Bains, 40, said he put on his first suit at age 10 to meet Gov. Brown. “He understands the big picture – agricultural regulations, restrictions, water – he gets it.” He lauded Brown’s efforts to expand California trade with China, “to help sell our dried fruit and nuts.”

Didar Bains, who was almost crushed to death by a 100-foot tree that fell on him several years ago at his Yuba City ranch, said he met Brown’s father, Governor Pat Brown, in 1962. “I have faith in Jerry Brown,” he said. “He has vision – I support his water plans.” Bains said his crops still have plenty of water from deep wells and the Oroville Dam and Feather and Sacramento rivers, but called the drought “a big threat. It’s not like we’re going to have water forever without rain.”

Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072.