He Took On the Racists in The Royal Canadian Legion ... GURPREET SINGH
The memoir of a prominent Sikh World War II veteran who then fought against racism by the Royal Canadian Legion, was released in Surrey, British Columbia, Canada, earlier this month.
Co-authored with Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, “A Soldier Remembers’’ is a memoir of 93-year-old former Lt Colonel Pritam Singh Jauhal, who had captured headlines across the world for challenging the racist policy of the Newton Branch of the Canadian Legion in Surrey that barred the entry of turbaned Sikhs inside the club in 1993.
It then came to light that the racist exclusion was being observed -- unknown to the Canadian public at large -- by the branches of the Royal Canadian Legion across Canada. The Legion is the country’s largest Veterans and Community services organization.
Pritam Singh and other Sikh war veterans who had served with the Allies during the two World Wars were being denied entry into the Legion on the occasion of Remembrance Day. The legion officials insisted that they could be allowed in only after removing their turban as rules forbade veterans from entering the club with a headgear.
This was despite the fact that women were allowed to attend with their berets on, says the book. Pritam Singh shot into national prominence for fighting against this prejudice and became the face of this fight against racism in Canada.
He wrote a protest letter to the Newton Legion detailing the sacrifices made by Sikh soldiers during World War II in a bloody fight against the Nazis. He also wrote to the Queen of England who is the constitutional head of Canada.
Following the support he received from mainstream allies, including the former British Columbia Minister Penny Priddy, the Legion apologised and amended its policy. Priddy, who was present at the controversial Remembrance Day event, had walked out in protest after the Sikh veterans were not denied entry.
She was at the book launch that was organised at the Newton Library.
In her speech, she acknowledged that this “heroic fight’’ of Pritam Singh ensured equal rights to the Sikh-Canadiand even within the Legion premises everywhere in the land. “He did not accept the status quo,’’ she said.
An emotional Pritam Singh hugged her and said he couldn't have won the fight without her support.
He had also received threat letters and calls from white supremacists for raising the issue. The book reveals how his wife suffered a cardiac arrest and died during those difficult times. His cause was honoured when the Legion was relocated to White Rock where he was invited years later to make a speech. He was also given a seat at the podium along with the Legion President.
Pritam Singh, now frail, came to the book launch with relatives. His ageing voice cracking, he read out from the book prologue and recalled how racists would call him names and taunt him saying, “Paki, go back’’ when he migrated to Canada in 1980.
He received a standing ovation.
The book can be purchased by contacting the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1.604.851.6325.
[Courtesy: Tribune. Edited by sikhchic.com]
December 13, 2013
Conversation about this article
1: T. Sher Singh (Mount Forest, Ontario, Canada), December 13, 2013, 9:50 AM.
I recall the affair which lingered in the national headlines for some time. The issue greatly troubled Canadians coast to coast, especially since these racists were the very same who claimed they had gone to war to defend everybody's 'rights and freedoms'. Actually, many of the legionnaires wanting to keep the Sikh war heroes out had themselves never been to war! The sheer stupidity of the racists was highlighted by a simple gesture by Queen Elizabeth (also the Queen of Canada) during a state visit to Canada shortly thereafter. She invited Lt Col Pritam Singh and a number of other Sikh veterans of the World Wars to tea, and graciously greeted them in full view of the media! Yes ... over the private and desperate objections by cowardly Canadian bureaucrats and the bigoted legionnaires!
2: Sandeep Singh Brar (Canada), December 13, 2013, 2:47 PM.
I salute Pritam Singh, the eternal warrior. Whether fighting the enemy on the battlefield or fighting social injustices, this warrior has fought the good fight. Look at how smart and distinguished he looks today as well as when he was young. So proud of you, Colonel Sahib, and thank you so very much.
3: Raj (Canada), December 13, 2013, 9:05 PM.
We are proud of Sardar Pritam Singh. I remember how difficult it was for the practicing Sikhs to be out in the public, especially in Alberta, those days. We draw strength from such individuals, they're shining examples of "nyara", fearless and courageous Khalsas.