June 2, 2018 Program Honoring
Sikh Soldiers and World War Martyrs
To Whom It May Concern:
Sat Nam. On behalf of the Sikh Community of Oregon and SW Washington, we would be honored if you were to attend a historic event being hosted by Sikh Seva Foundation (SSF) at Portland State University - Viking Pavilion - on Saturday, June 2, 2018.
Three short films will be shown followed by a panel presentation. A distinguished panel of guests includes:
Harjus Singh, Director, “All Quiet Along Home Front"
Bicky Singh, Producer of the three films (SikhLens)
Lt. Col. Kamal Singh Kalsi, the highest-ranking Sikh American currently serving in the U.S. Army
Johanna Ogden, Pacific NW Historian
Films being presented are: "All Quiet Along Home Front", "Doctor Ji", and "Lions of London".
“All Quiet On The Home Front” and "Doctor Ji" are about the first turbaned Sikh immigrant to serve in the U.S. Army (1918) and his trials to gain U.S. citizenship after being discharged. These movies tell the story of Bhagat Singh Thind who, according to the information available to us, was the only turban-wearing Sikh soldier from Oregon.
“Lions of London” is about the Sikhs of Great Britain who served during WWI and WWII.
This event is being co-sponsored by the History Department of PSU along with the local Sikh Community. Details are as follows:
1:00 pm - 2:30 pm: Film showings
2:30 pm - 3:30 pm: Panel presentations
3:30 pm - 4:00 pm: Indian snacks and refreshments with light music
Your presence will be highly appreciated.
The Sikh Community is also sponsoring a float in the Starlight Parade on the same night.
Please join us in saluting the Sikh Americans who served in WWI and those currently serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.
We look forward to hearing from you soon!
Please RSVP by Tuesday, May 15, 2018.
Bahadur Singh, Sikh Seva Foundation/Gadar Memorial Foundation
firstname.lastname@example.org | 503-559-8233
Gardhar Memorial Foundation of Astoria
Rededication of Memorial Plaque
Sat Nam. Today, April 7, 2018, an amazing gathering took place at the Holiday Inn in Astoria, Oregon which more than 200 local Astoria residents attended. Mayor Arline Lameer, City Council members, former Astoria Mayor-Willis Van Duesen, and Oregon State Senator Betsy Johnson hosted the Sikh communities of Eugene, Salem, and Portland, Oregon, and the Sikh communities from Vancouver and Renton, Washington.
Two years before, on July 14th, the Memorial Plaque was dedicated at the same spot with many of the same enthusiastic people from the Pacific Northwest. But this past October, vandals found a way to remove the historic marker. The town leaders, along with state Senator Johnson immediately responded by making sure everyone was notified and that another ceremony and a new plaque would replace the stolen one.
Oregon historian Johanna Ogden was on hand to share the story of the Sikh immigrants who came to Oregon back in 1910 and began the Gadhar Party in Astoria with the intention of financially supporting the overthrow of British colonial rule of India.
At this rededication ceremony both the current Mayor, and Senator Johnson passionately spoke of the importance, not only of the Memorial, but of the contributions Sikhs have made in the Pacific Northwest in both Oregon and Washington over past 100 years.
Several Sikh leaders from the Northwest spoke of their gratitude to those who made this memorial manifest again in Astoria where the Sikh American community began blazing the trail and for the progress Sikh Americans have made.
Secretary Avtar Singh Adampuri from the Renton, Washington Sikh Temple ,and Gurjit Singh from Vancouver, Washington were on hand to show their profound appreciation.
Also from Indiana, political activist Gurinder Singh Khalsa and Sukhpal Singh from Washington, DC gave brief remarks, which greatly added to the regional gathering and drew comments from Oregon State Senator Johnson on how far we’ve come and to honor these brave and unsung heroes of history.
Local Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) for the Pacific NW and Regional Director, SatHanuman Singh Khalsa spoke to bring awareness to the gathering that on June 2nd additional program with several films. A panel discussion will take place at Portland State University, and the Sikh Community of Oregon and The Sikh Seva Foundation will be sponsoring programs to teach more about the Sikhs who served in WWI and those who were part of the Gardhar Party of Astoria.
Finally, the Chairperson of the Gadhar Memorial Foundation and Sikh Seva Foundation, Sardar Bahadur Singh, spoke to thank everyone present, especially thanking the Mayor, Senator Johnson and Johanna Ogden for helping to keep this important history alive. --
Sat Nam. When I was 10 years old in 1960, my closest friend, Marshall Williams, was a fellow classmate and Sunday school student at the local Protestant church in Rumford, RI. Marshall and I went to church Summer Camp together and my dad took us both to Red Sox games, just about the time the Boston American League team became the last professional ball club to hire 'Black' ball players.
Jackie Robinson played his only year in the Negro leagues with Black baseball's most storied team. Pitching greats Satchel Paige and Hilton Smith were teammates. On April 16 Jackie had a tryout with the Boston Red Sox, along with fellow Negro leaguers Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams. Manager Joe Cronin did not appear interested in the proceedings, and neither Robinson nor the other players ever heard from the Red Sox again, leading Robinson to believe the tryout was a charade (the Red Sox would end up being the last MLB team to integrate). On August 28th, 1945 Jackie had his fateful meeting with the Dodgers managing partner Branch Rickey, and the rest is history. --
One summer in 1961, my friend Marshall invited me to go to the North Providence youth swimming pool. It was 99% Black swimmers. I didn't care, I was with my friend. On this one summer day I was swimming in the deeper end. I was really into swimming under water to see how far I could swim on one breath. As I reached the far end, eight boys, younger than me, jumped on my back and head, attempting to drown me. I was struggling to stay afloat and gasping for air, when an arm (a Black man's arm) reached down and pulled me to safety. Its was Marshall's older brother, Buddy. He was 16 and far stronger than the younger boys, handicapped by being in the deeper end themselves. Buddy pulled me up and out of the pool. I will always remember that moment. It stayed embedded in my consciousness, a human being, a brother of another hue, saved my life while kids who thought it was fun to harm another kid, just because I reminded them of the inequality facing them in the inner city in the 1960s.
Years later, in 1979, I was a turban-wearing Sikh, working in a vegetarian restaurant in downtown Boston, MA. I had worked all day at a Sikh-owned comfort shoe store in Cambridge and worked several nights after the store closed at another work place, the Golden Temple Conscious Cookery. This one night I was a waiter taking care of table of eight folks. The restaurant had been open for about 2-hours. I noticed two men coming in and one asking for use of our restaurant public restroom. It appeared only one man came in while the other stayed on the stairway at the front door.
I had served beverages and just finished serving the main course meals at one of my tables. As I was returning to get another order for a separate table, an arm grabbed me as I walked passed the swinging doors of the pantry (where the pots, pans and dishes are washed). It was also the way to the restrooms. The arm was from the man who had asked to use the restroom. He pulled me, brandishing a weapon. He asked me and the other waiters he had pulled in for the money in our register. We didn't move fast enough so the nervous fellow fired off a shot. I looked up and could see there was hole in the ceiling. At that time, there was total silence. Two ashram directors were at the restaurant that night in a business meeting. They both came back to see what happened, and what was causing all the fuss. They too were nabbed and pulled into the pantry. We gave the guy with the gun all the cash we had from the TIP jar, which was probably less than $100.00. He then backed out of the restaurant with his fellow robber, at the stoop.
They then vanished into the night. Both of therm were African-American. It was all a blur. Who could pick them out of a line up? Later that night, Boston police showed all of us 'mug' shots. I looked at hundreds of shots, and I knew I could not ID either of the two.
I just know the reaction from my table with the eight who sat and waited for the evening to continue to normalcy was that of total shock. I asked if everyone was okay, and if they would like to look at the menu for dessert or a hot cup of Yogi Tea? The response from one of the guys was spontaneous and hilairious. "Thank you, but we're full. The meal was delicious, but next time we'll skip the floor show."
It was the best way to relieve the stress and our sense of disorder and shock. We all had a big laugh over the comic relief that occurred for that brief moment.
Later I would reflect how these two episodes, along with others involving young Black men and trauma, would give me pause. I was blessed to know that it was the karma I had to experience and fortunately for me, I never look at the individuals and make a broad judgement about people of color as reason to fear. These unique experiences were mine. Only the individuals were involved, not an entire race of people. Later in life, as a turban-wearing Sikh I would have many positive experiences involving serving, lecturing, teaching, even in a role as sales person and remembering how I was treated due to my unique appearance.
Within four months I was attending Kundalini Yoga classes on Cocoa Beach. Yogi Bhajan was invited to (then) BCC, Brevard Community College, by World Religion professor, Dr. Lin Osbourne. 1971 was a jammed packed year, beginning with my 21st birthday on Feb 17. My girlfriend was pregnant. I was forbidden to see her. That night I bought a fifth of Red wine, walked in the snow to a Chuck Berry, Bill Haley and the Comments, Rock n Roll concert in Manchester, New Hampshire.
After settling my affairs in NH, I hitchhiked to DC for this anti-war rally. I was arrested for 25 hours, paid a $25.00 fine for Disturbing the Peace. I then got my gear in NH and hitchhiked to Titusville, Florida to see my mom. I enrolled at BCC on the GI Bill, became a vegetarian, stopped smoking pot and tobacco, and quit drinking wine (I hated beer and whiskey).
Anti-War photos from "May Day" 1971
Life Magazine, May 14, 1971
I'm in center of picture (with sideburns) underneath 14th Street Bridge.
See three men looking to their left - I'm the third from your right.
Bridge over Potomac connects DC to Arlington (the Pentagon).
Kundalini Yoga In The Prisons
In 1974 through 1975, I taught Kundalini Yoga in several prisons in Florida, one was a Federal high security prison near Gainesville, a couple were minor security work release prisons, and one was a medium security prison in Central Florida.
One week in 1974, a letter arrived from a prison inmate to the Director of Baba Siri Chand Ashram in Altamonte Springs, Florida. It was a request for Kundalini Yoga classes to be taught at the Sumter Correctional Institute in Bushnell, Florida. I was assigned the job of teaching the classes, and tasked with making the long drive.
I arrived that first Friday at 7:00 pm. I was patted down and then allowed, under escort, to meet the inmate who wanted to learn yoga and meditation. I spent about an hour with him. I informed him that he had to organize a larger group since it was 80 miles each way to the prison. He then informed me he would NOT do any yoga with Blacks. Actually, he used a different word to refer to people of color. I then told him that there had to be 6 more students in addition to him, and 4 had to be Blacks. I told him it was his choice and that I was doing the classes out of seva (service), that I was not being paid, and that the Ashram was paying for the gas. He reluctantly agreed. Years later, he admitted he was grateful that I acted firmly with him.
So the next week I drove the 1-1/2 hour drive through orange groves and back country roads, through Mount Dora to the Sumter Correctional Institute. When I arrived I was informed by the prison guards that there were about 20 students registered for the class. More than half were Black inmates.
Several weeks later, I got there late. I was told to enter the compound and to go to the back. I brought my guitar and walked across a large open area to a building where I was also informed the inmates were already doing some yoga. As I got closer, I could hear powerful "Breath of Fire". I mean, I could feel the building move. It was amazing. The person leading the set was the young White man who had asked me to teach him but with no Blacks. As I walked into the room, he told the students to inhale and relax. I was so in awe of what I was experiencing. It was only the 3rd or 4th class. But after six months of teaching, the class grew to 65 inmates.
Over half were Black. By now, about 9 had asked Yogi Bhajan, aka Siri Singh Sahib, for a spiritual name, and converted their prison diet to vegetarian (as best they could). They traded meat for more veggies and salad. Some were getting up early and chanting in their cells. Well, more like softly chanting. One inmate, a Black, man, loved the yoga so much, he told his fellow inmates to turn off the TV and join him, one Friday night. I noticed that night he was missing. I was informed he was clubbed with an iron bar and was bandaged up in the infirmary. The following week, he sat in the class with white bandages wrapped over his head. He was smiling from ear to ear. He told me he was wearing a turban, like me.
In the autumn, just before the Winter Solstice, Yogi Bhajan came to Central Florida. With the help of the Junior Chamber of Commerce and the State of Florida Corrections system, two chosen inmates, with escorts, were allowed to come to Baba Siri Chand for a banquet to honor Siri Singh Sahib ji. They presented him a leather flag, hand painted to match the Sikh Dharma Flag. Hanging from the bottom it said, "Siri Singh Sahib Yogi Bhajan", and the Siri Singh Sahib ji wept."
In the spring of 1975, I was called by nine inmates who were in a "work-release" program. They were first time offenders and had for almost two years been model inmates in the Correctional system. They were to be released. It was inspiring and humbling. One was the original student, and there were two more young White men. The remaining inmates who were released were Black. One of them was my white-bandaged warrior, who found the Light within that healed his mind, his heart, who then took responsibility for his life. Twenty years later. the original student, the young White man who didn't want to do yoga with Blacks, was out of prison and living in New Zealand. He called me to say, "Sat Nam!", and to thank me.
"Wahe Guru", is all I can express. It was an experience as a Teacher I will always treasure. My thanks to MSS Hari Singh Bird for leaving me with the Orange County ('Thee Door') drug rehab center, Kundalini Yoga classes in Orlando when he and the Birds were sent to lead the House of Guru Ram Das ashram in Denver. I thank Siri Singh Sahib Bhai Sahib Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, my Teacher, and I especially thank Guru Ram Das for guiding me safely home those many Friday evenings when I was exhausted from work and teaching. --
I propose that 3HO/KRI formulate a training program for inclusion in their current system that supports and encourages KRI Certified Teachers and Teacher Trainers to tithe their teaching skills pro bono, i.e., 1/10 of their teaching time for no fee, as community seva for prison populations. Prisons are where large numbers of marginalized people, people of need, are concentrated, especially African Americans, and other minorities. I urge financial contributors to make specific donations to this outreach effort, as well. See Example 1 and Example 2. -- MSS Hari Singh Bird
U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is supportive of the Sikh American right to serve. Yet Specialist Kanwar Singh (featured in this video), Specialist Harpal Singh and Private Arjan Singh Ghotra were forced to file a lawsuit TODAY demanding that they be given this basic right.Learn more: http://bit.ly/1pXGo0Y#LetSikhsServe
28 March 2016
Dear Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter,
I am a veteran of the USAF during the years 1968-70. I am 66, a grandfather and strong believer in Religious Liberty.
During the the 1970s, many friends of mine served honorably in the US Army, while practicing their faith. That religious faith is the Sikh Religion. We both know that the religious exemption was removed in 1981 by a Republican Administration. There was no reason except for absolute prejudice. You know as I know that Sikhs have served in the US Army since 1917 until this US DOD decision was made during the Reagan Administration.
It's time that this religious exemption be reinstated, not only with US Army, but all branches of service.
As you stated in your engagement with one of the current Sikhs in the MA National Guard, we need Sikhs to serve.
The British have known this for over 200 years. The Queen of England is protected by two Sikh soldiers as her personal body guard.
Canada opened their Armed Forces in 1999 to Sikh without any reservation.
There are over 750,000 Sikh Americans in our nation, with the proud tradition of military service in whatever country Sikhs find themselves, we always serve with distinction and honor.
In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln Executive Order: All African American males be allowed to serve in the US Army. Over 400,000 did.
The first to win the Congressional Medal of Honor was Sgt. William Carney who is buried in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Then in the Spanish American War, the "Buffalo Soldiers, then serving on Captain John Pershing took San Juan Hill. In WW I African American soldiers fought bravely in France and so did the brave Sikhs serving in the British Army.
When I was 38 years old, I was with a client in Naples, Florida having breakfast. An elderly man approached me. He noticed my Daastar (turban) and beard and recognized I am a Sikh. I am White and not of Indian lineage. He then commented in front of my business associate, "I've never seen braver soldiers then those Sikh warriors fighting side by side with my comrades in the trenches of France". He was about 80 years old at the time.
So you see Secretary Carter, even a turban worn by a young Vietnam veteran, inspired an old Doughboy with fond and grateful memories.
Then we come to WWII, Japanese Americans, whose parents and siblings, interred on the West Coast in barbed wire prison camps fought heroically in Europe against the Wehrmacht. They are the most decorated Regiment in US history.
So then comes the American woman. She wants to serve. She is awarded the Medal of Honor in the Civil War. She serves as support during all the wars until she insists she be allowed to serve in combat. Under you, this has been allowed. Bravo!
Under President Obama and you sir, Gays and Lesbians can now serve openly in our Armed Forces.
I humbly request that the exemption for Sikh-Americans be lifted throughout our US Military.
We won't regret it. History is on our side.
If all these retired Generals of all branches agree, if a Sikh Canadian can be your counterpart as Defense Minister in Canada, then why can't we move forward and allow all qualified candidates to follow their patriotic duty and serve now, as Sailors, as Marines, as Airman, as Soldiers?
There is one Sikh soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetary, ironically. He could not keep his hair, his beard, his turban. He was NOT an American citizen at the time he volunteered and served in 2002, and he was only a Private.
You are correct, we have NO draft, but we do have Americans who want to serve and who have a legacy of bravery in battle, and selflessness towards their fellow soldiers on the battlefield.
Major K. S. Kalsi has proved without a doubt, the quality you will get when you make this historic decision.
One more point, Mr. Secretary, allow the only Sikh American to graduate with honors from West Point Military Academy who is now a Captain in the US Army to keep his Kesh (unshorn hair and beard), his Daastar (turban). Make all Americans proud. Its time!
Singh Sahib SatHanuman Singh Khalsa
Troutdale, Oregon --
SELMA, AL (WSFA) -- The 50th anniversary of the voting rights marches (March 15, 1965) has put Selma in the spotlight this year, but something else in the city is getting national attention -- and for a very different reason.
Sometime before the 50th anniversary events, the group Friends of Forrest commissioned a billboard featuring confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, riding a warhorse in front of a confederate flag with his signature line, “Keep the skeer in ‘em."
WSFA reached out to Forrest and Friends organizer Patricia Godwin. She refused an interview but candidly blamed the controversy surrounding her billboard on the media.
“It's you people causing the controversy. It's just a billboard, an inanimate object. It's urging tourists to come to Selma to see all of Selma's history," Godwin said.
Godwin wouldn't say when the billboard went up, questioning “does it matter?” She said the motivating factor behind the sign was to advertise Selma's assets.
“We are trying to showcase all of Selma, because Selma is an economically depressed town," Godwin said. “We need to fall back on our natural resources like tourism."
Selma tourism director Ashley Mason says this sign doesn't embody the spirit of Selma. Mason says the community is making strides to bolster tourism beyond civil rights and the Civil War, which are currently the biggest draws to the city.
“There's a lot here that people don't realize what all we have," Mason said. “They come here and they see all of this history and they love Selma.”
The billboard isn't alone. The Loyal White Knights of the KKK were also in Selma distributing fliers over the milestone weekend. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group is making a significant effort to circulate the propaganda across the country as well, but it's gaining no leads in membership.
“When you see this trash, put it in the trash," said civil rights activist Rose Sanders. “Keep the scare on them? They need to put the scare on themselves because in the end, nonviolence is going to win this war."