Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind
The first turbaned Sikh in the U.S. Army.

Bhagat Singh Thind, Ph.D. 

Acting as a drill sergeant during World War I, Bhagat Singh was asked how he got inducted despite his beard, Bhagat Singh Thind (1892-1967) quipped: “I suppose they figured I could kill just as many Germans with it as I could without it.” He was “honorably discharged” after the war ended in late 1918. But it was another battle that defined his life, one that he fought for over a decade.

On February 19, 1923, Bhagat Singh was denied American citizenship by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling, which determined that Thind was, “a high-caste Hindu of full Indian blood,” was not a “white person”, led to the revocation of his naturalization as an American citizen and shut the immigration door on other South Asians as well. His “Aryan origin” contention made no difference with the judiciary, which accorded precedence to Caucasian lineage.

A native of Taragarh Talawa village in India's Amritsar district, Thind graduated from the holy city’s Khalsa College. At the age of 20, he arrived in the U.S. in 1913 for higher studies (a year later, his brother Jagat Singh set sail for Canada on the Komagata Maru, but had to return to India after being refused entry). Bhagat Singh worked in the lumber mills of the Pacific Northwest and got a doctoral degree in philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley.

“He was granted American citizenship in the state of Washington, only to have it quickly cancelled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Thind then applied for citizenship in Oregon in 1919 and received it the following year. The immigration authorities appealed against it and the case went to the Supreme Court,” says Philip Deslippe, a doctoral student in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

“The apex court ruled unanimously against Bhagat Singh. The decision is usually understood as a matter of racial prejudice,” he adds.

Thind’s association with the pro-Independence Ghadar movement was apparently among the factors that influenced the judgment. After protracted litigation, he finally emerged victorious, becoming a US national once and for all in 1936.

A decade later, the Luce-Celler Act reversed the 1923 order, opening a historic window for Indian immigrants. Refusing to rest on his laurels, Thind made a name for himself as a teacher of spirituality and a wellness guru, holding lecture tours across America and propagating Sant Mat (path of saints). Fondly called Doctorji by his students, he perceived Sikhism as “the future religion of mankind”.

In 1963, Thind returned to India for the first time after leaving its shores half a century earlier. Bhagat Singh and his wife Vivian met then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and then President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, even as he delivered lectures on metaphysics at several universities.

Bhagat Singh passed away on September 15, 1967, in Los Angeles at the age of 74. His son, David Bhagat Thind, is the architect of bhagatsinghthind.com, a website dedicated to this never-say-die Sikh-American. -- Source.

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Sikh And Ye Shall Find

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Science and Practice of Meditation and its Benefits

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The 1974 Transition of Bhai Sahib Dyal Singh

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To The First Teachers of Sikh Dharma

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