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Lt Col Pritam Singh Jauhal World War II Veteran- Vancouver, BC, Canada

Veteran's Fight Against Injustice, Discrimination In Canada

British Columbia, Dec. 14, 2009
By Lt Col Pritam Singh Jauhal (Retd) World War II Veteran

By Lt Col Pritam Singh Jauhal Second World War Veteran

At 73 in 1993, being offended and humiliated, I was forced to fight the battle of injustice and discrimination against me in a similar manner I fought the Second World War from August 1940 to December 1942. I felt so badly hurt and disgusted that there was not a weapon in my arsenal which I did not put to use. Under the situation, I had no option but to do so simply to restore my honour.

I was not allowed to enter now defunct Newton Legion, a Branch of Royal Canadian Legion while the celebration of the Remembrance Day was on in 1993. The Legion had specially invited Indo-Canadian World War Veterans through proper newspapers. As a disciplined army man, I visited the Newton Legion Branch on November 8, 1993, three days before the celebration, to seek details of the dress to be worn on the day of the celebration. Despite clearance of a formal jacket and “turban,” I along with four other World War II Sikh Veterans was stopped at the door of the Lounge. I was told to remove my turban to enter the Lounge. As per legion’s bylaws entering the Lounge with a head-dress was strictly prohibited. What I fought was not against these bylaws but the fact that for a Sikh a turban was not a mere head-dress. Besides I was an invited guest.

I had to display perseverance and an iron-will to fight for my honour in a most methodical and meticulous manner and to the best of my ability. I had fought in Second World War along with Canadians in North Africa as a part of the Middle East Forces in the 8th British Army under famous Field Marshall Montgomery from August 1940 to December 1942. I later, represented my own Country, India at the International Commission for Supervision and Control in Vietnam during 1961. During 1969, I was selected and sent on deputation to the Central Reserve Police Force as a Battalion Commandant. Finally, I retired from the Army as a Lieut. Colonel and the Central Reserve Police Force as a Battalion Commandant after close to 40 years of meritorious service, earning as many as 13 medals.

The Newton Legion Remembrance Day Parade was led by Arni Bayless. It consisted of a Pipe Band, the Veterans, Scouts Brass Band and the Scouts themselves. “We were ordered on 73 Avenue to form up for ceremonies which included speeches, offering of prayers for the war dead, traditional laying of wreaths, sounding of the last post and reveille and observance of two minutes silence for the war dead. I could not control my tears in the service of the dead.”

It was perhaps the first time that non-Canadians were participating in Newton Legion Parade. Everything was moving fine till the parade reached the Newton Legion Lounge Door. Six Veterans marching ahead of me took their hats off and entered the Lounge. As I attempted to enter the lounge with my turban on my head, I was stopped by two attendants. I was asked to remove my turban. How could I? I tried to reason out, to make them understand the significance and symbol of a turban of a Sikh. But they refused to allow me in. Four other Sikhs too were prohibited from entering the lounge. The Newton Legion President Mr Frank Underwood, was called to the door. He too refused to budge. All my logic of being invited guest fell on his deaf ears.

I took the President aside with a couple of members of the Newton Legion. I made all-out efforts to make the President understand that the turban was not a mere head-dress. For a Sikh it was a part of his religion’s direction. That he never removes it from his head even when dead is cremated along with it. I told him that when I met the First President of India, Dr Rajendra Prasad in 1951 and the President of Vietnam Dr Ho Chi Minh in 1961, I appeared with my turban on my head.

I further said that Sikhs fought all wars, including World War I and II with turban on their heads. They never wore helmets. That in pre-independent India, British and non-Sikh Commissioned Officers had to take off their hats to enter the combined Officers Messes, whereas Sikh Officers were permitted entry with turbans on their heads. Even in Buckingham Palace of England, Sikhs were allowed to appear before the King and the Queen with their turbans to receive Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour and utmost bravery. Even while saluting a dead body, Sikhs in uniform are permitted to wear their turban because they believe it as a gesture of respect for the dead.

“There is no occasion as per Sikh religion when a Sikh is required to remove his turban. Even in Canada, all the twelve Municipal Police Forces in British Columbia Sikhs have been permitted to wear turban. But, unfortunately all my pleas fell on deaf ears. Many members of the Newton Legion who listened to my pleas with keen interest, tried to persuade the President to let the guests in. They even demanded change in the bylaws for that day but the President refused point-blank. As a result, Ms Penny Priddy MLA of the Constituency, walked out of the Lounge in protest against the treatment meted out to invited Veteran Sikhs. She was scheduled to make a speech on the occasion in the Lounge. Along with her Councillor Bruce Ralston too walked out of the ceremony. This inevitably brought the national media on the scene.”

The issue was picked up and became a national debate. I was interviewed on various English language T Vs at least fourteen times and invited to speak on at least nine English and one Toronto Punjabi talk-shows. While the national media (TVs, newspapers and radios) gave the issue a constructive, logical and appropriate angle, I did not rest. I fought the battle on many fronts. I wrote letters giving details of the incident to all conceivable related authorities. All the M Ps of Canada, all organisations dealing with religious discrimination, all Canadian authorities relevant to law making and even to Her Majesty The Queen, the Governor General and Prime Minister of Canada There were over 1700 Branches of the Royal Canadian Legion across Canada which all received my letter giving my point of view.

The Queen was extremely kind to send my letter to the Royal Canadian Legion at Ottawa for a direct reply to me. The Royal Canadian Legion held an emergency meeting if its Executive and changed the Legions’ head-dress bylaw allowing Sikhs with turban in all 1720 Branches across Canada. The Royal Canadian Legion also apologized to the five affected Veteran Sikhs for the manner they were ill-treated by the Newton Legion President.

This had an immediate effect on Newton Legion President, Frank Underwood, who too under extreme pressure, read out an unconditional apology to the five affected World War Veteran Sikhs on BC TV saying “ On behalf of the Executive Committee of our Legion, I apologize to all concerned Sikh War Veterans for an embarrassment and inconvenience caused to them by the application of long-standing head-dress bylaws“.

Later, during a face to face meeting on August 20, 1994 at Victoria, capital of British Columbia, the Queen asked me about the progress of Newton Legion Turban case. I thanked the Her wholeheartedly for Her intervention in the matter, which resulted in the Royal Canadian Legion change its head-dress bylaw allowing turban-wearing Sikhs in all its 1720 Legion Branches across Canada. The Queen was pleased to hear that from me. But she retorted that the Legion should not have ill-treated you in the manner they did in the first place. Since then, a great many World War Veteran Sikhs have been accepted as members by the Royal Canadian Legion Branches across Canada







Lt Col Pritam Singh Jauhal (Retd) World War II Veteran



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