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SCORE Sikh business leaders join the White House celebrating Sikh Centennial of Bhagat Singh Thind

Discussion in 'Sikh Organisations' started by spnadmin, Jul 16, 2013.

  1. spnadmin

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    US celebrates 100 years of Sikh arrival; Sikh business leaders join the White House celebrating Sikh Centennial
    By Jagdeep Singh

    http://www.sikhsiyasat.net/2013/07/...-the-white-house-celebrating-sikh-centennial/

    Washington, DC (July 16, 2013): The United States of America has reportedly acknowledged immense contribution of the Sikh community in its socio-economic fabric and cultural milieu as it celebrated the 100 years of the arrival of Bhagat Singh Thind, who led a life-long battle for the rights of Sikhs to gain American citizenship.

    Bhagat Singh Thind, who arrived in the US in July 1913 from Amritsar, was the first turbaned Sikh to fight in the American armed forces and fighting a legal battle to obtain citizenship for him and many others.

    “The goal of this event is to acknowledge the contributions this community has made to the country, celebrate 100 years of achievement, the immigrant success story in America and also to acknowledge the horrible tragedy of Oak Creek last year,” said Paul Monteiro, associate director of the White House office of public engagement.

    Accoring to a newsletter by Sikh Council on Religion and Education (SCORE): [o]rganised last week by the White House office of public engagement, with the cooperation of the Sikh Council on Religious Education (SCORE), leaders of the Sikh said that they still have a long way to go in the US, even though they have accomplished much in the 100 years.

    “At the end of the day, we are celebrating today our Sikh heritage and that identity is an identity this President (Barack Obama) truly does appreciate and respect in a lot of important ways,” said Amar Singh, a member of the White House Commission on Asian American and Pacific Islanders.

    For the first time in over 30 years, three turbaned Sikhs were allowed to serve in the US military under this administration and just a month.

    “But the work is not over yet,” says Singh.“This is perhaps the first time that such a collection of prominent Sikh business leaders has gathered at one place. It shows that as a community, we have generated wealth and jobs and proved our vitality,” said Singh, chairman of SCORE.During the event, Sikh entrepreneurs reflected on their positive experiences within American business.

    Sunny Singh, president and CEO of Edifics, described his immigration to the US and the challenges he faced as a businessman, going from near bankrupt to financial success. “America embraced me and gave me an opportunity to survive and thrive.

    Values of my faith, Sikhism and US founding principles,coincided to give me the strength to create an opportunity for myself,” said Gurpreet ‘Sunny’ Singh, CEO, Edifecs Inc., a multi-million dollar company in Seattle, Washington.Savneet Singh, CEO of Gold Bullion, a leading precious metals distribution platform based in Manhattan, said, “Being in America is one of the biggest advantages I have always felt and circumstances created opportunities for me to succeed.”
     

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    Why his story is remarkable, from University of California "Echoes of Freedom" at http://www.lib.berkeley.edu/SSEAL/echoes/chapter10/chapter10.html



    Bhagat Singh Thind, a native of Punjab, immigrated to America in 1913. Working in an Oregon lumber mill he paid his way through University of California, Berkeley and enlisted in the United States Army in 1917, when the United States entered World War I. He was honorably discharged in 1918. In 1920 he applied for citizenship and was approved by the U.S. District Court. The Bureau of Naturalization appealed the case, which made its way to the Supreme Court. Thind's attorneys expected a favorable decision since the year before in the Ozawa ruling the same Court had declared Caucasians eligible for citizenship and Thind, as most North Indians, was clearly Caucasian.

    Now the Supreme Court found it necessary to qualify "Caucasian" as being synonymous with "white," according to the understanding of the common man of the time. Justice Sutherland expressed their unanimous decision, denying Thind citizenship:

    Because of the Thind decision, many Indian who were already naturalized had their citizenship rescinded. The Thind decision also meant that the Alien Land Law applied to the many Indian immigrants who had already purchased or leased land. After this ruling some landowners lost their property, but many continued to hold property they had previously acquired and to buy or lease new property in the names of American lawyers, bankers, or farmers whom they trusted. A few were able to hold land in the names of their American-born children, though this strategy did not become widespread till after a 1933 court case challenging the practice of "Hindu" farmers holding land through American front men. The actual loss of land at that time of the Thind decision is not easy to estimate since official records, of necessity, hid rather than revealed the true owners.
     
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    The details from immigration to citizenship

    http://www.bhagatsinghthind.com/legacy.html


    In the annals of Asians' struggle for US citizenship, Bhagat Singh Thind's fight for citizenship occupies a prominent historical place. His US citizenship was rescinded four days after it was granted. Eleven months later, he received it for the second time but the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which sent the case to the next higher court for ruling. Thind valiantly fought his case in the US Supreme Court, but the judge revoked his citizenship simply due to the color of his skin. The Court verdict in Thind's case, United States v. Thind confirmed that the rights and privileges of naturalization were reserved for "Whites" only.

    At that time, Indians in the United States were commonly called "Hindoos" ("Hindus") irrespective of their faith. Thind's nationality was also referred to as "Hindoo" or "Hindu" in all legal documents and in the media although he was a Sikh by faith and preserved his religious beliefs by keeping a beard and having long hair wrapped in a turban.

    Bhagat Singh was born on October 3, 1892 in the state of Punjab, India. He came to the US in 1913 to pursue a higher education. On July 22, 1918, while still an Indian citizen, he joined the US Army to fight in World War I. A few months later, on November 8, 1918, Bhagat Singh, a turban wearing "Hindu", was promoted to the rank of an Acting Sergeant. He had not even served for a month in his new position when the war was declared ended. He received an "honorable discharge" on December 16, 1918, with his character designated as "excellent". [Rashmi Sharma Singh: Petition for citizenship filed on September 27, 1935, State of New York].

    The U.S. citizenship conferred many rights and privileges but only "free white men" were eligible to apply. In the United States, many anthropologists used Caucasian as a general term for "white." Indian nationals from the north of the Indian Sub-Continent were also considered Caucasian. Thus, several Indians were granted US citizenship in different states. Thind also applied for citizenship in the state of Washington in July, 1918. He received his citizenship certificate on December 9, 1918 wearing military uniform as he was still serving in the US army. However, the INS did not agree with the district court granting his citizenship. Thind's citizenship was revoked in four days, on December 13, 1918, on the grounds that he was not a "free white man." Thind, as a soldier in the US army, had all the rights and privileges like any "white man" and was worthy of trust to defend the US but America would not trust him with citizenship rights because of the color of his skin.

    Thind was disheartened but was not ready to give up his fight. He applied for citizenship again from the neighboring state of Oregon on May 6, 1919. The same INS official who got Thind's citizenship revoked first time, tried to convince the judge to refuse citizenship to a "Hindoo" from India. He even brought up the issue of Thind's involvement in the Gadar Movement, members whom campaigned for the independence of India from Britain. But Thind contested this charge. Judge Wolverton believed him and observed, "He (Thind) stoutly denies that he was in any way connected with the alleged propaganda of the Gadar Press to violate the neutrality laws of this country, or that he was in sympathy with such a course. He frankly admits, nevertheless, that he is an advocate of the principle of India for the Indians, and would like to see India rid of British rule, but not that he favors an armed revolution for the accomplishment of this purpose." The judge took all arguments and Thind's military record into consideration and declined to agree with the INS. Thus, Thind received US citizenship for the second time on November 18, 1920.

    The INS had included Thind's involvement in the Gadar Movement as one of the reasons for the denial of US Citizenship. Gadar, which literally means revolt or mutiny, was the name of the magazine of Hindustan Association of the Pacific Coast. The magazine became so popular among Indians, that the association itself became known as the Gadar party.

    The Hindustan Association of the Pacific Coast was formed in 1913 with the objective of freeing India from British rule. The majority of its supporters were Punjabis who had come to the US for better economic opportunities. They were unhappy with racial prejudice and discrimination against them. Indian students, who were welcomed in the universities, also faced discrimination in finding jobs commensurate with their qualifications upon graduation. They attributed prejudice, inequity and unfairness to their being nationals of a subjugated country. Har Dyal, a faculty member at Stanford University, who had relinquished his scholarship and studies at Oxford University, England, provided leadership for the newly formed association and channelized the pro-Indian, anti-British sentiment of the students for independence of India.

    Soon after the formation of the Gadar party, World War I broke out in August 1914. The Germans, who fought against England in the war, offered the Indian Nationalists (Gadarites) financial aid to buy arms and ammunition to expel the British from India while the British Indian troops would be fighting war at the front. The Gadarite volunteers, however, did not succeed in their mission and were taken as captives upon reaching India. Several Gadarites were imprisoned; many for life, and some were hanged. In the United States too, many Gadarites and their German supporters, were prosecuted in the San Francisco Hindu German Conspiracy Trial (1917-18) and twenty-nine "Hindus" and Germans were convicted for varying terms of imprisonment by violating the American Neutrality Laws [www.sikhpioneers.org].

    Thind, like many other Indian students, had joined the Gadar movement and actively advocated independence of India from the British Empire. Judge Wolverton granted him citizenship after he was convinced that Thind was not involved in any "subversive" activities. The INS appealed to the next higher court - the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that sent the case to the US Supreme Court for ruling on the following two questions:

    "1. Is a high caste Hindu of full Indian blood, born at Amritsar, Punjab, India, a white person within the meaning of section 2169, Revised Statutes?"

    "2. Does the act of February 5, 1917 (39 Stat. L. 875, section 3) disqualify from naturalization as citizens those Hindus, now barred by that act, who had lawfully entered the United States prior to the passage of said act?"

    Section 2169, Revised Statutes, provides that the provisions of the Naturalization Act "shall apply to aliens, being free white persons, and to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent."

    In preparing briefs for the Ninth Circuit Court, Thind's attorney argued that the Immigration Act of 1917 barred new immigrants from India but did not deny citizenship to Indians who were legally admitted like Thind, prior to the passage of the new law. He argued that the purpose of the Immigration Act was "prospective and not retroactive."

    Thind's attorney gave references of previous court cases of Indians who were granted citizenship by the lower federal courts on the grounds that they were ``Caucasians. (U.S. v. Dolla 1910, U.S. v. Balsara 1910, Akhay Kumar Mozumdar 1913, Mohan Singh, 1919). Judge Wolverton, in granting citizenship to Thind, also said, "The word "white" ethnologically speaking was intended to be applied in its popular sense to denote at least the members of the white or Caucasian race of people." Even the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1922, in the case of a Japanese immigrant, US vs. Ozawa, officially equated "white person" with "a person of the Caucasian race."

    Based on Ozawa's straightforward ruling of racial specification and many similar previous court cases, Thind was convinced he would win the case and his victory will open doors for all Indians in the United States who wished to obtain US citizenship. Little did he know that the color of his skin would become the grounds for denial of the right of citizenship by the highest court in the US.

    Justice George Sutherland of the Supreme Court delivered the unanimous opinion of the court on February 19, 1923, in which he argued that since the "common man's" definition of "white" did not correspond to "Caucasian", Indians could not be naturalized. The Judge, giving his verdict, said, "A negative answer must be given to the first question, which disposes of the case and renders an answer to the second question unnecessary, and it will be so certified."

    Shockingly, the very same Judge Sutherland who had equated Whites as Caucasians in US vs. Ozawa, now pronounced that Thind, though Caucasian, was not "White" and thus was ineligible for US citizenship. He apparently decided the case was under pressure from the forces of prejudice, racial hatred and bigotry, not on the basis of precedent that he had established in a previous case. The decision, in essence, reinterpreted the proclamation, "Liberty and Justice for all" to mean "Liberty and Justice for Whites."

    The Supreme Court verdict shook the faith and trust of Indians in the American justice system. The economic impact for land and property owning Indians was devastating as they again came under the jurisdiction of the California Alien Land Law of 1913 which barred ownership of land by persons ineligible for citizenship. Some Indians had to liquidate their land holdings at dramatically lower prices. America, the dreamland, did not fulfill the dream they had envisioned.

    The INS issued a notification in 1926 canceling Thind's citizenship for a second time. The INS also initiated proceedings to rescind American citizenship of other Indians. From 1923 to 1926, the citizenship of fifty Indians was revoked. The Barred Zone Act of 1917 had already prevented new immigration of Indians. The continued shadow of insecurity and instability compelled some to go back to India. The Supreme Court decision further lead to the decline in the number of Indians to 3130 by 1930. [From India to America; Garry Hess, p 31]

    There probably was little sympathy for treating "Hindu Thind" shabbily, but there was a concern for the poor treatment of "US Army Veteran Thind." Thus in 1935, the 74th US Congress passed a law allowing citizenship to US veterans of World War I, even those from the 'barred zones'. Dr. Thind finally received his U.S. citizenship through the state of New York in 1936, taking oath for the third time to become an American citizen. This time, no official of the INS dared to object or appeal against his naturalization.
     
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