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Sikh WWII veteran dies in Canada

Pritam Singh Jauhal, a 95-year-old World War II veteran and a prominent figure in the Sikh-Canadian community who fought and won a high-profile battle to allow Sikhs wearing turbans into the Royal Canadian Legions, has died.

world Updated: Jun 29, 2016 18:26 IST
PTI
Jauhal spent 38 years in the Indian Army and Central Reserve Police Force, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel before immigrating to Canada to be with his children in 1980.
Jauhal spent 38 years in the Indian Army and Central Reserve Police Force, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel before immigrating to Canada to be with his children in 1980.(Photo courtesy: Canadian govt handout)

Pritam Singh Jauhal, a 95-year-old World War II veteran who fought and won a high-profile battle to allow Sikhs wearing turbans into the Royal Canadian Legions, has died.

Jauhal died peacefully in Surrey on Sunday, his daughter Varinder Bains was quoted as saying by The Globe and Mail newspaper. He spent 38 years in the Indian Army and Central Reserve Police Force, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel before immigrating to Canada to be with his children in 1980.

A prominent figure in the Sikh-Canadian community, he shot into the limelight in 1993 when he was prohibited from entering the Newton Legion on Remembrance Day. At the time, the establishment would not allow turbaned Sikh veterans on the premises.

Legion officials insisted that Jauhal and other Sikh veterans who had served the British Empire in the Second World War could only come in after removing their turban as rules forbade veterans from wearing headgear.

This was despite the fact that female veterans from England were allowed to go in wearing their berets.

He wrote an open letter listing turban wearers who had won the British Empire’s highest military decoration. “Good enough for the Victoria Cross. Not good enough to earn a seat among the heroes of the Newton Legion,” he wrote.

But the national headquarters of the Royal Canadian Legion issued a formal apology and condemned the actions of the local officials. Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra, who co-authored Jauhal’s 2013 memoir, “A Soldier Remembers”, said he was a proud man who insisted he wouldn’t have launched his campaign but for the fact that he had been invited to the Legion and then turned away.

The foreword of the book was penned by a reserve army officer who is now Canada’s defence minister, Harjit Singh Sajjan.

“(Jauhal) could have just gone home and tried to forget the insult, but instead he readied himself for another battle; a battle that he fought with his wits by attacking the ignorance with education,” Sajjan, an Indo-Canadian Sikh, wrote.

Jauhal was the eldest of four children of farmers in Jalandhar district of Punjab. He is survived by his son and a daughter.