Lt.-Col. Pritam Singh Jauhal: A profile in courage – a man I admire

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(Photos 1-3: At the book launch. First three photos courtesy Sharanjit Sandhra /
Photo 4: The Queen meets with Lt.-Col. (retired) Jauhal Photo by Srianti Perera)

 
WHAT an incredibly brave man!

That’s how I have always felt about Lt.-Col. (retired) Pritam Jauhal, whose memoir – “A Soldier Remembers” – was launched at an event at Surrey’s Newton Library Branch last Saturday. The book has been written by Jauhal and Sharanjit Kaur Sandhra of the UFV Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies and edited by Satwinder Kaur Bains.

Jauhal’s courageous stand actually benefitted all South Asians. It forced the country to face up to racism and prejudice and do something about it. It reinforced the dignity of the turban in a spectacular manner.

 

ON Remembrance Day in 1993, Jauhal along with some other former Indian vets were told to remove their turbans before entering the Newton Legion hall after the ceremony. They, of course, refused and kept their dignity even as those disgraceful racist Royal Canadian Legion members sparked off a bitter debate across Canada.

Even the Queen snubbed those racists when, during her visit to Victoria during the Commonwealth Games, she especially walked over to the Indian vets, appearing dignified and confident in their turbans, and spoke to them. Yet those racists had made the ludicrous excuse that the Sikh officers had to remove their turbans as a sign of respect to the Queen! Many Canadian vets disgraced themselves internationally as they tried to justify this racist decision to disallow turban-wearing Sikhs to enter the Royal Canadian Legion halls.

Then Surrey-area MLAs Penny Priddy and Sue Hammell were also courageous enough to refuse to enter the Legion hall in protest.

The Royal Canadian Legion finally managed to get over its racism and in 2001 Jauhal was actually invited to address the Remembrance Day event in White Rock.

Jauhal said at the time: “It was with great reluctance that I accepted an invitation from Ms. Donna Kreiger, President of 240 Legion in White Rock. I simply could not say ‘No’ to her when she said that she will be personally honoured with my presence.”

He said he was reluctant to attend the function because of the 1993 incident, but he decided to go. He added: “I was pleased to know later that Ms. Donna Kreiger had called a meeting of her Legion and put her job on the line and said she was especially inviting me and she expected no trouble of any sort.”

Reg Selvage, who was one of those who left the Newton Legion after the 1993 incident, and his wife managed to persuade Jauhal to attend the ceremony, even giving Jauhal a ride to and from the ceremony.

The decent Legion members honoured Jauhal and gave him a heart-warming standing ovation.

Jauhal, in his address at the ceremony, recounted how his father fought in the First World War while he fought in the Second World War against the fascist forces. He noted: “Let us not forget that it is only because of the supreme sacrifices of our brave men and women in the World Wars that all of us now living are enjoying the comforts of life and freedom in peace. I fought alongside men and women who lost their lives. Luckily, I survived. When I remember those departed friends, I find it difficult to control my emotions and cannot help but shed many tears every Remembrance Day.”

Indeed, this brave gentleman, who defied the vicious racism of so many white Canadians and won, was so moved at the respect that he got from decent white Canadians at this Remembrance Day that he did have to wipe his tears during the ceremony.