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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 His US citizenship was rescinded four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.
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.
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].
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 Thind's citizenship was revoked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.
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.
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.
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.
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].
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:
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?"
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?"
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."
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."
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."
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.
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."
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."
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.
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]
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.
had come to the US for higher education and to "fulfill
his destiny as a spiritual teacher." Long before his or
any other religious teachers or yogis arrival from India,
American intellectuals had shown keen interest in Indian
religious philosophy. Hindu sacred books translated by the
English missionaries had made their way to America and were
the "favorite texts" of many members of the Transcendentalists'
society (which was started by some American thinkers and
intellectuals who were dissatisfied with spiritual inadequacy
of the Unitarian Church). The society flourished during
the period of 1836-1860 in the Boston area and had some
prominent and influential members including author and philosopher
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), poet Walter Whitman (1819-1892),
and writer Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). [Pradhan:India
in the United States]
had read Hindu religious and philosophy texts, including
the Bhagavad Gita, and his writings reflected the influence
of Indian philosophy. In 1836, he expressed "mystical unity
of nature" in his essay, "Nature." In 1868, Walt Whitman
wrote the poem "Passage to India." Henry David Thoreau had
considerable acquaintance with Indian philosophical works.
He wrote an essay on "Resistance to Civil Government, or
Civil Disobedience" in 1849 advocating non-violent resistance
against unethical government laws. Years later, Mahatma
Gandhiji adopted similar methodology, satyagraha, or non-violent
protest to defy the law to gain Indian rights in South Africa
in 1906. He quoted Thoreau many times in his paper, Indian
1893, Vivekananda came to Chicago to represent Hinduism
at the World Parliament of Religions. He spoke very eloquently
and made a lasting impact on the delegates. For four years,
he lectured at major universities and retreats and generated
significant interest in yoga and Vedantic philosophy. He
also started the Vedantic Centre in New York City. In 1897,
he published his book "Vedanta Philosophy: Lectures on Raja
Yoga and Other Subjects." The first part of his book included
lectures to students in New York and the second part contained
translation and commentary of "Patanjali." [Pradhan:India
in the United States]
Vivekananda's constant teaching, lecturing and addressing
retreats increased the number of Americans who became receptive
to learn about India, Hindu religion and philosophy. Some
publishers brought out books to meet the growing interest
of the American people. Scribner, Armstrong and Co. published
India and Its Native Princes, a 580-page illustrated coffee-table
book. C.H. Forbes-Lindsay of Philadelphia in October, 1903
published "India - Past and Present" in two volumes. The
Yogi Publication Society of Chicago published many books
such as The Hindu-Yogi Science of Breath (1905), A Series
of Lessons in Raja Yoga (1906), Bhagavad Gita (1907), etc.
Swami Vivekananda left, other religious leaders came to
fill the void. In 1920, Paramahansa Yogananda came as India's
delegate to the International Congress of Religious Leaders
in Boston. The same year, he established The Self-Realization
Fellowship and continued to spread his teachings on yoga
and meditation in the East coast. In 1925, he established
an international headquarters for Self-Realization Fellowship
in Los Angeles. He traveled widely and lectured to capacity
audiences in many of the largest auditoriums in the country
such as New York's Carnegie Hall. (www.yogananda-srf.org)
had started delivering lectures in Indian philosophy and
metaphysics even before Yogananda came here. He was influenced
by the spiritual teachings of his father whose "living example
left an indelible blueprint in him." During his formative
years in India, Thind read the literary writings of Emerson,
Whitman, and Thoreau and they too had deeply impressed him.
After graduating from Khalsa College in Amritsar, Punjab,
and encouraged by his father, he left for Manila, Philippines
where he stayed for a year. He resumed his journey and reached
his destination, Seattle, Washington, on July 4, 1913.
Singh Thind had gained some understanding of the American
mind by interacting with students and teachers at the university
and by working in lumber mills of Oregon and Washington
during summer vacations to support himself while at the
University of California, Berkeley. His teaching included
the philosophy of many religions, and in particular the
Sikh Scriptures. During his lectures, discourses and classes
to Christian audiences, he frequently quoted the Vedas,
Guru Nanak, Kabir, and others. He generously shared India's
mystical, spiritual and philosophical treasures with his
students but never converted or persuaded any of them to
become Hindu or Sikh. He also made references to Ralph Waldo
Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau to which
his American audience could easily relate to.
Thind gave new "vista of awareness" to his students throughout
the United States and initiated "thousands of disciples"
into his expanded view of reality - "the Inner Life, and
the discovery of the power of the Holy Næm." One of his
devoted disciples was Rose Elena Davies who started following
Dr. Thind's teachings in the mid 1930's. In 1938, she introduced
her daughter Vivian to her spiritual teacher, Dr. Thind.
Vivian and Bhagat Singh were married in 1940.
who had earned a Ph.D, became a prolific writer and was
respected as "spiritual guide." He published many pamphlets
and books and reached "an audience of at least five million."
The list of his books include Radiant Road to Reality, Science
of Union with God , The Pearl of Greatest Price, House of
Happiness, Jesus, The Christ: In the Light of Spiritual
Science (Vol. I, II, III), The Enlightened Life, Tested
Universal Science of Individual Meditation in Sikh Religion,
Divine Wisdom in three volumes.. [www.Bhagatsinghthind.com]
RADIANT ROAD TO REALITY, Dr. Thind reveals to the
seeker how to connect the soul with the Creator. "There
are many religions, but only one Morality, one Truth, and
one God. The only Heaven is one of conscious life and fellowship
with God," explains Dr. Thind. He wrote, JESUS, THE CHRIST:
In the Light of Spiritual Science in three volumes for those,
"who have freed themselves of orthodox religious thinking.
The books serve as a springboard to greater spiritual heights,
wherein we appreciate more than ever the message of the
Sat Gurus, the Saviors, the Avatars, the Christs, of whom
Jesus Christ was one."
Thind was working on some books when suddenly he died on
September 15, 1967. He was survived by his wife, Vivian,
daughter, Rosalind and son, David, to whom several of his
books are dedicated. He never established a temple, Gurdwara
or a center for his followers but lived for a long time
in the hearts of his numerous followers.
Thind has established a website www.Bhagatsinghthind.com
to promote and propagate books and the philosophy for which
Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind spent his entire life in the US.
He has also posthumously published two of his father's books,
Troubled Mind in a Torturing World and their Conquest, and
Winners and Whiners in this Whirling World and is working
on some others.
Bhagat Singh Thind said, "You must never be limited by external
authority, whether it be vested in a church, man, or book.
It is your right to question, challenge, and investigate."
And he lived his life by that statement. He was a man of
indomitable spirit and waged a valiant struggle for citizenship.
He extended the boundaries of his fight by challenging the
forces of race and color. Unfortunately, even the highest
US court could not rise above the low level of skin color,
yet his legacy lives on in his dream land that refused to
acknowledge him at first.
Singh is chairman of Indian American Heritage Foundation,
president of Global Organization of People of Indian Origin
(GOPIO International), former president of NFIA and founder
president of FIA of Southern California. He can be reached
by email at email@example.com or by telephone at