Sikh soldier with captured Swastika flag See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sikh soldier with captured Swastika flag
See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Canada celebrates the military contribution of Sikhs on Remembrance Day, this year honoring Private Buckam (Bukkan) Singh.

It is well known that a lot of Sikh soldiers fought in the major battles in France during World War I, but few know that Sikhs fought in the Canadian Army as well. This historical fact was celebrated on Remembrance Day, a ceremony that was held at the gravesite of Private Buckam (Bukkan) Singh, the only soldier to have a military grave in Canada. The celebration was preceded with distribution of Langar, a form of community meal where everyone is invited to eat, irrespective of their caste or religion.

The country’s newly appointed minister of minister of defense, Harjit Sajjan, is a member of the Sikh community. He is also the first Sikh ever to command the Army. His appointment lends more significance to the ceremony and gives an opportunity to the public to remember its forgotten heroes.

To aid and partake in this event, the Sikh Heritage Museum put up an exhibit on Remembrance Day to cover the history of Sikh contribution to the wars. Ten Sikh immigrants were enlisted in the Army with Canada during the First World War. Eight of them served in France and England, three were wounded, two of them died in action and one of them, Private Buckam Singh, was injured and contracted tuberculosis. He died at the Freeport Military Hospital in Canada.

For a community that makes up 1.4% of the total population, it wasn’t always easy for Sikh immigrants. As far back as 1907, scare tactics were deployed to monitor the influx of Sikhs and preventing them from seeking sustainable employment. Although politicians, missionaries and the unions were opposed to their immigration, they were able to secure a foothold because of the burgeoning need of labor for the industrialists of British Columbia. Over the years, the Canadian government pushed for the Sikhs to gain legal residency in Canada as they started looking at the growing number of illegal refugees as an opportunity to negotiate with India, which was still under British control.

Since then, the Sikhs have been making steady progress in the economic and social ladder of the country despite a few bumps in the road. 2013 was an important milestone with the Government of Ontario declaring April as Sikh Heritage Month.

Longstanding members of the community expressed joy at being able to wear the turban with pride as over 200 soldiers attended the ceremony, the largest ever gathering of soldiers from the community in North America.

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