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Sikh WWII Veteran Who Fought to Wear Turban in Royal Canadian Legion Dies

A prominent World War II veteran and Canadian Sikh community leader Lt. Col. Pritam Singh Jauhal died Sunday, according to The Globe and Mail. He was approximately 95, though his exact date of birth in India was unclear, according to the newspaper.

"Lt. Col. Jauhal is a Canadian Sikh icon and he is an example for the next generation of Canadian Sikhs that equity and human rights are worth struggling for," World Sikh Organization of Canada (WSO) President Mukhbir Singh said in a statement. "He displayed that same commitment to human rights most recently when he opposed laws limiting the freedoms of Muslim women who wear the niqab. Lt. Col. Jauhal's contributions to the Canadian Sikh community will be fondly remembered."

Jauhal was born in Punjab around 1920 and joined the Indian Signal Corps in 1938. He served in British and Indian forces during World War II in East Africa, Eritrea, Abyssinia, Libya, Egypt; as well as in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947-1948 and 1965. He retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel in 1976 and immigrated to Canada in 1980, according to The Globe and Mail.

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In 1993, he and four other Sikh veterans joined a local Remembrance Day ceremony and parade that ended at the Surrey Newton branch of the Royal Canadian Legion, Canada's largest veteran support and community service organization. The five Sikh men were not allowed into the Legion hall with their turbans because Legion rules forbade headgear, though women veterans wearing berets were allowed.

Jauhal appealed to politicians and Queen Elizabeth of England, educating them about Sikhs who had been awarded the British Empire's highest military decoration. According to The Globe and Mail, he wrote in an open letter, "Good enough for the Victoria Cross. Not good enough to earn a seat among the heroes of the Newton Legion."

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The national headquarters of the Royal Canadian Legion issued a formal apology and most Legion branches now allow turbans.

"Lt.Col Pritam Singh's story is an example of service; service as a soldier and as a member of the community," wrote the current Canadian Minister of National Defense, Harjit Singh Sajjan, in the forward of Jauhal's 2013 memoir, "A Soldier Remembers." "He witnessed the ferocity and cruelty of war and earned his right to be called a combat veteran. Lt.Col Pritam Singh earned this right as a soldier from India serving the British, but he did this as a Sikh wearing his turban proudly."

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