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Canadian Brig Gen Parsons's recruiting pitch to Halifax Sikhs


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    by Jagpal S Tiwana

    Brig.- Gen. Rick Parsons, right, flanked by Maj. Harjit Sajjan, listens to a musical performance at the Maritime Sikh Society Gurdwara in Halifax on Sunday. (PETER PARSONS/Staff)

    On the invitation of the Maritime Sikh Society, Halifax, Canada, two army officers, Brig. Gen. Rick Parsons and Major Harjit Singh Sajjan, visited its Gurdwara on Nov. 26, 2006. There was quite a concern among the Sangat about the safety of Canadian troops deployed in
    Afghanistan. They wanted to send them cheering messages in X-Mas time. Another part of the desire to show our support for the troops was more personal in that our president, Martin-Jarnail Singh, had done all his public schooling with Pte. Nathan Smith who was one of the first Canadian soldiers to die in Afghanistan.

    Army officers' visit turned out a very exciting event with Canadian media, CBC, ATV and representatives of the Press all over the place. Brig.- Gen. Rick Parsons, commander of Land Force Atlantic Area, advised the press that to send troops to different places is the
    decision of the Government. As soldiers they are supposed to accept orders and perform their duties. In Afghanistan there is definitely an improvement in the situation. There is social equality, justice and improvement in the overall quality of life for many Afghanis. In
    his presentation, Brig.- Gen. Rick Parsons hinted at the opportunities for ethnic groups in the army. The Brig.-Gen knew about Sikhs and their preference for army careers.

    The Maritime Sikh Society invited Brig.-Gen. Rick Parsons to speak.
    The Maritime Sikh Society invited Brig.-Gen. Rick Parsons to speak. (CBC)

    Maj. Harjit Singh Sajjan discussed how his Sikh heritage helped break down barriers with local Afghan villagers. " They were happy to see that somebody who they would normally look at as a Sikh . . . ( was) wearing a Canadian uniform," he told reporters. " And they saw that as a little bit of hope for them."

    He said speaking about the Canadian mission at a religious ceremony was "actually very appropriate" considering Sikhs' history of helping others.

    With his turban and beard and chest full of medals, Maj. Sajjan related very well with the Sikh Sangat and a source of inspiration for children.

    Martin Singh, Our society's president, said he invited the officers to expose the local Sikh community to the Forces, to show that different cultural groups are reaching out to the military and because many local Sikhs have at least one family member serving in either the Indian, Canadian, British or American armed forces.

    Ms Kanwal Sidhu, a grade 4 public school teacher, brought messages and questions from her students. They were supportive, but marked for their innocence . That created some fun.

    About a dozen Sikh children presented cheering cards to the army officers meant for Canadian soldiers deployed in Afghanistan.

    At the end Gurdwara President Martin Singh profusely thanked the guests and presented Siropas and ceremonial Swords to them. Sikh Society's Cybrarian, Jagpal S Tiwana, presented sets of four books to the guests. Three books were produced by our society members and the fourth was the biography of Bhagat Puran Singh, an ideal Sikh humanitarian.

    Canadian army officers' visit to our Gurdwara was a great historic event. This was perhaps first time that uniformed army officers visited a Canadian Gurdwara and were honored there.

    Sikhs have strong army traditions. Most Sikhs were pleased to know that they would be welcome in the Canadian army. This will help in removing prejudices against turbaned Sikhs. Sikhs are mistaken for Muslims, followers of Osama-Bin-Laden, in the West. People have not forgotten that in 1991 a Sikh, Ram Raghbir Singh, was not allowed to enter a Legion's canteen in Calgary because he was wearing a turban. There are Sikhs in Canadian Parliament, in Canadian police, why not in army.

    A war has many ugly sides, but it also provides opportunities for employment. When the 2nd world war started, Congress leaders in India advised Indians not to cooperate in the war efforts of the British. Sikh leader Master Tara Singh saw Muslims sending their boys to the army, he too exhorted Sikh young men to offer for recruitment, though this was against the declared policy of the Congress. M K Gandhi got upset and fired Tara Singh from the Congress party's national executive. Sikhs benefitted a lot from going in the army. When India became free, Indian army had more than 30% Sikh officers. Sikhs welcome any opportunity to get into army.

    References :

    Jagpal S Tiwana
    Director Communications
    Maritime Sikh Society
    10 Parkhill Road
    Halifax, NS, Canada
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