Tanveer Kalo looks at Indian-American history in the military

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Tanveer Kalo (Courtesy: Twitter)

About 100 years ago the United States was seen as a “nation built on immigrants,” and although it still is today, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has changed their mission statement to an America First policy.

However, that has not stopped Indian American St. Lawrence University student Tanveer Kalo from standing up for the Indian American community.

As many college professors steer their students away from using Wikipedia for scholarly research, Kalo got to learn more about his community through the website itself.

According to a Studybreaks.com report, the government major and history minor from New York, came across the name Dr. Bhagat Singh Thind on Wikipedia and found out that he was the first turbaned Sikh to serve in the U.S. military in 1917 during World War I.

Reading through the article, Kalo discovered that Thind had immigrated to the U.S. in 1913 to seek higher education at the University of California, Berkeley.

He then enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1917 to fight in World War I, but later fought a legal battle for citizenship in the country as the Immigration and Naturalization Service refused to grant him citizenship twice because he was not a “free white man.”

“Thind’s story is a really big American story because you had an immigrant come here to fight for a better life. He had to fight for his life and rights that he had as a citizen because of his service to the U.S. military. It’s a very unknown story about the Indian-American community that not many people realize,” Kalo told Studybreaks.com.

During his spring semester last year, Kalo interned as a student-researcher with the United States World War I Centennial Commission (WWICC) where he looked further into the contributions of the Indian-American community and found that there were many more Indian Americans who served the United States in World War I.

So using the information he received from WWICC’s Director of Strategic Relations Theresa Sims and Publisher Captain Chris Christopher, the South Asian-American Digital Archives (SAADA) website and documents from “Young India,” a weekly journal published by religious leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in 1919-1931; Kalo created a page called “Indians who served” on the WWICC website.

According to Studybreaks.com, the page details the stories of many Indian-Americans who served in World War I as well as World War II and ended up receiving much appreciation both nationally and internationally.

Kalo even received a phone call from one of the soldiers’ descendant who thanked him for highlighting his great-uncle Colonel Pashupati Joseph Sarma, who is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.

“People from India contacted me saying ‘We had no idea the history of our people could be traced back 100 years in the United States,’” Kalo added.

Kalo also came to know that Indian American soldiers were treated differently than Mexican-Americans or even African-Americans.

“They had a different experience than African-Americans or other people of color such as Mexicans. Some Indian soldiers were in all white units. Those with a visibly darker complexion would be in units that were segregated from the whites,” he said, adding how the whole project was very personal as his “parents immigrated to the U.S., they were surprised to learn that our community didn’t develop until after 1965.”

In January, Kalo was interviewed by ‘The Great War” podcast, an international podcast and YouTube series created by a German production company and he will be featured on the “Sikhs in America” episode of “United Shades of America” on CNN.

Kalo is currently working on holding a commemoration of Indian-American soldiers through the WWICC with lobbyist Puneet Ahluwalia while he writes out his research on issues of racial classification and the differences between Mexican, British and Canadian soldiers serving in the military, onto paper for a senior independent studies course, according to Studybreaks.com.

As a future graduate student, Kalo will be focusing on Indians in the U.S. and Canada who have a military background during World War II, the Civil War of 1812 and the Cold War of 1947-1991.

“I didn’t know that there were about 10 Sikh soldiers who served in the Canadian Army in WWI,” Kalo said.

Kalo aims to bring the history of Indian American soldiers to light as he believes that it is the best way to understand the past, present and the future.

“I definitely think being able to bring opinions to the public sphere can get people thinking about how we can move forward and assess how far we have come as a people,” he states.