Kids Corner


Sikh-American Pioneers Finally Get Last Rites in Oregon





Two men who were born in Punjab in the 1800s finally were laid to rest last week, thanks to the efforts of a Salem man.

The two were both residents at the Oregon State Hospital when they died, and their cremated ashes remained unclaimed for decades.

Both were followers of the Sikh Faith.

Chanda Singh, 60, died of tuberculosis June 14, 1941, and Bur Singh, 83, was said to have died from senility February 6, 1953.

Dr. Pritam Singh Rohila, a retired neuropsychologist who once served at the hospital, became interested in their plight in 2007 while researching U.S. historical census information of those from Punjab, where he had lived.

He described the situation of the men coming to this country as illegal aliens in search of a better life in the early 1900s.

“Once here, you cannot afford to return home or to send for your family. And there is no easy way to share your trials and tribulations with family back home.

“You are shunned by people. Children throw things at your ‘strange’ head gear. There is no social hall where you can go to have fun or meet people. There is no place of worship for you.”

With limited education and language skill, the men and others like them took menial jobs with low pay and no benefits if they fell ill. There was no old-age plan for their future.

Pritam Singh continued, “When you become old or otherwise unable to work, you have very limited options. If you happen to be an unlucky one, you may end up at a state mental institution. When you die there, there is no one to perform final rites of your religion or claim your remains.”

But for these two, their journey ended last Monday with their ashes disposed of according to Sikh religious rites by Eugene granthi Viriam Singh Khalsa.

After a brief interfaith service at the hospital’s Spiritual Center, the remains were taken to the Gurdwara in Eugene for a prayer service and then immersion in a body of water.

Pritam Singh credits Salem lawyer and former mayor Mike Swain with allowing that to happen, along with hospital officials Jodie Jones, Joni Detrant and Micky Logan.


[Courtesy: Statesman Journal. Edited for]

October 20, 2014


Conversation about this article

1: Sunny Grewal (Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada), October 20, 2014, 11:15 AM.

We all owe our existence here in the West to brave souls like the men mentioned in this article. If they had not ventured out of Punjab in early migrations, the Sikhs would have never become a transnational community and we would be stuck in India.

2: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), October 22, 2014, 6:48 PM.

So moving! Dr Pritam Singh deserves a special thank you from all Sikhs and particularly all Sikh-Americans. The two souls had the spirit and by Guru's grace can rest in peace!

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