Thind, Bhagat Singh

Thind, Bhagat Singh
   teacher of Sant Mat in the United States
   Bhagat Singh Thind, an Indian-American disciple of the reformist SANT MAT movement, became the subject of a court case in the 1920s that had far-reaching consequences for the American Indian community.
   Thind, born in AMRITSAR, Punjab, and initi-ated by Sant Mat Satguru Sawan Singh (1858–1948), migrated to the UNITED STAT E S in 1913. He attended the University of California and earned his living, as did many Punjabis, working in the lumber mills in Oregon. During World War I he served in the U.S. Army. In 1920 he applied for and was granted citizenship.
   Thind’s move to become a naturalized citizen occurred in the wake of the passage of the Asian Exclusion Act of 1917, which included provisions that blocked further immigration from India. India’s inclusion in the definition of “Asians” to be excluded had in part been prompted by the so-called “Hindoo riots” that occurred in Washing-ton, Oregon, and northern California protesting the many jobs that were given to Punjabi men in the lumbering industry.
   After the final approval of Thind’s citizenship, a naturalization examiner challenged the court’s decision. That challenge initiated a three-year court process that rested on a provision of an earlier 1790 law, which had opened citizenship to any “free white person” not otherwise encum-bered. Thind argued that he was a “Caucasian” and hence a “white person.” The case went to the United States Supreme Court, which in 1923, in an opinion written by Justice George Suther-land, ruled that not all Caucasians were white in the common understanding of that term and revoked Thind’s citizenship. That ruling also led to the withdrawal of a number of other previous grants of citizenship to Indian Americans. The ruling in the Thind case stood as federal policy until changes were enacted in immigration law in 1965.
   In the meantime, Thind remained in the United States and maintained his vocation as a Sant Mat teacher, though generally describing himself as a Sikh (see SIKHISM). He lectured widely across the United States, primarily to non-Indian audiences, and authored a number of books and booklets. He educated himself on American religion and argued for his faith, comparing it to transcendentalism and Christianity. In his mature years, cut off from the Sant Mat community, he developed his own unique, eclectic spiritual system.
   He later married a French American, Vivian Davies, who worked for many years to introduce Indian culture into the United States. They had one son, David, who keeps his father’s writings in print.
   Further reading: David Christopher Lane, The Radha-soami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Successorship (New York and London: Garland, 1992); Bhagat Singh Thind, The Bible of Humanity for Supreme Wisdom (New York: Author, n.d.); ———, Divine Wisdom, 2 vols. (New York: Author, n.d.); ———, Radiant Road to Real-ity (New York: Author, 1939); “United States vs. Bhagat Singh Thind, Decided February 19, 1923,” Supreme Court Reporter 43, no. 10 (April 1, 1923).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.