Canadian Soldier Sikhs reveals untold First World War stories on Remembrance Day
When it comes to South Asian Canadian history that has been the subject of documentaries or films, the Komagata Maru incident (in 1914) is one of the more well-known stories. Ali Kazimi made a documentary about it called Continuous Journey in 2004, and Deepa Mehta is making a feature film about it. (To learn more about the Komagata Maru incident, visit this website.)
In Rex vs. Singh, Out on Screen's Queer History Project shed light on a little known chapter in local history about a 1915 sodomy case against Sikh millworkers, during a period when anti-Asian sentiment was rife and anti-homosexual laws were regularly being used to discriminate against Sikhs.
Another little known part of Canadian history is being brought to light by the hour-long documentary Canadian Soldier Sikhs: A Little Story in a Big War.
Filmmaker David Gray (Searching for the Sikhs of Tod Inlet) utilizes interviews with family members, archival footage, military records, war diaries, and letters to tell the stories of 10 Sikh soldiers who enlisted in the Canadian army to fight in the First World War.
The film, in both Punjabi and English, traces their way through enlistment, training, transport to England and France, and return to civilian life. It also includes documentation of the battles they fought, the search for their descendants, and the European grave sites of some of the soldiers.
What makes these stories all the more poignant is that these men were willing to serve a country that was not only discouraging and preventing South Asians from immigrating to Canada but were also denying them Canadian citizenship.
Canadian Soldier Sikhs: A Little Story in a Big War will air on OMNI BC on Remembrance Day (Sunday, November 11) at 8 p.m.
You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig.