BY PRITAM K. ROHILA, Ph.D.
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 the family back home.
With limited education, and even more limited skills to communicate in the language of the new place, only jobs you can get are menial and low paying.
You manage to find a job in a lumber mill. Your work is the least desirable and the least paid of all available jobs.
You work at 53 cents an hour, 10 hours a day, six days a week. But your pay, work hours and job security are subject to the whims of your employer
The climate here is quite cold and damp, and very different from that back home. Your work is arduous and you are exposed the elements. If you fall ill, or suffer an injury, there is no way to pay for your treatment. You are even at risk of losing your job.
You are shunned by the 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 no place of worship for you.
The local police are hard on you. You are subject to harassment with confinement in jail for charges such as “disorderly conduct.”
Your only comfort is living with a few other men from you land, in a row of small bunk houses, called the “Hindu Alley,” on a little pier on the river.
When you become old, or otherwise unable to work, you have very limited options. You may seek shelter in an old age home, or a mission house.
If you happen to be an unlucky one, you may end up at a state mental institution, since there is no way for you to get out, after you get in there. When you die there, there is no one to perform final rites of your religion, or claim your remains. You are cremated at the state expense, and your ashes are stored in canister. And they may stay there forever, unless someone files a legal claim for them.
Among these unfortunate people were two Sikh gentlemen from India: Chanda Singh and Bur Singh. They had come to Oregon in early 1900’s.
Chanda Singh died at age 60, of tuberculosis, at Oregon State Hospital (OSH), on June 14, 1941, after staying there for one year, four months, and 14 days. He had been in the United States for 21 years, and had come to OSH from the Lighthouse Mission in Portland, OR.
Bur Singh died at age 83, of “senility,” at OSH, on February 6, 1953. He had stayed there for 24 years and 10 days. Before entering the institution, he had been employed as a rope-maker in Portland, OR.
Still unable to be returned to India, on October 13, 2014, finally their ashes will be disposed of according to their religious rites, thanks to a Sikh ordained minister from Eugene, Sahib Singh Viriam Khalsa, and a petition filed on his behalf by the well-known Salem attorney Mike Swaim. Also OSH officials Jodie Jones and Joni Detrant, and the OSH attorney Micky Logan, demonstrated and exemplary cooperation in the matter.
This marks culmination of efforts that I had started informally in 2007, and formally in 2012.
Dr. Rohila is a retired neuropsychologist and founder of Oregonians for Peace and Association for Communal Harmony in Asia. He can be reached at [email protected]