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Mon, 02.19.1923

The United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind is Ruled

Bhagat Singh Thind & wife

*On this date in 1923, United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind ruled that Indians from India were not white in America.  This episode spotlights the intersectionality between nationality and non-white citizens in America.

Case #261 U.S. 204 (1923) was an argument in which the United States Supreme Court unanimously decided that Bhagat Singh Thind, an Indian Sikh man who identified himself as a "high caste Hindu, of full Indian blood," was racially ineligible for naturalized citizenship in the United States. In 1919, Thind filed a petition for naturalization under the Naturalization Act of 1906, which allowed only "free white persons" and "aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent" to become United States citizens by naturalization.

After his petition was granted, Government attorneys initiated a proceeding to cancel Thind’s naturalization.  A trial followed in which the Government presented evidence of Thind’s political activities as a founding member of the Ghadr Party, a violent Indian independence movement headquartered in San Francisco. Thind did not challenge the constitutionality of the racial restrictions. Instead, he attempted to have "high-caste Hindus" classified as "free white persons" within the meaning of the naturalization act. Thind argued that his people, the Aryans, were the conquerors of the indigenous people of India. Highlighting that his people were a "conquering people" was done to characterize Thind as being white.

He argued that Indo-Aryan languages are indigenous to the Aryan part of India in the same way that Aryan languages are indigenous to Europe. Highlighting the linguistic ties between Indo-Aryan speakers and Europeans was done to characterize him as a white person.  Since the Ozawa v. United States court case had just decided that the meaning of white people for the Court was people who were members of the Caucasian race, Thind argued that he was a white person by arguing that he was a member of the Caucasian race.

He argued using "several anthropological texts" that people in Punjab and other Northwestern Indian states belonged to the "Aryan race."  He cited scientific authorities such as Johann Friedrich Blumenbach as classifying Aryans as belonging to the Caucasian race. Thind argued that, although some racial mixing did indeed occur between the Indian castes, the caste system had largely succeeded in India at preventing race mixing. He argued that by being a "high-caste Hindu, of full Indian blood," he was a "Caucasian" according to the anthropological definitions of his day.

Thind's lawyers argued that he had a revulsion to marrying an Indian woman of the "lower races" when they said, "The high-caste Hindu regards the aboriginal Indian Mongoloid in the same manner as the American regards the Negro, speaking from a matrimonial standpoint." His lawyers argued that Thind had a revulsion to marrying a woman of the Mongoloid race because they felt that expressing "disdain for inferiors" would characterize Thind as being white. Also, this would characterize Thind as someone who would be sympathetic to the existing anti-miscegenation laws in the United States.

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