Sikh Missionary Society U.K. (Regd)
10, Featherstone Road. Southall, Middx, U.K. UB2 5AA
Tel: +44 020 8574 1902
Fax: +44 020 8574 1912
Reg Charity No: 262404
by Retired Justice Choor Singh of the Supreme Court of Singapore
Central Sikh Gurdwara Board
2, Towner Road, Singapore 327804
It is never easy to write on ethnic issues and on religious issues: time and time again authors of books which attempt to explain a certain religion or a certain ethnic inheritance meet with bewilderment and sometimes downright indifference. The nature of the subject(s) does not always allow for a comfortable relationship between author and reader.
One striking feature of this small booklet is that the author here -Retired Justice Choor Singh - has managed to `engage' the reader through the strategy of writing simply, honestly and without any pretense. These continue to be rare qualities and any author who observes their relevance is bound to be rewarded by a good readership.
The Sikhs have made their presence felt everywhere in the world: from the basic jobs to the most professionally demanding, Sikhs have demonstrated a tenacious capacity for survival, accommodation and even, on occasion, triumph! Here in Singapore the Sikhs are seen as a united and articulate community, able to mix well and integrate wholly without, surprisingly, losing touch with their own basic culture and religious tradition. There is, therefore, good reason for non-Sikhs to be told/shown-in clear, simple language-what Sikhism is and what the Sikhs value.
I have learnt alot from reading this good book and I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone interested in knowing more about this minority who are always recognisable not only by their colourful turbans and dresses but also by the vitality of their musical rhythms and the steadfastness of their morality.
Dr Kirpal Singh
Director, Centre for Cross-Cultural Studies,
Singapore Management University.
Although Sikhs have been in this part of the world for more than a century, very little is known about them by the local population. Very few know who the Sikhs are, where they have come from and what religion they profess. When Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore in February 1819, and founded the Colony of Singapore, he came from Calcutta and all the native staff he brought with him was from Bengal. Returning to Calcutta he left them behind in Singapore and sent more natives from Bengal for the administration of the Colony. Sikhs started coming to Singapore towards the end of the nineteenth century, long after the annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849. The first Sikh to land in Singapore was undoubtedly Bhai Maharaj Singh who resisted the British annexation of Punjab. After his capture he was sent here in 1850 as a State Prisoner, together with his Sevadar (attendant) Khurruck Singh, by Lord Dalhousie, the then Governor-General of India. They were detained in Outram Road Prison where Bhai Maharaj Singh died in 1856 and Khurruck Singh soon after. As the British had no jurisdiction in Punjab before 1849, there is no possibility of Sikhs having been sent to Singapore before 1850.
Sikhs were recruited in Punjab for the Police Force of the Straits Settlements Government and brought to Singapore in 1881. Others started coming on their own around 1885. Because of the earlier arrival of the natives of Bengal, in the eyes of many natives all Indian immigrants from India, including Sikhs, were erroneously labeled Bengalis. (To some degree this attitude is seen even today). The early Sikhs were all employed as policemen or watchmen (now known as security guards). Some became bullock-carters and dairy farmers. They kept cattle and sold milk. Some watchmen saved money and became petty moneylenders. Although with English education, some second and third generation Sikhs have advanced to the professions of law, medicine, accountancy etc, unfortunately the Sikhs are still by and large perceived as a community of security guards and petty moneylenders. Even up to today, the locals do not know that the Sikhs were at one time the rulers of a mighty empire in North India and they are now, as the Jews were until the creation of Israel, members of a dispossessed nation which was in the first half of the nineteenth century, the strongest military power in Asia.
I believe that the world is interested in learning more about who the Sikhs
Finally, it must be reiterated that it is not my intention to denigrate any religion, least of all Hinduism. Some of my close friends are Hindus. In Singapore, where I live, a multi-cultural and multi-racial society flourishes. Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and followers of other religions live in peace and work side by side. We accord to each other the greatest possible respect and tolerance in terms of religious tenets and practices. This is as it should be. The martyrdom of the ninth Sikh Guru, Sri Guru Teg Bahadur ji, continues to serve as an inspiration to posterity.
Guru Teg Bahadur, stood for religious freedom and became a martyr to this cause, the protection of "Tilak" and "Janeu", symbols of Hinduism. Guru Teg Bahadur was not a votary of Hinduism or of its religious signs and symbols. Yet he staked his life to defend the rights of those who believed in them. Implicit in the Guru's act, was his concern to secure people the right of freedom of belief and worship. It was a reiteration of the Sikh belief in an ethical social order and of the Sikh principles of tolerance and acceptance of diversity of faith and practice. At no time in the history of the human race, have men suffered so much to protect the faith of others, as did the Sikh Gurus. But they also founded a new religion, Sikhism, separate and distinct from Hinduism. This essay aims to promote the understanding of Sikhism and its distinctiveness from Hinduism.
Respect for all religions and their holy places is a glorious feature of the Sikh faith. In their long history of warfare, the Sikhs never willfully destroyed places of worship belonging to other faiths. They fought against injustice and tyranny, not religious wars. Sikhs accord respect to temples, mosques, churches, synagogues and other places of worship. This is by virtue of an unshakeable confidence in the Sikh Gospel of God's accessibility to all. The principle of universal participation governs all Sikh places of worship known as Gurdwaras which are accordingly open to all. In some religions, admission to their places of worship is denied to persons of other faiths. But in Sikhism there are no such denials. The doors of the Harmandir, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs, popularly known as the Darbar Sahib and the Golden Temple, are open to everyone, no matter what race religion or caste he or she belongs to. Everone can participate in the worship that goes on almost round the clock and everyone can get a free meal at the Guru Ka Langar - The Guru's kitchen.
The universal character of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy scripture of theSikhs, deserves mention. It is the only religious scripture in the world which accords divinity to compilations of peoples of different faiths. It is also not well-known that Sikhism does not believe in the exclusiveness of its path. In fact Guru Nanak, the first Sikh Guru, positively recommends cooperation with all God-oriented persons in ventures aimed at spiritual progress of humanity. As such, proselytization and coercive conversions are unknown and alien to Sikhism.
Sikhism is the most oecumenical of all religions, for every Sikh carries in his heart the message of the fifth Guru, Guru Arjun:
Na ko bairee nahi begaanaI acknowledge with gratitude the assistance of my dear friend S Karmjit Singh Dhaliwal B.A. (Hons), who read the manuscript of this monograph and made several valuable suggestions for its improvement. In fairness to him I must add that for opinions expressed in this monograph I alone am to be held responsible.
Sagal sang ham kau ban aiee
(Guru Granth Sahib, P. 1299)
[We have no enemies, for us there are no strangers
Towards one and all we have goodwill.]
I am indebted to Gurbachan Singh for typing this monograph and putting it into shape for the Printer.
Choor Singh Sidhu
13th April 2001