Sikhs in Asia Pacific: Travels among the Sikh Diaspora from Yangon to Kobe [1 ed.] 1138280321, 9781138280328

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Sikhs in Asia Pacific: Travels among the Sikh Diaspora from Yangon to Kobe [1 ed.]
 1138280321, 9781138280328

Table of contents :
Half Title
1. Sikhs in Burma: An Exemplary Following of Sikhism
2. Sikhs in Thailand: Majority Community amongst the Indians
3. Sikhs in Malaysia: Largest Sikh Population in Asia
4. Sikhs in Singapore: A Model Minority
5. Sikhs in Indonesia: Sikhs not Recognized as a Separate Religious Group
6. Sikhs in Fiji: Free Passage Immigrants in Indenture Country
7. Sikhs in Philippines: The '5-6 Bumbay' Moneylenders
8. Sikhs in Hong Kong: Possibly the Earliest Sikh Migration
9. Sikhs in China: Sikh Migration of Great Historical Interest
10. Sikhs in South Korea: The Tourist Visa Overstayers
11. Sikhs in Japan: Kobe's Old and Tokyo's New Immigrants
12. Sikh Participation in Ghadar and Indian National Army (INA)
13. Conclusion

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SIKHS IN ASIA PACIFIC Travels among the Sikh Diaspora from Yangon to Kobe


First published 2017 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN and by Routledge 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business © 2017 Swarn Singh Kahlon and Manohar Publishers & Distributors The right of Swarn Singh Kahlon to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. Print edition not for sale in South Asia (India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Pakistan or Bhutan) British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Catalog record for this book has been requested ISBN: 978-1-138-28032-8 (hbk) ISBN: 978-1-315-27221-4 (ebk) Typeset in Sabon by Kohli Print, Delhi 110 051


Preface Introduction

7 13

1. Sikhs in Burma: An Exemplary Following of Sikhism


2. Sikhs in Thailand: Majority Community amongst the Indians


3. Sikhs in Malaysia: Largest Sikh Population in Asia


4. Sikhs in Singapore: A Model Minority


5. Sikhs in Indonesia: Sikhs not Recognized as a Separate Religious Group


6. Sikhs in Fiji: Free Passage Immigrants in Indenture Country


7. Sikhs in Philippines: The ‘5-6 Bumbay’ Moneylenders


8. Sikhs in Hong Kong: Possibly the Earliest Sikh Migration


9. Sikhs in China: Sikh Migration of Great Historical Interest


10. Sikhs in South Korea: The Tourist Visa Overstayers


11. Sikhs in Japan: Kobe’s Old and Tokyo’s New Immigrants


12. Sikh Participation in Ghadar and Indian National Army (INA)


13. Conclusion











I had set about visiting and writing about Sikhs in countries and places which are comparatively less known, because I found, to my pleasant surprise, that they were present in small numbers in these locales too. I was looking for the challenge of picking the high-hanging fruit, ignoring the low hanging fruit of studying the English speaking countries, where information is more readily available. The first in the series of Sikh Global Village writings was the volume Sikhs in Latin America1 published in 2012. The original aim for the present book was to write about the Sikhs in the Pacific Islands but not much information could be gathered to compile a book. So I had perforce to cover broader sweep of countries to make a worth while volume. The countries covered in this book are Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, Philippines, Fiji, Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar. Other non-island countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and smaller islands in the Pacific like Guam, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Xmas Islands, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Norfolk Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Polynesia, etc., have not been covered. I am convinced Sikh immigrants did go to several of these countries but I could not get much authentic information. Australia and New Zealand, though important from Sikh immigration viewpoint, have not been included because as mentioned earlier, my focus is on nonEnglish speaking countries. Exact data is not available but I am guess-estimating that of the total Sikh migration before India’s independence, almost twothirds (certainly the majority) was to South East and East Asian countries. So the geographical area I am covering is very important from the historical view point of Sikh migration. Post-Indian independence, Sikh migration is now focused on industrially developed, English speaking, white and Christian majority



population countries. This has several implications. The picture today is that the Asia Pacific region has less than 20 per cent of the total Sikh migration numbers. A dramatic change in Sikh migration profile! Presently, Malaysia has the largest Sikh population, followed by Thailand and Philippines. These countries are covered in comparatively more detail. Sikh migration to some countries like Myanmar (as Burma is now called), Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia and Fiji, is better known. These countries have a substantive Sikh connection. Sikh presence in other countries such as Japan, China, Korea, and the smaller Pacific Islands, is not so well known. My effort is to introduce the subject of the extended geographical migration of Sikhs in the easterly direction from India. Detailed work will have to be done by scholars who have more time and resources on various aspects of Sikh migration to these countries. As against the case of my Latin American study, where I had to depend on primary data, there is comparatively more secondary information available for many of the countries covered in this volume. A mention needs to be made of the ‘International Workshop on Sikhs in Multicultural Southeast Asia: Negotiating an Identity’ held on 12-13 May 2008 at ISEAS, Singapore, which I had the opportunity to attend. The proceedings of the workshop have since been published as a book. The work done so far by various scholars and information available through desk survey, internet searches, and examination of published material, forms a substantial part of this text. So in that sense, my effort is more of collating in one volume information about Sikhs in these countries. Of course all this has been supplemented by my observations and interviews with various immigrants and through discussions with persons who are knowledgeable on the subject. I have been travelling overseas most of my life since I first went to the USA as a student, in 1958. I am now on my 24th passport and have visited 73 countries so far on business, pleasure and in pursuit of my interest in Sikh migration. My travels to the countries covered in this book were very rewarding. Visits were made spread over a longish period and not in so concentrated a manner as in the case of Latin America, where the visits were



made in two campaigns. I had been travelling to Asia Pacific countries on business as an executive of ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries) India and thereafter of Imkemex (an ICI India subsidiary that I acquired through a ‘Management Buy-Out’) for quite a long time, but regretfully did not get involved with the Sikh diaspora or its study at that time. My visits for this study were to Guam in 2001; Thailand in 2007; Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore in 2008; Japan and China in 2010; Myanmar in 2011; South Korea in 2012; Hong Kong in 2013; Malaysia and Singapore in 2014. I have not been able to visit Fiji, but have included a chapter on the country based on available information. My wife travelled with me to China, Japan, Burma, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore and made these visits less taxing and more comfortable. During my visits to these countries and perusal of available information, I came across some interesting experiences. 1. Way back in the 1970s, during one of my business trips to Kuala Lumpur, when I switched on the TV in my hotel room, there was a news telecast going on in ‘Bahasha Malay’ and the news telecaster was a turbaned Sikh. 2. In a protest by Buddhist monks (a rare phenomenon as they are much revered) in Myanmar during the Saffron revolution of 2007, the leader, in one of the processions, was a turbaned Sikh. 3. Two experiences in Singapore: (a) I was being received at Singapore Airport by the airline’s representative at the Arrival gate with my name placard, ‘S.S. Kahlon’. When I approached the girl that it is me she was looking for, she said but ‘you are Mr Singh – aren’t you?’. The Brand image of a person with turban as a Sikh in Singapore was that of being a ‘Singh’. (b) On the same trip I had checked into The Mandarin Hotel, Orchard Road. Before arrival, I had written to several parties about my visit. I was disappointed that I did not get any telephone calls. On the last day of my visit, a friend called saying he had difficulty in getting through to my room – the Reception had checked me in as Mr Singh, Swarn Kahlon. Again – hazards of a brand image.



4. While visiting Manila, I met Ramon Bagatsing, Legal Advisor to the Manila police and son of Bagatsing, who had been Mayor of Manila. After our meeting, he gave me his visiting card and signed the same. He then told me that I should have a good time in the city and not worry about getting into trouble with the local Police – all I had to do was to flash his signed card. What hospitality! Of course I didn’t have to do that. But on a road check, travelling by a taxi at night, the first question the Policeman asked me was, if I was a 5-6? Readers would find an explanation for this query under the write-up on Philippines. 5. In a story of an old era when (Late) Khushwant Singh had arrived in Fiji, he encountered a Sikh immigration officer, who in a welcome gesture gave him a few Dollars (Indian travellers used to get miserly foreign exchange allocation). Such is the generosity and hospitality of Indian immigrants. The most challenging part of the study of Sikhs in places where information is limited is to locate the first Sikh. It is not easy! How does one locate a Sikh say in Seoul or Tokyo? Even Gurdwaras in these places are difficult to find – my Korean episode will highlight the challenge. A further issue is how to meet and interview people in the 3-7 days at one’s disposal. People are working during the week and hence in most cases are not available. How does one optimize the visit schedule? A traveller/ researcher needs time. Information on websites is scanty and at times misleading and out of date. BOOK PROFILE

After the Introductory chapter, there are 11 country profiles. Under the ‘Country Profile’ some important features are highlighted, right in the beginning before describing the country in general terms (in some instances only), followed by excerpts from the Singhvi Report of 2001 (High Power Committee set up by the Government of India outlining migration of Indians). This is followed by a summary of Sikh migration. Under this sub-



heading, I endeavour to outline the history, followed by some highlights, and special features, if any, of the Sikh migration to the country. Gurdwaras, being an important feature of Sikh migration, are covered in some detail under each country. Almost all chapters have case studies based on my visits and some which have been culled from published sources. I feel case studies offer a multi-dimensional picture about the people, their life history and experiences, attitudes, hopes and fears. Responses from various interviewees are not uniform and at times contradictory. But this to my way of thinking is preferable to a consensus or a majority view or even a considered conclusion. Case studies also provide information on many other aspects of immigrant experiences which some readers might find interesting. It widens their view and yet provides a focus for those readers who prefer that option. The write up on Sikhs migration, as seen by some other authors, and observers, has been added to present a still broader view, even though in some cases the information might be somewhat of a repetition. The whole effort is to throw open as many windows as possible in understanding, evaluating, and appreciating the diaspora as they exist today, but with a linkage to where they came from. Sikhs in these countries were involved in the Ghadar movement started in the USA in 1914, and in the activities of INA (Indian National Army or ‘Azad Hind Fauj’) during World War II. It was felt that a separate chapter should be included to highlight this important historical aspect. In the concluding chapter, migration to the Orient (The East), has been compared to the Sikh migration experiences in the Western countries. As I travelled in these countries and started writing about them, it became apparent that the two migrations, have some unique features. While there are some similarities, there are, at the same time, many differences. I have attempted to elaborate on these, but the subject needs much more investigation and detailed analysis. Perhaps some scholars would like to pursue this important aspect of a comparative study of Sikh migration East vs West.



I owe my grateful thanks to so many people that it is not possible to mention individual names. People in India and overseas have been very generous and supportive in sharing their stories, views, hospitality, and time despite being so busy. Thank you one and all. NOTE 1. Swarn Singh Kahlon, Sikhs in Latin America: Travels Among the Sikh Diaspora, New Delhi: Manohar, 2012.



Asia-Pacific is the part of the world in or near the Western Pacific. The region varies in size depending on context, but typically includes much of East Asia, South East Asia, and Oceania. Though imprecise, the term has become popular in commerce, finance and politics. In fact, despite the heterogeneity of the region’s economies, most individual nations within the zone are emerging markets experiencing rapid growth. Politically, it generally includes Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Macau, Fiji, Indonesia, Japan, Kiribati, North Korea, South Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Republic of China (Taiwan), Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Vietnam and United States Territories: American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands. Sometimes India is included (member of the East Asia Summit), Mongolia (landlocked country in East Asia), Myanmar (Burma – member of the ASEAN), Russia (the Russian Far East borders the Pacific Ocean). The present book, however, deals with some of these countries only. FIELD VISITS AND METHODOLOGY

Besides the field visits, I carried out some desk surveys comprising internet searches, examining published literature, attending seminars and discussions with various persons who have interest in the subject. The interviews, I must admit, had to be conducted in mostly informal settings and under serious time constraints. Immigrants were more interested in social tête-à-tête as in some cases they



Figure 1: Map of Asia-Pacific Countries

had met a turbaned Sikh from Punjab after a long time. The most difficult part was to locate the first few contacts in each country (read my experience in Korea). From one or two initial contacts, some idea could be gleaned about places to visit and persons to meet. However the real story unfolded only on arrival. Pre-arrival contacts being limited, one had to improvise to meet with as many immigrants as feasible. Logistics of contacting persons on arrival and setting up meetings was a challenge. While most immigrants and their siblings were willing to be interviewed, a small number of migrants were not agreeable to meet. With illegal immigrants such an attitude was understandable and expected.




In his book Migration and Diaspora in Modern Asia, Sunil S. Amrith1 points out: There were three most significant flows of migration across Asia between 1850 and 1930: the movement of up to 30 million people from India to present day Sri Lanka, Burma and Malaysia, about 19 million people from China to Southeast Asia (present day Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines); and more than 30 million people from northern China to the north-western region of Manchuria. A defining feature of Asia’s great migrations was their temporary nature: in total, only 6 million Indians and 7 million Chinese settled permanently in Southeast Asia, and between 8 and 10 million Chinese in Manchuria. Even allowing for high rates of mortality, this suggests that most long-distance migrants eventually returned home. Between 1834 – when the first Indian indentured workers journeyed to sugar plantations in the Caribbean and Mauritius in the wake of the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and 1940, over 28 million people left India’s shores. Most of this migration occurred after 1870. Most migrants returned to India in time; many others died along the way. The demographer Kingsley Davis reflected, in 1951, that ‘unusually small numbers of Indian emigrants had settled overseas. On Davis’s estimate, which remains the best available, between 6 and 7 million people of Indian origin had settled overseas by the end of the 1930s: Davis contrasted this with 85 million people of British origin who settled outside the British Isles in the same period. The figures, however, tell a striking story. Of approximately 30 million people who emigrated from India up to 1940, close to 27 million went to just three destinations in Southeast Asia: Burma, Ceylon, and Malaya. About 4 million Indians journeyed to Malaya (mostly from coastal Tamil districts), 8 million to Ceylon (primarily from the Tamil region of the far south), and between 12 million and 15 million to Burma (mainly from the Telugu districts of the east coast). Most of the 6 million who did not return to India settled in Southeast Asia, the majority of them in Malaysia and Sri Lanka, which to this day have the largest populations outside India of people of Indian descent. A further notable characteristic of Indian overseas migration (in contrast with Chinese migration) is that virtually all of it was to destinations within the British Empire.



It is less well known but a fact that the Dutch exported 2638,000 Indian slaves to their settlements. The Dutch had an Indian connection before even the nineteenth century. The French also exported Indian slaves around similar times. Slave trade from pre-colonial areas has not received attention. The conventional idea of Indian migration begins post the abolition of the Slavery Act of the British Parliament on 1 August 1833. Thereafter, Indian labour was sent abroad under a new system of indenture. The earliest migrants were to Reunion Island (French) in 1826, Mauritius – 1834, Guinea – 1838, South Africa – 1860; Fiji – 1879. Non-indenture, free migration to various parts of the world had its beginning in the late nineteenth century. This is not to deny that odd Indian adventurers went to various parts of the world from early nineteenth century. According to the Report of The High Level Committee (HLC)2 on The Indian Diaspora, December 2001, the total population of Indian Diaspora is estimated to be about 20 million. There are about 10,000 or more overseas Indians in 48 countries. In 11 countries there are more than half a million persons of Indian descent and they represent a significant proportion of population of these countries. INDIAN MIGRATION – ASIA PACIFIC COUNTRIES

In the Asia Pacific region, the Indian migration in terms of numbers was more significant in Myanmar, Malaya (now Malaysia and Singapore), Fiji, and to some extent Indonesia. In Southeast and East Asian countries, South Indians, especially Tamils and Telugus, migrated in large numbers as indentured/ semi-indentured labour from the mid-nineteenth century, mainly as farm and plantation labour. In Fiji the majority of migrants were from Bihar and eastern UP. COLONIZATION OF ASIAN COUNTRIES

Europe, because of its head start in industrial revolution, became militarily very powerful. Combined with their advancement in ship-building, almost all of Southeast Asia, with the exception of Thailand, came under European control by the 1870s. Lower Burma had come under British control after the First Anglo-



Burmese war of 1852; the French assumed direct control in Indochina, piecemeal, after 1862; the 1870s saw the British moving into the Malay Peninsula, suborning Malay sultans in a series of treaties. Dutch expansion into Indonesia was more protracted. By 1885, British expansion in Burma was complete. The success of the British in the Opium wars and the subsequent control of Taiping Rebellion of 1850-64, with the help of Indian forces, helped establish and expand international trading ports in China. Japan, too, began its rise to prominence as a colonial power in Asia, taking control of Taiwan in 1895 and Korea in 1910. In the same period, the Japanese expanded their commercial interests in China. By the 1870s plantation-based production of commodities for export was well established in Asia. The Malay Peninsula produced tin, sugar, pepper, gambier, and around the turn of twentieth century – rubber. Sumatra specialized in tobacco; Java in sugar; the outer islands of Indonesia in spices. Ceylon and parts of South India produced tea and coffee; the north-eastern Indian region of Assam became a growing frontier of the tea plantation. Rubber emerged as one of Asia’s most valuable commodities. The expanding labour force of the plantation zones needed to be fed. Rice, the essential article of subsistence across large areas of Asia, came initially from the traditional riceproducing river deltas of southern India and southern China. Stretched to capacity, these regions were unable to supply rising demand. New regions of rice production opened up in Burma, Thailand, and Indochina, attracting another wave of migration to the great river deltas of mainland Southeast Asia: the Irrawaddy, Chaophraya, and Mekong basins. Over the second half of the nineteenth century, more than 14 million acres of land had been newly planted with rice in these regions. DECOLONIZATION OF ASIAN COUNTRIES

Again quoting Sunil S. Amrith: In the 1930s, large empires – British, Dutch, French, American, and Japanese – controlled Asia. By 1950, Asia was divided into nationstates. Between 1945 and 1949, India, Pakistan, Burma, Sri Lanka,



Indonesia, and the Philippines became independent. The Communist revolution in China created two states – the People’s Republic of China and a de facto nationalist state in Taiwan – as did the partition of Korea into North and South Korea. The breakup of empires and the drawing of new borders produced countless refugees. It also produced a patchwork of minority populations within each new set of borders. Each new state faced the historical legacy of the mass immigration of an earlier era, with the presence of large populations, primarily people of Indian and Chinese origin.

Subsequent to World War II, the colonial powers could no more hold onto their colonies. The decolonization of Asia was due to the gradual rise of independence movements on the Asian continent, leading ultimately to the retreat of foreign powers and the creation of a number of nation states in the region. The process of decolonization started in the mid-1940s, the first country being Indonesia in 1945, and the last Macau in 1999. Table 1 outlines the time frame of gaining independence by various countries of the region chronologically: TABLE 1: DECOLONIZATION IN ASIA 1898 1945 1946 1947 1948 1949

– – – – – –

1953 1954 1957 1961 1963 1964 1970 1975

– – – – – – – –

1984 – 1997 – 1999 –

The Spanish East Indies (Las Filipinas) from the Spanish Vietnam from the French Philippines from the USA India from the British Burma and Ceylon from the British Indonesia from the Dutch (officially recognized: Otherwise 1945) Cambodia and Laos from the French French India from the French Malaya from the British Goa from the Portuguese North Borneo and Sarawak from the British Singapore (Split from Malaya) Fiji from the British Papua New Guinea (PNG) from Australia and East Timor from the Portuguese Brunei from the British Hong Kong from the British Macau from the Portuguese




World War II of 1939-45, impacted Japan, China, Hong Kong, Malaya, Indonesia and Burma. There were some other significant political events which impacted upon the Indian immigrants. More noteworthy are the Chinese Revolution of 1949; the Burmese military takeover and implementation of ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’ of 1962 and the Military coup in Fiji of 1987 followed by the subsequent political turmoil. Indian and Sikh migration was adversely affected by decolonization and the other political events as mentioned above. The ending of the British Empire and the rise of nation states put pressure on immigrants to settle down in these countries on a permanent basis. Restrictions started to be placed in various forms to limit and discourage immigration. Limited immigration of professionals or skilled labour or specific categories was only allowed. This slowed down Indian immigration flow to these countries. There was some increase in migration post-1947 when India got partitioned. The refugees from West Pakistan, mainly West Punjab, who had some contacts in Burma, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, took the opportunity to migrate. INDIAN-SIKH EXODUSES

There were certain events which led Indian-Sikh immigrants to leave in large numbers. This was a major setback for Indian migration. 1. Burma: With the Japanese occupation of Burma in 1942-5, a large number of Indians left the country. Post-independence of the country in 1948 and promulgation of certain laws especially pertaining to land ownership, resulted in another exodus. But the major blow came with the army coup and implementation of the ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’ which meant wholesale nationalization of business and a programme of Burmanization in 1962. This prompted the third Indian exodus. Most of the Sikhs from Burma returned to India, with some going to neighbouring Thailand and Malaysia. 2. China: With the Chinese revolution of 1949 and the country



becoming communist, almost all foreigners left the country, many to Hong Kong. The Sikhs from China went over mainly to Hong Kong but others returned to India. 3. Fiji: The 1987 coup by the Army and subsequent political uncertainty created unease among the Indians and Sikhs and they started to leave the country in large numbers – popular destinations being Australia, New Zealand and North America. 4. Hong Kong: The 1997 independence did not result in mass exodus of Indians as it was well-anticipated. N.B. There are some noteworthy exoduses of Indians in other parts of the world – Uganda, under Idi Amin in early 1972 (and to some extent Kenya); Iran, Islamic revolution by Khomeini in 1979; Afghanistan with the Islamization of the country in 1992 and more specifically post 9/11. Another migration, though voluntary, of fairly large numbers was of Indians from Surinam to The Netherlands post-independence. SIKH MIGRATION – GLOBAL

Madhavi Thampi3 points out that in the initial stages, because of the security needs of the expanding British Empire; the end destination of overseas emigration from Punjab was mainly the Far East and the Malay States. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, these areas came to be looked upon as stepping-stones to migration to more distant and reportedly more prosperous lands. First Australia and New Zealand, then Fiji and the Pacific Islands, and then Canada and the United States of America, with their specific labour requirements for land clearance and the building of railroads, began to lure increasing numbers of migrants from Punjab. The prospects of employment and savings were considered to be attractive there. While for a few these dreams became a reality, most had to contend with progressively discriminatory policies in those countries, which engendered much frustration and opened their eyes to their position as a people subservient to colonialism and imperialism. Australia was the first to close its doors to migrants from India in 1901, followed by Canada in 1914, the United States in 1917, New



Zealand in 1920-1 and Fiji in the 1930s. Waves of discontent then began to travel back from the Indian emigrants particularly in North America, to India, giving strength to the incipient militant freedom movement. Thus it came to pass that China, which had been a stepping-stone for the migrants setting out to seek a livelihood on their journey outwards, became in the early decades of the twentieth century, an important base for retiring soldiers and revolutionaries to overthrow British colonial rule and change the conditions that had propelled them to leave India in the first place. A chapter in the story of Indian migration abroad had come full circle.

Indian and Sikh migrations are interconnected in several aspects but Sikh migration, like any other group migration, has also its own unique and distinctive features. As is widely accepted, the main motivating factor for migration right from the beginning has been economic betterment. Within India, Sikh migration from Punjab was to other parts of India, especially to metropolitan cities such as Bombay and Calcutta and industrial towns such as Jamshedpur. Although Sikhs constitute 2 per cent of India’s population, their migration at about 2 million is 10 per cent of the total Indian migration. Also, it is to be noted that almost 10 per cent of the Sikh population now resides abroad. This is significant and has several implications. It is interesting to note that Indian Sikh migration to North America, though small, was pioneered by Sikhs – they formed the majority amongst Indian immigrants to these countries in the early twentieth century. South Indians and immigrants from UP and Bihar were mainly indenture labourers; Sindhis were international traders and Gujaratis followed with their shops as ‘Dukawallas’, once other Indians had established themselves. It is to be noted that Sikhs were not a part of the large scale migration of Indians as indenture labour in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, referred to earlier on. Sikhs were not willing to migrate under this scheme, except perhaps as a minor aberration. Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s death and the two Sikhs wars culminated in the annexation of Punjab by the British in 1849. Taking cognizance of the bravery of the Khalsa Army, the British felt that decimating them would not be so easy, and hence they



decided to win them over by encouraging recruitment of Sikhs to the Army, Police and other security services. As the British were expanding their colonial empire East of India, they used Sikh soldiers as part of the British India Army in their wars in Burma and China. Migration of Sikhs abroad was encouraged by the British, starting with soldiers and policemen moving to Burma, Hong Kong and China in the 1850s, and soon thereafter to Malaya and even Brunei. This was followed by independent migration to these and other countries in the Southeast, and East Asia including Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Fiji, and to other Pacific Islands. Sikh migration to Thailand and Japan was mainly of business nature. As can be seen, the late nineteenth century and early twentieth centuries were rather active. Besides migration to the Southeast and East, Sikh moved towards East Africa, North and (even) South America. One can say that towards the end of nineteenth century and beginning of twentieth century, turbaned Sikh immigrants were seen, in howsoever small numbers, in most industrially developed countries of North and South America, Australasia and East Africa, Southeast Asia and East Asia. Sikh soldiers and policemen were also present in many of the Asia Pacific countries. As Ballantyne4 describes, The prominence of these Sikhs in the machinery of states throughout Southeast Asia, meant that the turbaned keshadhari Sikh became a potent signifier of imperial power throughout Asia. Encounters with Sikh policemen, soldiers and doormen became a typical set-piece in imperial travel accounts of Singapore, Penang, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, while the turbaned keshadhari ‘Sikh policeman’ became a popular staple in imperial ephemera, especially postcards. SIKH MIGRATION – SOME PARAMETERS

POPULATION The following two tables provide best estimates of the Sikh Diaspora population. Table 2 has a set of data provided by Darshan Singh Tatla5 in his book The Sikh Diaspora which is often quoted in many publications. Table 3 is based on figures culled from the internet.



TABLE 2: SIKH DIASPORA: LOCATION AND NUMBERS Country COLONIAL PERIOD (1860-1947) Americas Argentina Mexico Canada USA



1950s 1930 1905-13 1905-13 1920-47

500-1,000 1,000-1,500 7,500-10,000 7,500-10,000 3,000

East Africa Kenya/Uganda Tanzania

1885-1950 1880-1920

5,000 750

Europe UK



Far East Australia Fiji Hong Kong Malaya States New Zealand Philippines Thailand Indonesia

1890-1910 1890-1910 1900-40 1865-40 1890-10 1910-30 1920-40 1880-40

Middle East Afghanistan



POST-COLONIAL PERIOD (1947-90) Americas Canada 1960-90 USA 1960-90

1,47,440 1,25,000

150-2,500 200-500 10,000-50,000 30,000-35,000 200-382 4,000-2,500 2,500-5,000 3,000-6,000

Europe United Kingdom Germany

1960-90 1960-80

4,00,000-5,00,000 2,500

Far East Australia New Zealand Singapore

1950-70 1950-80 1940-50

2,500 2,500 32,000

Middle East Abu Dhabi Iraq

1970-80 1970-80

7,500-10,000 5,000-7,500

Source: Darshan Singh Tatla, The Sikh Diaspora, 1999.





Afghanistan 2,000 Australia 26,429 Austria 2,794 Belgium 10,000 Brunei 1,000 Burma/Myanmar 70,000 Canada 4,15,000 China PRC incl. HK 7,500 Cypress 400 Denmark 700 Fiji 4,676 France 10,000-12,000 Germany 40,000 Greece 1,000 Iceland 100 India 215,00,000 Iran 6,000 Ireland 1,200 Italy 70,000 Japan 2,000 Kazakhstan 800 Kuwait 20,000 Lebanon 3,000 Malawi 3,000 Malaysia 1,00,000



Mauritius Mexico Nepal Netherlands New Zealand Niger Norway Pakistan Philippines Poland Portugal Russia Singapore South Africa South Korea Spain Sweden Switzerland Tanzania Thailand Uganda United Kingdom United States Zambia

37,700 8,000 5,890 12,000 9,507 3,000 5,000 26,000 20,000 700 9,000 5,000 15,000 4,000 2,000 1,000 1,500 500 14,000 70,000 5,000 7,50,000 5,00,000 3,000

Source: Wikipedia: Sikhism by country, accessed April 2010.


An effort is being made to chart out the earliest known Sikh migration to various countries and destinations (Table 4). Table 5 outlines earliest set up of Gurdwaras in various countries. SIKH MIGRATION – ASIA PACIFIC COUNTRIES

As stated earlier, it would be fair to say that Sikh migration started with Asia, wherever there was British presence. The earliest migration was to Burma, Hong Kong, China, and Malaya where




Afghanistan S ingapore

China– Shanghai UK Myanmar Indonesia Thailand

Europe East Europe Fiji Australia New Zealand South America

East Africa USA Canada


Japan Iran Gulf States

Year of migration

Comments and Source

Late 18th c. Hukamnamas of various Gurus – The Story of Valiant Sikhs (2004) 1849 Baba Maharaj Singh – sent as prisoner (Tatla, 1999). 1850s Opium War, Sikhs recruited in Shanghai Police 1884 (Sarabjit Singh Gill blog) 1854 Maharajah Dalip Singh (Lady Login’s Recollections, n.d.) 1872 Baba Ram Singh – Namdhari head extradited 1880s Sumatra, Indian Communities in Southeast Asia (Sandhu & Mani, 1993) 1884 ‘Indian Diaspora – A Comparative Study of Punjabis and Gorakhpuris in Thailand ’ (Gupta) 1886 Prince Dalip Singh (Campbell), 2000 1887 Prince Dalip Singh – Moscow (Campbell), 2000 1890 The Sikhs in Fiji (Singh, n.d.) 1890s Ram Singh – Hew McLeod email to S.S. Kahlon 1890s Punjabis in New Zealand (McLeod, 1986) 1890s Argentina: Ram Singh (McLeod); Brazil – 1912, Panama – 1904, Canal construction. (S.S. Kahlon) 1890s Indians in East Africa (Gregory, 1972) Late 1890s Sibia website (also Leonard, 1995) 1897 ‘Patterns of Sikh Migration to Canada, 1900-1960’ ( Johnston, 1988) 1902 (M.S. Ahluwalia, The Indian Ghadar Movement, Issue no. 24, May 2006). 1920s Sikh Diaspora in Japan (Masako Azuma, unpublished thesis) 1920s (Bik S. Dhillon) 1970s Large scale migration due to oil revenue

Source: Swarn Singh Kahlon, Sikhs in Latin America: Travels Among the Sikh Diaspora, New Delhi: Manohar, 2012.



TABLE 5: EARLIEST (FIRST) OVERSEAS GURDWARAS: COUNTRIES AND BROADER GEOGRAPHIC AREAS Date 1897 1898 1899 1890s 1901 1907 1911 1912 1912 1913

1920 1922 1925 1941 1966 1968 1977 1970s 1980s 2010s 2010s

Name Myanmar, Yangon – Foundation stone laid East Africa – Kenya, Singh Sabha Gurdwara, Kilindini, Mombasa Malaysia, The Wadda Gurdwara, Penang Shanghai (Ka Kin Cheuk) Hong Kong – Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple Vancouver (Abbotsford Gurdwara, BC 1912, proper building) UK, Shepherds Bush Sikh Temple, Stockton, California Singapore, Central Sikh Temple Thailand, Bangkok rented wooden house Phahurat and Chakraphet Rd. (Chiang Mai – c. 1908, Gurdwara at 134 Charoenrat Road) Scotland, Glasgow Fiji, Samabula, Suva Indonesia, Sikh Temple, Tg. Priok Iran, Teheran Japan, Kobe Australia, Woolgoolga (McLeod) New Zealand, TaRapa, North of Hamilton (McLeod) Continental Western Europe, Germany – Frankfurt/ Main (Goel 2002b) Latin America, Bolivia East Europe (Poland 2004) Gulf Countries (Dubai 2012)

Source: Swarn Singh Kahlon, Sikhs in Latin America, 2012. Note: In many places, the prayers and gatherings started in individual homes where the devout Sikh had taken the trouble to take the holy book Sri Guru Granth Sahib (almost a project as it is not a small document, e.g. Bible, Quran or Bhagavad Gita, which can be carried in the hand bag) This was followed by setting up of gurdwaras in rented premises which were later on either bought over and expanded or moved to entirely new places. Above dates should be taken as indicative – sometimes there was a sub-stanitial time gap between laying the foundation to the actual inauguration. In certain other countries such as Russia and Gulf countries, permission for setting up a religious worship place is difficult or almost impossible and requires it to be declared as a Sikh society rather than a gurdwara.



Sikhs were an important component of British Army and Police. Sikhs also migrated to Thailand, Brunei, Philippines, Indonesia, Fiji, PNG and some other Pacific Islands besides Japan and more recently South Korea. The Sikh migration picked up from early twentieth century especially to the countries of Southeast Asia and East Asia including Pacific Islands. Sikhs were generally not the pioneer immigrants to Asia Pacific countries, but their presence was of great influence because of Army and Police connections. Migration of Sikhs to Thailand, Indonesia, and some other countries was a result of these countries being contiguous to countries of British Commonwealth and/or where other Indians had migrated, especially the Sindhis (there is religious affinity between the Sindhis and the Sikhs). Over the last few decades or so there have not been many new destinations for Sikh migration to Asia. There are a few recent Sikh immigrants in South Korea and Tokyo areas, many of whom are in what can be termed as ‘OS’ – ‘over stay of visas’ category. Other recent destination of large numbers has been Philippines, where the majority of them are into moneylending. Some Sikhs are now trying to re-establish business in China. There does not seem to be much presence of Sikhs in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, etc. So far as Myanmar is concerned, there is no interest for Punjabis to migrate there – as of now. Instances of illegal immigration are not so pronounced, except in Japan, Korea and the Philippines. There is hardly any opportunity for asylum seekers to settle down in these countries. However, Southeast Asian countries, especially Thailand and Malaysia, have been a popular transit point by the transnational underground networks to make their way into Europe, Australia, New Zealand and North America. Despite being a small minority in India, the Sikh migration to Asia Pacific countries has a much bigger profile than their numbers would indicate. According to Prof. Amarjit Kaur of Kuala Lumpur, there are currently about 2,50,000 Sikhs in Southeast Asia. Amongst the Indian population, they are the dominant community in Thailand and Philippines. Some of the Sikhs, after their short service tenure in Army and Police, decided to settle down in these countries. They also en-



couraged their relatives and village compatriots to migrate. Besides their presence in the Army, Police, and Security Services, the Sikhs were into other professions such as agriculture and dairy farming (Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Burma), trading (especially retailing) which got extended to pheri or peddling followed by moneylending which has now become predominant in the Philippines. Many Sikhs sought employment in the industry and factories and others went into transport business, including plying bullock carts, say in Malaysia, which was an important means of transport at one time. In due course they, especially the next generations, diversified to other professions and business ventures. The second, third and fourth generations having had the opportunity to study in English medium schools as well as abroad, are into all types of professions. Some of them have achieved great success in their fields of endeavour. Sikhs have done well in Government jobs and occupations such as legal, education, and medicine. The majority of early Sikh immigration was comprised of illiterates or semiliterate Jat Sikhs, hence this progress has been noteworthy. The Sikhs, as mentioned above, are into a variety of professions and businesses and are well-integrated in local communities. Some examples have been given earlier, but let me also mention that a Sikh in Burma was honoured by the Government for his contribution in the country’s struggle for independence. Many other Sikhs in several countries have been bestowed honours by their respective Governments for their contribution in the service of their adopted country. Setting up of Gurdwaras and keeping a turban was generally not an issue. In fact, the immigrants kept up their religious fervour through sponsoring visits of Sikh missionaries from Punjab and establishing of ‘Khalsa Diwan Societies’. Sikhs set up several institutions including Khalsa Schools, dispensaries, and other social and charitable establishments. Khalsa Schools at Medan in Indonesia and Rangoon in Burma were well-known for their high standards of education. Making home in Asia was easier because of the British patronage, substantial cultural affinity, and easier religious acceptance. Sikhs are well accepted in host societies and in most cases can be called, say as an example, ‘Singapore or Malaysia Sikhs’ rather



than ‘Sikhs in Singapore or Malaysia’. There is full acceptance of Sikh identity such as turban and their religious institutions such as Gurdwaras and Khalsa Schools in most countries of the region. Southeast Asian Sikhs have provided leadership in several key areas that are important for maintaining and strengthening Sikh identity. As an example, the Sikh studies and Punjabi language curricula first developed in Singapore, is now being followed by Sikhs elsewhere. Prof. Dusenbery,6 in his paper presented at the ISEAS conference in Singapore in May 2008, has summarized well the Sikh migration to South East Asian countries: Sikhs in Southeast Asia have over the years demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt and to thrive in the varying local setting where they have found themselves, in effect making themselves integral parts of the South East Asian societies and polities where they reside, and on the other hand, that the long-settled Sikh communities in South East Asia have often taken the lead in the diaspora in coming to terms with living as Sikhs in cosmopolitan settings, thus providing Sikhs elsewhere with potential models for practicing Sikhi in a modern, globalizing world. South East Asian Sikhs thus demonstrate the process of ‘glocalization’, whereby they have both contributed to making local societies and to making themselves local Sikhs while at the same contributing to making the Sikh Panth a truly transnational community.

Some interesting information pertaining to Sikh migration to Asia Pacific countries is tabulated below. TABLE 6: EARLIEST SIKH IMMIGRANTS: ASIA PACIFIC REGION Singapore Burma China Hong Kong Malaysia Thailand Indonesia Fiji Philippines Japan South Korea

– – – – – – – – – – –

1849 (Prisoner-Maharaj Singh) 1850s (Sikh soldiers-Second Anglo Burmese War) 1860 (Sikh Regiment) 1867 (Policemen) 1873 (Policemen) 1884 (Traders) 1880s (Farmers) 1890 (Farm Labour) 1902 (Watchmen) 1920s (Traders) 1970s (Labour)




First Gurdwara

Malaysia Philippines Thailand Singapore Indonesia Hong Kong Myanmar Fiji Korea Japan China

1881 1924 1912 1912 1911 1901 1897 1922 2004 1952 1907

Population (Estimates) 60-1,00,000 30-40,000 20-30,000 15-18,000 8-10,000 5-8,000 5,000 4-5,000 2-5,000 1-3,000 200


As mentioned earlier, the profile of Sikh migration has dramatically changed from pre-1947 to present, the shift being from Asia Pacific to the West. It is difficult to quote precise figures, present or historical, as no reliable data is available. Many a time, the information available is contradictory thereby complicating the estimation further. How so ever complex and difficult the task, I have made a guess-estimate of the Sikh population in various regions based on information culled from various sources (Table 8). These estimates should be taken as indicative and not as the gospel truth. These figures, though, do help us understand the broad trends in migration of Sikhs over the last century. DID SIKHS JOIN THE BRITISH INDIAN ARMY PRIOR TO ANNEXATION OF PUNJAB IN 1849?

According to conventional accounts, the British are supposed to have started recruiting the Sikhs in the British Indian Army post the Second Sikh War and annexation of Punjab in 1849. However, it is likely that the Sikhs in small numbers might have been



TABLE 8: GLOBAL SIKH POPULATION REGION-WISE (Percentage of total Sikh Migration) Region/Category English Speaking Countries Asia Pacific Region Continental Europe Africa West Asia South America



70-75 10-15 8-12 1 2-3 1

12-17 65-75 1 5-8 1-2 2-3

present in some of the countries under reference in this book, as individual recruits and immigrants. Late Sardar Kushwant Singh7 writes (Sikh Review, April 1961): ‘It is not unlikely that from the time Sir Stamford Raffles took Singapore in 1819, Sikhs from Malwa started coming to this region to seek their fortunes.’ Although the Sikh kingdom of Punjab was annexed by British in 1849, parts of Malwa territories came under British protection in 1809 as a result of Treaty of Amritsar. There are claims that Sikh soldiers were present on flag hoisting in Hong Kong in 1841 when it became part of British Empire and that some of them went to Australia, Malaya and other destination in first half of nineteenth century. In the official history of The Sikh Regiment – A Legacy of Valour: An Illustrated History of The Sikh Regiment 1846-2010,8 it is mentioned: Following the end of the First Anglo-Sikh war in 1846, Sikhs were recruited from that region of the Punjab that lay to the south of river Sutlej. These battalions were raised on 1 August 1846 and designated as the ‘XIV Ferozepore Sikhs’ (now 4 Mechanised Infantry – 1 SIKH) and the ‘XV Ludhiana Sikhs’ (now 2 SIKH). With this began the rise of the illustrious Sikh Regiment.

It shows Sikhs were inducted into the British Indian Army prior to the Second Anglo-Sikh war. It is reasonable to believe that individual Sikhs from Malwa area would have joined the British Indian Army even before the exclusive Sikh Regiments were raised.


Introduction GURDWARAS

Sikh Gurdwaras started operating in various countries of Asia Pacific beginning in the last decade of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Initially Gurdwaras were set up in many cases in Police or Military Barracks, followed by construction of Gurdwaras in the general public domain. As the numbers of Sikh immigrants became sizable in a country, a Gurdwara was set up, which helped people get together for worship and to keep in touch with the community. Gurdwaras helped by providing accommodation particularly in cities, many of which were also transit points, such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Penang and Calcutta, Bombay in India (most of the migration to these countries was from Calcutta port). Ship sailings were not frequent and at times migrants had to stay in Gurdwaras for months in these port cities. It is important to note the presence of such large number of Gurdwaras located all over the country in small and big towns. For the limited population of Sikh immigrants to construct 136 Gurdwaras in Burma and 119 in Malaysia and in several other countries along with several Sikh institutions, shows a spirit unique only to Sikhs. Their generosity, devotion, community effort and spirit of raising the ‘Nishan Sahib’ anywhere and everywhere, needs to be saluted. ‘Guru ka Langar’ is available all across the globe! At most of the Gurdwaras in the new countries of settlement, as was common in Punjab villages, there were facilities for teaching Punjabi and basics of other general education. When the population grew, Khalsa Schools were set up, in many cases, attached to or near Gurdwaras. A Gurdwara was also the first contact point for a new arrival to get to know about other immigrants. In most of the countries initially Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) was brought by an individual and kept at home which became a gathering point on Sundays and other holidays. The Sindhi migrants were also prominent in bringing SGGS to their homes – this was significant in far flung areas where the numbers were small. As the size of community increased, some premises were rented for religious services on Sundays and for other religious occasions. As the Sikhs



prospered, Gurdwaras were constructed on land purchased for the purpose. In these countries setting up of Gurdwaras was not a problem and, in fact, during earlier settlements, the British offered full support in this direction – read stories of Rangoon and Penang gurdwaras. There was no issue on allowing raising the ‘Nishan Sahib’ prominently in the Gurdwaras, which is so in many Western countries. In the early twentieth century, the Singh Sabha also used to send missionaries to provide support to local Sikh ‘sangat’, thereby reinforcing Sikh following and religious practices. Keeping Sikh identity was not an issue in most of these countries. Some Sikhs married locally, but almost all of them kept their religious roots alive. Even at present Sikhism followed in many countries is exemplary such as in Myanmar, Thailand, and Malaysia. Gurdwaras are well attended and the third and fourth generations are still keeping the Sikh identity even though they may seem to have adopted many local customs, including fluency in local languages. There is no denying that Westernization and consumerism is putting tremendous pressure on younger generations to assimilate more fully. Rejuvenation of the Punjabi language is being pursued proactively in some countries. Sikh leadership is actively trying to ‘keep the flock together’ in many countries – a challenging job, which is being met in an equally challenging manner. According to information gathered from internet searches and to some extent during my visits, it would appear the number of Gurdwaras is as follows: Japan 2; Korea 2; China 2; Hong Kong 1; Philippines 22; Fiji 5; Indonesia 12; Singapore 7; Malaysia 119; Thailand 20; Myanmar 48 (earlier 136).

NOTES 1. Sunil S. Amrith, Migration and Diaspora in Modern Asia, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 2. Report of the High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora, New Delhi: Indian Council of World Affairs, 2001.



3. Madhavi Thampi, Indians in China, New Delhi: Manohar, 2005. 4. Tony Ballantyne, Colonialism and Diaspora: Sikh Cultural Formations in an Imperial World, New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2007. 5. Darshan Singh Tatla, The Sikh Diaspora: The Search for Statehood, Seattle: University of Washington, 1999. 6. V. Dusenbery, Sikhs at Large, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008. 7. Khushwant Singh, The Sikh Review, April 1961. 8. Sikh Regiment, A Legacy of Valour: An Illustrated History of the Sikh Regiment 1846-2010, Ramgarh: Sikh Regiment Officer’s Association, 2011.


Sikhs in Burma: An Exemplary Following of Sikhism


There are two romantic poems about Burma: One by Rudyard Kipling (1889-90), wherein he tries to relive, upon his return to London, his travels in Burma: By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea, There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me; For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the Temple-bells they say: Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!

and the second by the exiled Mughal king, Bahadur Shah Zafar who immortalized his death in Burma (1862) through the epitaph he wrote on the prison wall, with a burnt stick: Kitna hai badnaseeb Zafar, dafan ke liye do gaz zamin na mili koo-e-yaar mein

This was also the period when Sikhs started to migrate to Burma; a country now renamed ‘Myanmar’. Sikh migration to Burma was an important component of global Sikh migration and remained a popular destination for about six decades. Many Sikhs in India and their relatives and friends from Burma, still talk about the Burma days even if they have returned permanently since a long time back: they flaunt their Burmese connection by affixing ‘Burma House’ nameplate on their homes in many towns in Punjab and even in faraway Bhubaneswar in Orissa. A visit to Burma was very tempting, especially since my


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

wife’s mother was born and grew up in that country. Whenever my mother-in-law and her sisters had some confidences to share, they would shift to speaking Burmese, even after their return three decades ago. Her house in Chandigarh was named ‘Burma Cottage’. EXEMPLARY FOLLOWING OF SIKHISM

We were pleasantly surprised with Sikhism being practiced in Myanmar, erstwhile Burma. Arising from three major exoduses of Indians, the Sikh presence has dwindled. A large number of Gurdwaras and almost all other Sikh institutions have been closed down or taken over by the Government. The highlight of the Sikhs settled in Burma is that they are professing the religion as it should be, in a devout manner, with self and family involvement in running the Gurdwaras. Most of the Sikhs are ‘keshadharis’ – what a contrast to the dismal situation in Punjab! Three Gurdwaras have women ‘Granthis’, a unique example of equality of sexes. The Sikhs are well settled and accepted but they feel somewhat cut off from India due to travel restrictions under the Army rule. With the political and economic opening up of the country in recent times, it is hoped that they will have more opportunities to meet their co-religionists from India in the future. SINGHVI REPORT (2001)

The origin of the Indian community can be traced to the second half of the nineteenth century, with the establishment of the British rule. Indians were extensively used as soldiers, policemen, civil servants, labour and farmers, especially for rice cultivation. Indian moneylenders and traders followed. In the cities of Yangon and Mandalay, Indians were the dominant communities. With the nationalization of land in 1948 and the military takeover in 1962, there was a large scale exodus of Indians. This was in addition to the exodus during World War II with the Japanese invasion. Out of the estimated 25 lakh Indians, about 13 lakhs are Muslims, 8 lakhs Hindus. Sikhs and Christians form 4 lakhs.

Sikhs in Burma


The total Indian population in Myanmar is estimated to be 2.9 million, of which 2.5 million are Persons of Indian Origin (PIO), 2,000 are Indian citizens, and 4,00,000 are stateless. Regarding the Stateless category, it must be mentioned that all of them are born in Myanmar; they belong to the third or fourth generation. But since they do not have any ‘documents to prove their citizenship under the Burmese citizenship law of 1982’ they are deemed to be ‘stateless’. They have no rights either in the land of their origin or in their land of adoption, and neither of the two Governments seemed concerned. In fact, of the Indian diaspora, Myanmar has the largest number of ‘stateless’ people. Author’s comments: At present the relations between Myanmar and India are cordial and on the upswing. With Myanmar becoming the Chairman of ASEAN, the country is now more open to foreign investment. With the latest elections and opening of the economy, avenues for new business cooperation are being looked at. With so many businessmen travelling to Myanmar to take advantage of the changed business climate, the country is running short of good hotel accommodation. The future seems bright. INDIAN MIGRATION

Indian migration followed annexation of Burma by the British. Tamil farmers and labourers, followed by the Chettiar business community, were the early immigrants. But soon Indians from all over the country and from all kinds of backgrounds, skills and professions, started to migrate. In 1931 (Overseas Indians: The Global Family by Shuba Singh,1 2005), the Indian population was 7 per cent of the total population, but it was over 56 per cent in Rangoon (now Yangon) and other urban centres. This was a guaranteed recipe for disaster at some future date. INDIAN-SIKH EXODUSES

As mentioned in the introductory chapter, there were three major exoduses: The first exodus was in early 1940s when the Japanese occu-


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

pied Burma during World War II. Though unlike the Partition of India in 1947, which witnessed the carnage of lakhs of Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims in the communal frenzy, the exodus of the Indians from Myanmar remained more or less peaceful. With the onset of World War II, began the exodus of Indians including the Sikhs, ahead of the Japanese troops. Many trekked back under very difficult conditions and some of them died trying to reach the north-east of India. The actual exodus started when bridges were destroyed and sea routes were closed. However, many Indians were targetted by tribal looters in the dense teak jungles. The then British Government would not allow any cholera patients to enter the country and this created real hardships. Historian Hugh Tinker called this the ‘Forgotten Long March’. On the other hand, post partition of Punjab in 1947, some Sikhs migrated to Burma. The second exodus was post-Independence of Burma in 1948 – anti-Indian feelings had started simmering even prior to Independence. Despite the underlying hostility, the vast majority of Indians was willing to ride out the opposition by locals and opted to stay put. The third exodus was soon after the military coup of 1962. The Government decided to follow what came to be known as ‘Burmese way to Socialism’ whereby most businesses, including retail trade, were nationalized. One Sikh described how when one morning he went to open his shop, the Police were already there to tell him it now belonged to the Government. If he so wished, the Government could consider giving him a job in the running of his own shop. This was a big blow for the Indians. Such was the trauma that a vast majority left for India. Interestingly, some of the bigger businessmen moved to other countries, especially Thailand, and some to Singapore and Malaysia, to set up businesses there. There were further problems in store concerning citizenship, residence permits, Government jobs, and admission for young Indians into universities, especially in professional courses. SIKH MIGRATION

Sikh migration to Burma started in the nineteenth century with the British Indian Army. There were three Anglo-Burmese wars:

Sikhs in Burma


First 1824-6; second 1852-3 and third 1885-6. Sikh soldiers took part in small numbers in the second war and in large numbers in the third war. Following the third war, Burma became a province of British India and thereafter became a separate colony in 1937. The 1931 Census listed a total of 10,761 Sikhs in Burma with many more coming in subsequently until the war. Migrating to Burma in earlier times felt just as if settling in another province of India. The Namdhari Guru, Baba Ram Singh, because of his spearheading a resistance movement against cow slaughter, was exiled to Burma first to Rangoon and then to Mandalay. Since his followers started visiting him from India, the British got a bit concerned and moved him to the more isolated sea resort of Mergui on the Southeast coast, where he eventually died. It has to be noted that the non-violence movement originated with the ‘Namdharis’ (sometimes also referred to as ‘Kukas’) much before the concept was popularized by Mahatma Gandhi. Sikh presence and enthusiasm of earlier times can be gauged from the fact that in the early 1950s there were 136 Sikh Gurdwaras, 11 Khalsa High Schools, 1 Middle School, 5 Libraries, 1 Girls School, 2 Ashrams and 1 independent Langar Hall. The Sikhs were spread out throughout the country and were well organized with an umbrella organization called ‘Khalsa Diwan – Burma’. Besides Police and Army (extensive presence as indicated by Gurdwaras in 22 Military establishments), Sikhs were well represented as engineers, doctors, contractors, businessmen and of course farmers and dairying. Post the three exoduses, the numbers have dwindled. THE PRESENT SIKH SCENE

We had the opportunity to visit the Sikh Sangat and Gurdwaras in Yangon, Myitykyina, Mandalay, and Taunggyi. As an indication of the shrinking numbers, only 48 Gurdwaras exist, one-third of which are non-operative and some have just one or two families living and managing the place. In a couple of instances two Gurdwaras located near each other are being looked after by a single Granthi. All Gurdwaras in Military establishments and the various Sikh institutions such as Khalsa


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Schools, have been taken over by the Government. In some locales where Gurdwaras are unattended and kept locked, the ‘Sangat’ from nearby areas makes an effort to visit at least once a year to re-clothe the ‘Nishan Sahib’, thereby establishing the continuing Sikh ownership. It is helpful that many Gurdwaras have some property attached to it, thus providing rental income which comes in handy for the upkeep of the premises. There is a free dispensary still being run in the rooms attached to the Yangon Gurdwara. Currently the major presence of Sikhs is in Yangon, Mandalay, Taunggyi, Pyawbwe, Mogoke, Lashio, Maymayo, and Myitykyina. The present Sikh population is estimated at 4,000-6,000. I would suggest 5,000 as a more realistic number. Accord-ing to one scholar, there are about 6,000-7,000 turbaned Sikhs in Myanmar with another 1,000 non-Keshadhari Sikhs and Arya Samajists who attend Gurdwaras. They are into small and medium trading, especially motor parts, tyres, dairying, butter and ghee manufacture, import-export business, and some factories. There is one small sugar mill owner where sugar is made from bought out molasses. It is remarkable that they have been able to rebuild the business having been totally nationalized in the early 1960s. There are now only a few Sikhs who carry out agriculture and dairy farming. As described earlier, post the 1962 coup, Indians and Sikhs became almost economic refugees and had to rebuild their lives afresh. Those who could leave, returned to India or moved to neighbouring countries. Others who stayed back did so because for them the option of going back was not attractive enough. Post take-over by the Army junta, foreigners were not allowed to study medicine or engineering, unless citizenship was acquired, which was not easy. Some immigrants are still stateless but many have acquired citizenship or have obtained resident permits. The younger generation in some cases is able to pursue higher studies and professional courses. Because of financial limitations their exposure abroad is limited and many of them do not have proficiency in English and computers. How local adaptation to different professions has taken place can be seen from a chance

Sikhs in Burma


encounter with a Sikh who was involved in ‘gold panning’ in the river Myitson north from Myitykyina. All Sikhs are fluent in Burmese and Punjabi languages, speaking the former outside the house and the latter at home and with other compatriots. Proficiency in English language is rather limited. Gurdwaras promote Punjabi learning and ‘Gurmat parchar’. Marrying local women is not uncommon – the wife invariably becomes a Sikh, bringing up the children in the Sikh tradition. It is interesting to note that facial features of many of the Sikhs have somewhat of an oriental cast. Most of the Sikh men wear ‘longyi’ (similar to Indian lungi), which is the popular attire of the Burmese. The Sikh women also wear the traditional ‘longyi’, the Burmese dress – Punjabi salwar-kameez being worn only on special occasions or sometimes on visit to the Gurdwara. The overall feeling one gets is of the community having comfortably adapted the local language, dress, food, etc., and yet maintaining its Sikh identity in full measure. Marriages are still celebrated in true Punjabi lavish style. We came across an invite to one nuptial where the baraat had travelled to another town by special coach attached to a train, with subsequent celebrations lasting a couple of days at the bride’s town. An incident worth narrating relates to the large scale protests of 2007 (also termed as ‘The Saffron Revolution’) initially by students and women, followed by the monks who are highly revered in Burma. One of the monks’ processions in Yangon was led by a turbaned Sikh businessman activist, Surinder Karkar Singh – U. Pancha (his Burmese name – most immigrants have both Sikh and local names). A clip about the procession can be seen at He had to subsequently leave the country because of safety concerns. This is another example of how well the Sikh community is integrated in Burma. Another example is that of Zora Singh (Rangoon) who was recognized for his courageous struggle for Burma’s independence and awarded the title of National Glory level II by the Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) Government. Of late, as the economy is opening up, some new immigrant


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Sikh professionals and entrepreneurs from neighbouring countries are beginning to set up new businesses. About 10 Sikh companies from Singapore, Thailand and India started operating in Rangoon in the 1990s. Another Sikh who returned to India after the 1964 nationalization resumed import and export business in Burma in 1992. There are a few Burmese-Sikhs studying and working legally in Singapore, United Kingdom, Australia and USA. More youths seem to have plans to migrate to other countries for better employment or higher education. The future is certainly attractive as the latest developments auger well. The community needs support from Sikhs in India through supply of religious books, ‘gutkas’, ‘karas’, ‘kirpans’, and magazines (in Punjabi) and even turbans. Some support from India would go a long way. GURDWARAS

The British supported and encouraged Sikhs to build Gurdwaras for which land was generously allotted. The main Sikh Gurdwara in Yangon has a marble plaque detailing allotment of premises, the foundation being laid by Capt. H. Parkin, Deputy InspectorGeneral, Military Police, Burma on 23 October 1897 – details are given in Appendix 1. According to the Sikh Diwan of Burma’s Annual Report of January 19522-December 1953, there were a total of 136 Gurdwaras, 13 Khalsa Schools and Sikh Institutions such as ashrams, libraries, langar halls and dispensaries spread all over the country. Wherever there was a Gurdwara in a Military establishment, there would invariably be another Gurdwara in the nearby town suggesting that many Sikh businesses were connected with servicing the Army requirements. There were also Gurdwaras in mining areas (Namtu and Mawchi Mine – tin, lead and wolfram, and Mogoke – rubies), Dockyard (Dalla), Oilfields and Refineries (Chauk, Yenan Chaung, Magwe, and Minbu) indicating the involvement of Sikhs in a multitude of professions and their presence all across the country. As mentioned earlier, all the Gurdwaras in the Military Cantonments

Sikhs in Burma


and all the Sikh Institutions have been taken over by the Government. SOME IMPORTANT PERSONALITIES

1. Naik Nand Singh, a Sikh soldier who personally received a Victoria Cross from Lord Mountbatten in 1944 for his bravery and heroism against the Japanese in Burma during World War II. 2. Balwant Singh, a Commissioner of Pegu Division who was rewarded ‘Thiri Pyanchi’ for his outstanding public service. 3. Zora Singh (Rangoon) was recognized for his courageous struggle for Burma’s independence and awarded the title of National Glory level II by the BSPP Government. 4. Shian Singh (a) U Theing Aung (Pyawbwe), under the administration of the state and Peace Development Council, has become well-known for his generous donations for the promotion of Buddhist Sasana. The Government conferred ‘Thiri Thudhamma Manijotadhara’ title to him in 2008. AS OTHERS SEE THE SIKHS IN BURMA

Some articles and write-ups by others are being outlined here, as it gives an interesting overview. 1. MYAT MON: SOCIO-ECONOMIC POSITION OF S IKHS IN BURM a A paper presented at the International Workshop on ‘Sikhs in Multicultural Southeast Asia – Negotiating an Identity’ held on 12-13 May 2008 at ISEAS, Singapore. Some excerpts: According to Myat Mon,3 ‘As a contribution to community and society, the Guru Nanak Free Dispensary and Eye Hospital was founded by R.S. Duggal in 1954 and construction was completed in 1956. It had out-patient department, medical-surgical department, eye department, in-patient department (2 private rooms). Medico-surgical department had 3 doctors and eye


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

department with 2 doctors’. It indicates how since the early 1950s when the Sikh population was at its peak, there has been a major dwindling of the community thereafter. Some Interesting Sample Survey Results by Myat Mon: 1. Retaining Sikh Identity – Turban wearing Sikhs: Myat Mon surveyed (out of 73 respondents, 23 females) in three cities of Rangoon, Mandalay, Taunggyi showed 74 per cent wearing turban, which probably is higher than say in Punjab; 73 per cent spouses were Sikhs followed by 13 per cent Hindus and 9 per cent Buddhists; educational attainment of households heads: High school 38 per cent, Graduate 23 per cent, Postgraduate 1 per cent; educational attainment of husbands and wives: High School 27 per cent, graduate 33 per cent, Postgraduate 2 per cent; speaking Punjabi at home 36 per cent, only sometimes 23 per cent, barely speak 16 per cent, do not speak 25 per cent. 2. Economic status: Generally the socio-economic status of Sikhs can be categorized that about 10 per cent of Sikh families are wealthy and the majority of the families are in upper-middle and middle classes whereas about 15 per cent are in low-income group. 3. Status of Sikhism: The vast majority (74 per cent) of male respondents wear turban in the cities, in Mandalay 83.3 per cent of men wear turbans which is the highest rate in the sample. Turbans are not quite available in Burma. This may be one of restrictions for those who gave up wearing turbans. It can be said that Sikh men still have strong determination to preserve their identity. The immigrants largely maintain their cultural identity and practice Sikhism, praying at the Gurdwara every Sunday and observing religious ceremonies and festivals. About 90 per cent of the respondents in three cities surveyed visit Gurdwara every Sunday. 2. BOBBY SINGH BANSAL, UK: A BRIEF WRITE-UP Bobby visited Burma to make a documentary on Sikhs there. He had earlier made a documentary on Sikhs in Kabul. These are his observations based on his visit:

Sikhs in Burma


Figure 1.1: Burma: Sikhs in Local Dresses (with Bobby Bansal of UK)

Here the Sikhs are a success, although small in numbers yet most prominent in the field of transport, trade and commerce. Young Sikh children all maintain the tradition of retaining their long hair unlike in the western world where a majority of Sikhs have become clean shaven. The Sikh temples hold Punjabi classes each day for four hours for the children who are all well versed in Punjabi yet speak mainly in Burmese amongst themselves. We were given a most gracious welcome by the members of the Sikh community, whose appearances are far from the usual looking Sikhs we have back in London or India. Their features are somewhat oriental looking, with their turbans tied up in a round fashion and not pointed at the front as was mine. The striking feature of their attire is that all the Sikh males wear a lungi or dhoti, it’s the national dress of the Burmese, I guess as everyone wears it. It is quite odd to see six foot tall Sikhs compared to the local Burmese males who are so much smaller in height all wearing lungis with their dark complexions. The Sikh women all wear the traditional Burmese dress made out of silk or cotton, seldom did I witness any women wearing a colourful bright Punjabi suit as they do back in India or England. We met the Sikhs of Mandalay


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

where they mainly reside in the locality adjacent to the Sikh temple. Several Sikh families live here amongst the local Burmese, many running small businesses and shops. CASE STUDIES

1. BIBI BALBIR KAUR: GRANTHI, YANGON GURDWARA Balbir Kaur took over as Granthi of the Yangon Central Gurdwara in 2003 from Amarjit Singh who moved to Taunggyi. Her father Sardul Singh, presently 98 years old (born 1913) came to Burma as an INA volunteer during the war. He went back to Punjab for the first time only when he was over 70 years of age, to his village Roywal, Jagraon, District Ludhiana. He has been Granthi in several Gurdwaras such as Maynyo, Kyawtawt, Pawbe and Lasho. Balbir’s mother Kishen Kaur was half Burmese – daughter of Banta Singh, who was married to a Burmese lady at the young age of seventeen years in 1950. Balbir was part of a large family comprising of six sisters (one has since died) and one brother, who has migrated to Australia where he is working as a teacher. Balbir’s mother became a Granthi of Maymyo Gurdwara in 1973 at the age of forty. One of Balbir’s sisters is also a Granthi at the Lasho Gurdwara. Other sisters are married to Granthis of various Gurdwaras. Balbir got married in 1977 to Harbans Singh, who was a farmer in Pwintpyu, a town 200 miles north of Yangon. They had a small farm across the river where they cultivated rice, sunflower, linseed and gram. The farmlands were canal irrigated. Pwintpyu had a Gurdwara with about 100 Sikh families but their village, ‘Kalagon’ across the river had only 5 Sikh families. After her husband died, she managed the farm for about five years when she decided to move to Yangon in 2003. Balbir has nine children, five sons and four daughters – only one child is married. 2. BALWANT SINGH SIDHU, CHANDIGARH My grandfather’s younger brother was the first to go to Burma before 1932, settling down at Kettha Village, opposite Homalin town, on

Sikhs in Burma


the bank of river Chindwin. My father accompanied his uncle to Burma in 1932 at the age of about nineteen years. They went via Manipur State, crossing More (Indian border town) and Tamu (Burma border town). Visa used to be issued at More and Tamu Burma till 1959 as per my father’s passport. We belong to the village of Mehna near Bathinda in Punjab. Our agricultural land has since been acquired by the Government to build an Army Cantonment. My mother was Burmese and we still have many relatives from my mother’s side in that country. We ran a family general store in Burma. I was born in 1938 and was brought up in Homalin town, Upper Chindwin. My memories of Burma during World War II and the Army coup are still fresh. At the time of the Army coup, I was studying in a college. I can write, read and speak Burmese very well. In 1962, Prime Minister U Nu’s government was ousted through a coup by General Ne Win’s Army. Thereafter the currency was demonetised and all the movable and immovable properties were nationalized without any compensation – both of citizens and foreigners.The Army Government passed a law debarring non-citizens to get admission in professional institutions such as medical and engineering. Foreign educated persons were not allowed to join Government jobs. Under such circumstances we felt compelled to leave the country. More than half the Sikh families settled in Imphal migrated from Homalin. We came to Imphal via Rangoon and Calcutta. My last visit to Burma with my wife (also born and brought up in Burma) was in February 2010. During this trip we met our school and college mates and other friends. I still correspond with some friends and that too in Burmese.

3. DR. SATNAM SINGH, CHANDIGARH Satnam Singh (a 1940s returnee from Burma) was born on 20 December 1923 in Burma at Thabeitkyin, where his father was posted as Medical Officer, Government Hospital. His early education was at Upper Mawlai, Upper Chindwin. In this school all teachers were Burmese. They spoke Punjabi at home and Burmese in School and outside. There were a few other Sikh families with whom they used to socialize. The town had several Indians. Generally the doctors and compounders were Indians and the lower staff of nurses and helpers were local Burmese. Most of the service staff, water servers, etc., comprised mainly of Mani-


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

puris and Gurkhas. Their father sent the family comprising of two brothers and two sisters to Mandalay (stayed with Dewan Singh, Headmaster of Khalsa School) to give them the benefit of studying at a senior school. Satnam moved to Khalsa School, Rangoon for his class 9th and 10th. He stayed in the hostel which was on the top floor of the multi-storey school building. The Headmaster of the school was a South Indian and the school had many non-Sikh Indian students along with some Burmese. He then joined the Rangoon University where he was staying at the Tagaug Hall. His sisters did not pursue high school in Burma. Instead an effort was made to educate them in Punjab but the project had to be abandoned. Anticipating Japanese invasion, the family was dispatched to India in 1942 (Satnam was nineteen years old). They travelled in a barge along with several Indians to Calcutta. After a day’s stay at the Gurdwara the family took a train to Amritsar. Satnam’s father used to get eight months home leave every five years. Since it was a long absence, they would join a village school in Punjab during the Indian holiday. Satnam joined Khalsa College, Amritsar in 1942 completing his B.Sc. Thereafter, he joined medical college in Lucknow (1945-9) where he got his degree. After a postgraduate course he went to London for a Diploma in Ophthalmology. He was in the UK for a year completing his course work earlier than usual and gained work experience at Guys Hospital, London. On return he completed his Master’s degree from Lucknow before joining as a Medical Officer in the Government Hospital of Bhopal. Thereafter he moved to Aligarh where he got a good break by joining the ‘Trachoma Control’ project sponsored by World Health Organisation (WHO). Meanwhile he got married to a Sikh doctor in 1954 who continued to follow her profession for some time post marriage. The WHO sponsored him for a Master’s degree in Public Health (not a very popular subject at that time) at the University of California, Berkeley (1959-60). He was finally offered a permanent position with the WHO in 1962 which involved his postings in Thailand (4 years), Nepal (1 year), Afghanistan (6 years) and Sudan both North and South (6 years). In 1980 he was posted at the Head Office in New Delhi from where he retired in 1983. Subsequently, he settled in Chandigarh where he lives now. His son and daughter live in Canada.

Sikhs in Burma


His father Dr. Dayal Singh went to Burma around 1919 (born around 1896) after doing his Licensiate of State Medical Faculty (LSMF), a 4-year course from Lahore. He had originally joined the Indian Army but a friend advised him to resign and apply for a job in Burma which he did. In Burma he was posted in several places: in small towns he acted as the Head of the Government Dispensary and in larger towns as a doctor staff. He played polo and golf. There is a classic photo of his with flowing beard and a golf club in hand – post a club tournament where he was awarded a silver spoon as a prize. While he could send his family back home at war-time, he had to stay back because his job came under ‘Essential Services’. He moved to India after the war and was posted at the Government Hospital of Katni in Madhya Pradesh from where he retired and settled in his village near Batala (died 1962). According to Dr. Satnam Singh, Sikhs in Burma felt no different because of their identity than they would say in south, east or western India. There were of course many Indians in the country in that era. In general in his postings in Asia and Africa, he did not feel that being a Sikh with a turban was considered as an unusual sight, prompting any comments or reactions, be it negative or positive. This is how a Sikh felt in the Orient then. In fact he cited an interesting episode in Thailand of a Sikh peddler travelling on foot, selling textiles in a village. When the local village head who was riding a horse saw him, he immediately dismounted, bowed before him and requested him to use the horse. The headman explained that since the Sikh was from India, the birth place of Buddha whom they worship, this offer was in his honour. This, though an exceptional incident, shows just how welcoming the locals were to the Indians and Sikhs. Similar natural acceptance was not felt in the USA nor the West, even though everyone was helpful, generous and courteous. 4. BURMA’S U PANCHA – ‘THE PUNJABI’ (By Connie Levett 2007) Surinder Singh Karkar was an organizer of the protest movement in Rangoon. Also known as Ayea Myint and U Pancha (‘The Punjabi’),


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Surinder Singh was among the Burmese who organized civilian protection circles that ringed monks as they marched through the streets of Rangoon for eight days last month. U Pancha, a veteran of mass protests in 1988, is now in Mae Sot, Thailand, where many Burmese opposition groups are based. He met monks and a few civilians at the Shwedagon pagoda, on Monday, 17 September. ‘The idea was to bring down petrol prices, to get dialogue and an apology for the way the monks were beaten at Pakokku. There were only about a hundred to start with’, he said. ‘We let the monks lead’. On the nineteenth, the groups exceeded 1,00,000, he stated. But that night, they got word that military had issued a shoot-tokill edict. ‘In the midst of our marching, 77th Battalion refused to take the order to shoot to kill’. From 21 to 25 September, the protests were peaceful and the crowds kept increasing. The military command had changed from 77th Battalion to 66th Battalion. He remembers the next two days as the most bloody. ‘On 26 September, the army surrounded us, blocked the four ways out of the pagoda. When three monks went to beg them not to use violence, they started beating the monks and shooting.’ He said that on the 26th, 1,00,000 civilians marched with 5,000 to 6,000 monks. ‘People were not scared. I thought we were winning; in the midst of flying bullets we were able to march. We had people in the side streets, with stones and rocks ready to give protection to the protesters.’ But on Thursday, 27 September, the monks were gone, and the crowd dwindled to between 2,000 and 3,000. ‘Many people were scared’, he said. ‘When a Japanese was shot, we knew the Government would shoot even foreigners.’ By Friday, the movement had all but disintegrated. U Pancha waited in Rangoon, hiding until 4 October to see the outcome of the UN mission, then, bitterly disappointed, fled to Thailand. He remains determined to fight on. ‘I am still a leader, we have leaders inside and outside, he declared. ‘We are only pausing, not surrendering’. [Brisbane Times, story suggested by Amandeep Singh Madra.4]

Sikhs in Burma


NOTES 1. Shuba Singh, Overseas Indians: The Global Family, Delhi: Shipra, 2001. 2. Sikh Khalsa Dewan Report, Burma, January 1952. 3. Myat Mon, International Workshop on Sikhs in Multicultural Southeast Asia, 12-13 May 2008, ISEAS, Singapore. 4. Amandeep Singh Madra, The Brisbane Times.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific CHAPTER 2

Sikhs in Thailand: Majority Community amongst the Indians

Sikhs are the largest single community amongst Indians in Thailand. They are devout Sikhs maintaining their Sikh identity and are well-respected in the country. They are generous in their contribution to social causes and maintain good relations with the king of Thailand and the Royal household. The Thai Princess visited the Gurdwara during the tercentenary celebrations of the Khalsa. When Giani Arjan Singh, who had been the Chief Priest of the local Gurdwara for forty-two years, died in December 1993, he was honoured by a Royal salute at his cremation. This is one indication of high esteem in which the Sikh community is held in Thailand. The Sikh community is well ensconced in Bangkok with its own Gurdwara and school, the majority of settlers prosperously engaged mostly in textiles and real estate business. Establishing their Gurdwara way back in 1912 in a wooden house built in Thai style, the community’s Gurdwara premises today encompass a six floor building which houses among other things, a kindergarten school. Open to children of all communities, and following the Thai syllabus, the medium of instruction is also Thai. The Gurdwara also conducts special evening classes in Punjabi. Although the Sikhs of Thailand speak fluent Thai even in their homes – they have not abandoned the dress and the food of their homeland. They still follow many of the Punjabi customs. In 2002, to mark a century of Sikh presence in Thailand, the Thai government donated a plot of prime land to the community

Sikhs in Thailand


to raise a memorial. Sikhs have mingled well into the local Thai society and yet have retained their identity. Thai Sikhs had played a special role in India’s freedom struggle by committing themselves and their assets to the Indian National Army. Bangkok was also an important centre during the Ghadar movement. SINGHVI REPORT (2001)

The presence of Indians, who have settled in Thailand, can be traced back to more than one hundred years. Almost all Indians in Thailand are found in urban centres. About 75 per cent of them live in Bangkok. Other urban centres where Indians are found in sizable numbers include Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Lampang – all in northern Thailand. The largest component of the Indian communities is that of Sikhs numbering around 30,000 to 35,000 followed by Hindus numbering 15,000 to 18,000 originally from West Punjab, i.e. present Pakistan. The majority of members of the Indian community are well established, mainly in textile, real estate or gems and jewellery businesses. SIKH MIGRATION

The first Indian to arrive in Thailand was Kirpa Ram Madan, a Sehajdhari Sikh, from India in 1884. He was granted audience with the king of Thailand (Rama V) Chulalongkorn. In due course he helped bring his relatives. By the year 1911, many Sikh families had settled in Thailand. Bangkok was the centre of the immigrant Sikhs. During that time there was no Gurdwara, so religious prayers were held in the homes of Sikhs by rotation every Sunday and on all Gurpurbs. As numbers increased, the Sikhs decided to establish a Gurdwara in 1912. A wooden house was rented in the vicinity of Baan Moh, a well-known business area. Next year, a new larger wooden house was leased for a long term at the corner of Phahurat and Chakraphet road. Religious prayers thereafter began to be conducted on a daily basis. In 1979, it was decided to renovate the Gurdwara and make it bigger. The new Gurdwara was completed in 1981.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

It is interesting to note that almost all Punjabis in Bangkok and northern Thailand originated from an area of Punjab that forms a part of Pakistan. The profile of early Sikh immigrants in Thailand was different from immigrants to other Southeast Asian countries, the majority of them being businessmen and non-Jat Sikhs. The Sikhs in southern Thailand, who are later immigrants, are largely from the present-day Punjab in India. There are about 2,000 to 3,000 Namdhari Sikhs in Thailand. According to Mani and Sandhu1 ‘estimate of number of Indians in Thailand vary from 60,000 in 1958 (Russel), to 1,00,000 (Thompson). In 1981 the Indian Embassy in Bangkok estimated them to be around 20,000, whereas a 1982 study of Indians in Thailand estimated their number at over 60,000.’ It would be fair to say that there are about 30,000 Sikhs in Thailand. Economically, the Sikh community in Thailand can be described as 60 per cent vendors selling textile and electrical equipment. Though Uttar Pradeshis and Tamils are involved in similar businesses, their percentage is negligible. A new line of business, known as ‘Din Daeng’, has become popular among these groups. The business, named after the district of Bangkok where it became popular initially, is the selling of commercial goods on hirepurchase terms. Though there is increasing legislation to control exorbitant interest rates, the business appears to be gaining popularity. The vendors are wealthy by Thai middle-class standards. Another 15 per cent of the Punjabi population can be described as shop owners. They are absolutely wealthy. The expression of their wealth is seen in the houses they own and the ease with which they send their children to study abroad. The remaining 25 per cent of the Punjabi population can be described as having average income, but definitely well- off compared to the average Thai. The majority of ‘Indians in Bangkok live in joint households until more than one son is married. Then each son may be allocated a house which is sometimes leased out to help the couple financially. Those families with successful businesses and branches outside Bangkok post their sons to these branches as managers.’

Sikhs in Thailand



During King Chulalongkorn’s reign, some Sikhs had been enrolled into the Thai police force. Based on their experience of Hong Kong, Singapore and other colonies, the then British Consul in Thailand had urged the Thai Government to make use of Sikhs in the police force. It is believed that the French objected to the employment of British subjects in Thai government departments which made Thais abandon their plan of recruitment of Indians into the local police force. CITIZENSHIP

Interestingly, any non-Thai desirous of Thai citizenship should know the Thai language. It is compulsory for anyone opting for Thai citizenship to acquire a Thai name. But, this is only a superficial acquisition because they also retain their original name and are generally known by their Indian nomenclature. Another interesting feature of immigration law is that any Thai woman marrying a non-Thai loses her property right in her family. SIKHS IN BANGKOK

Sikhs were settled in areas adjoining Pahurat Road, especially the area adjoining the Gurdwara. As their population and business activity increased, their shops spilled over into the area known as Sampeng, lying between Pahurat Road and Ratchawongse Road. The settlement pattern continued unchanged till the mid1970s when trade with Indo-China came to a close. Sikhs who were earlier supplying textiles and tailored garments to American troops, shifted to Bangkok – mainly along Sukhumvit Road. At the same time the businessmen in Pahurat and other traditionally Indian areas got into real-estate business. As late as the mid-1950s, Sikhs were content to send their children to the Sikh Vidyalaya where Punjabi and English together with Thai, were taught. In the past most affluent parents used to send their children to India for education. Most children by the age of nine attended boarding schools in Uttar Pradesh or


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Himachal Pradesh. A handful of them also attended schools at Chandigarh, Ludhiana in Punjab or in New Delhi. The trend now is to send the children to Western countries for college and university education. SIKHS OUTSIDE BANGKOK

The first Sikh to migrate to Chiang Mai was Ishar Singh, who travelled from India through Burma in the year 1905. A Gurdwara was set up at 134 Charoenrat Road in 1907, which has since been expanded. Chiang Mai now has about 20 Sikh families. Till the mid-1970s, there were only 3-4 Sikh families in Pattaya. But when it began to be promoted as a tourist destination, more Sikhs moved there from other provinces. According to Mani and Sandhu, Uborn has about 20 families, while Udorn and Chiang Rai each has about 3 families. Khon Kaen has 15 families while Mae Sod has about 10-15 families, the number varying according to trends in the cross-border trade with Myanmar. Lam Poon, Phra, and Phisnolke each has about 5 families. The majority of Sikhs outside Bangkok in many provincial cities, are shopkeepers and small traders. Sikhs came to Phuket in 1939 to work in Tin Mines and the Railway Engineering workshop which had British connection. In due course, many Sikh businessmen started migrating to Phuket to start business especially tailoring and hotels. As tourism grew, more moved into the area and now it boasts a large Gurdwara. ECONOMIC PROFILE: TEXTILE TRADERS

Majority of the Sikhs traded in European textile goods, to the exclusion of Japanese goods, which were totally handled by the Chinese. In 1932, as a result of the Sino-Japanese war, the Chinese textile merchants began a boycott of Japanese goods. The ban, often backed by gangland violence, was enforced throughout the Chinese business community. There was a demand for the low-priced Japanese goods among

Sikhs in Thailand


the indigenous population, though they were inferior in quality to European goods. This new trading opportunity was taken up by Indian vendors in Bangkok. As the Japanese were eager to find new marketing agents, they gladly gave credit to all the Punjabi firms. The new link was taken up enthusiastically in the textile trade. During the 1930s, many Punjabi firms extended their trade links to Japan and established offices in Japan. The onset of World War II brought enhanced fortunes to the Indian business community. As cloth became a scarce commodity, stocks held by Indian traders brought tremendous profits. During the war their position as a trading group with Japan was further enhanced with increased profits, they were able to buy more shops in the adjoining traditional Chinese business area – the Sampeng District. When the war ended, the textile trading Punjabi community was in a better position in terms of controlling the textile market in Thailand. This position was further reinforced by their command of English and adequate capital to trade in American textiles. All the leading firms in Bangkok started branches in New York to establish their lead. The early 1950s indicated changing market conditions, with the Japanese recapturing the textile market, this time with cheaper but high-quality textiles. The Indian trading community, having established its Japanese connection two decades earlier, was able to slide back into the Japanese textile trade. For the majority of Indians in the textile business, manpower was the crucial factor for further expansion. Their pre-war lead and English language proficiency allowed them to hold an edge over Chinese textile merchants. Their expanded family size provided the necessary manpower. Thus boys were introduced into the business by the time they reached sixteen years of age. With more sons, successful families could post them to branches even as far away as Singapore, Tokyo and Hong Kong. According to Sardar Singh Narang of Thai Penang Fabrics, prior to World War II, there were 5 firms in Korat, 3 firms in Ubon, 2 firms in Udon, 4 firms in Prahya, 2 firms in Utredit, 2 firms in Songkhla, 6 firms in Chiang Mai, 3 firms in Lampang, 2 in Chiang Rai, and 15 firms in Bangkok. All these were large textile firms dealing in wholesale and retail business, with each


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

having a pool of vendors who sold further inland or in local bazaars. The Bangkok shops were all located in Ratchawongse Road. As mentioned earlier, World War II was lucky in some ways for the Indian business community because of the escalation of prices of fabrics held as stock. Trading with Japan also got a boost. When the war ended, the Punjabi community was in a better position in terms of controlling the textile market in Thailand. They even set up branches in New York. With the Japanese recapturing the textile market in the early 1950s, the Indians were well positioned to leverage their business. Economically, the Sikh community in Thailand can be described as one of vendors selling textile and electrical equipment. Another popular profession is that of shop owners. The community is thus able to afford good housing and overseas education for their children. With time, citizenship rules became more stringent, and Punjabis could use their third generation children as Thai citizens by birth, to register new businesses and buy real estate. The Namdhari Sikhs, who migrated much earlier than others and had used their earnings to buy real estate, were ready to move out of the textile business when the property boom came in the mid-1960s. Their children’s Thai nationality status was crucial in their accumulating further real estate. With increased wealth, they were able to send their children for professional education. This helped them to move out of the textile business and into other businesses and industries, e.g. milk products, engineering and medical supplies. As business expanded, the successful families could post their sons to branches in Southeast and East Asia. GURDWARAS AND SIKH INSTITUTIONS

The six-storeyed building of the Gurdwara stands in the centre of the business district in Bangkok. The community has avoided internal conflicts that have beset settlements in other countries. The presence of a single Gurdwara (along with a Namdhari Gurdwara) for the entire Sikh community, coupled with change

Sikhs in Thailand


of leadership biennially, has given rise to the Gurdwara becoming an important institution for maintaining the community’s cohesiveness. Members of the Gurdwara contribute blood to the Thai Red Cross Society and make regular donations to Government-sponsored religious bodies. The Sikh Vidyalaya operates a school in which most of the pupils are Thai. The Gurdwara has six affiliated organizations: 1. Young Thai-Sikh Association: It involves Sikhs in their twenties and thirties, and is focused on maintaining their religious identity. 2. Sikh Vidyalaya (started in the early 1940s): This is a regular school having classes up to high school level. About 400-600 pupils are enrolled in it. The school, situated at Bagna, outside Bangkok, has hardly any Sikh pupil now. 3. Guru Nanak Mission: Its aim is to spread the Sikh religion. The organization also operates a medical clinic for the poor. 4. The Library: It contains books in Punjabi and English. 5. Guru Nanak Foundation: It was set up to raise funds for scholarships awarded to needy students in universities. 6. Old Age Home: The home has many non-Sikhs. The outlying Gurdwaras, though operated with local funds by local Sikhs, consider the Bangkok Gurdwara as the focal point. Namdhari Sikhs have three Gurdwaras at Sukhumvit Soi 7, Sukhumvit Soi 43, and at Thonburi. There are several Gurdwaras throughout the country. For details, please see Appendix 13. SIKH SCHOOL

An article in the Bangkok Post by Neil Stoneham:2 Thai Sikh International School is one of the most established international education outlets in Thailand. Originally part of the beautiful Sikh temple in the Pahurat area of Bangkok, TSIS eventually moved to a purpose-built campus in Samut Prakan, around the time that more open legislation allowed international schools to flourish. Today, there are over 400 students of different nationalities. Most are of


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Indian descent with around half coming directly from the Thai Sikh community. However, other religions also represented, ranging from Hindu to Muslim and Christian. Thai Sikh is so named because it is partly funded by the Thai Sikh Foundation based in Pahurat and its voluntary aided status enables the school to charge some of the lowest tuition rates in the country. In August this year, the Junior school, which is presently housed in Pahurat, will move to a specially designed campus on Prachadhipok Road in the Rama 9 area. Here, children will be able to enjoy the latest facilities in a brighter and more spacious environment. Finally, all secondary students go on annual camp away from the school. Younger pupils visit a Red Cross camp where they learn first-aid skills and techniques on how to help people in need. Senior students (10 and 11 years) spend a week away in the country discussing weighty topics related to their own religion. SIKH PHILANTHROPY

As an example of the Sikhs’ contribution to society, let me quote a news item: ‘Sikh-Thais Honour Buddhist Monks at Seasonal Festival’ by Warunya Thongrod. A wealthy Sikh-Thai family donated more than 4 million baht (roughly, US $130,000), including 200 royally sanctioned robes, to Pattaya’s Chaimongkol Temple for its annual end-of-rainy season festival. More than 200 people attended the 24 October 2013 ‘Thod Kathin’ ceremony where Savinder Kaur Gulati and Mohinder Singh presented the robes obtained through the Royal Household to Abbot Pisan Jariyaphiwat and 50 monks. Along with donation of meals, desserts and beverages, the Gulati family presented total donations worth more than 4.4 million baht (US $143,000). An additional 1 million baht (US $32,000) in cash raised from temple patrons was also presented. ‘My family has been working in Pattaya for 35 years and my family status and finances have grown over that time. My wife and I believe that we must do good for society by repaying’, Mohinder Singh said. (Courtesy: Pattaya Mail, edited for, 1 November 2013.

Sikhs in Thailand



Unlike Sikhs in Singapore and Malaysia who were brought in as soldiers and guards, Sikhs came to Thailand to do business. And almost all of them came from the trading classes of the Gujranwala area of Pakistan. A few Sikhs have ventured into professional streams, including Justice Santi Thakral and former National Energy Authority Deputy Director-General, Mohar Singh Monga. The Thai Sikh business community has important names such as the Thakrals, Chawlas, Narulas, Sethis, Narangs and Sachdevs. The Thakrals started their business in Bangkok, where Kartar Singh’s father Sohan Singh, came as a young boy and started ‘Punjab Stores’ in 1905. According to Mr. Chawla, a businessman, his maternal uncle, Ladha Singh, was the first Sikh to come in 1890. Later, he brought his younger brothers. They set up their first shop in Bangkok under the name of L.S. Bhagwan Singh & Co. Mr. Chawla’s father came in 1902. The inflow of Sikhs picked up in late 1920s which continued till mid-1930s. As was generally the case in most countries, the aim of the Sikhs was to make some money and go back to Punjab. But nobody went back, particularly after the war. A large number of Sikhs came post-Partition in 1947. The case of Trilok Singh is interesting. He went on to acquire a branch of the Bank of Ayodhya in Bangkok. In the 1960s, the five Chawla brothers split up. He went into real estate, financing and exports. Today his seven sons look after the businesses in Thailand, India and the US. Trilok Singh is the first Indian to be decorated by the king of Thailand with the prestigious White Elephant Award, the Golden Crown Medal and the Thai Red Cross medal. Another Chawla who has made it big is Sura Chansrichawla. His grandfather started off with textiles and later ventured into real estate. His father was a shareholder in the Bank of Ayodhya. Taking over in the 1970s, Sura went on to acquire many properties, including the Holiday Inn and a golf course. His Siam Vidhya Group is also well-known for its philanthropic work. Sura has also invested in many projects in India. Sardar Singh Narang of Thai Penang Fabrics was another pioneering Sikh in Thailand who died in 1998. Back in Punjab,


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

he had lost his family in an epidemic. A Sikh from Thailand brought him to Bangkok in 1915 when he was only nine years of age. Later on, when he asked that man to give him the money he promised for his return trip, the latter refused. As he could not go back to India, he opened a shop in partnership which did not succeed and ran into debts. However, he paid back his debt within six months. Creditors were pleased and put up money for his new business. Sardar Singh opened a new shop that soon became famous for its owner’s honesty and integrity. Sardar Singh named his shop Penang Store that was later changed to Thai Penang Fabrics. He also headed the local Singh Sabha Gurdwara for some time. His son runs the business successfully and is also the President of the Young Thai Sikh Association which promotes understanding with the Thais. Members help people in need, including blood donation and by organizing marathons to raise funds. For his services, Narotam Singh was awarded a Gold Medal by the Thai king. CASE STUDIES

Case studies 1-4 have been culled from the book Sikhs in Thailand’ by Manjit S. Sidhu3 (interviews from early 1990s). These give a good overview of the profile of the Sikh immigrants. 1. MIGRANT A Migrant A was born in 1914 in Gujranwala district, West Punjab (Pakistan). He had four brothers and a sister. His sister was married to a Sikh from Thailand in 1937. His brother-in-law invited him to join him on his return trip to Thailand. After a three-day journey from Lahore to Calcutta, they stayed at the Gurdwara in Calcutta for a week before taking a boat to Penang. The voyage took about 13 days, with the ship stopping at Rangoon for a few days, unloading cargo. At Penang, they stayed at the Sikh Gurdwara for about 10 days before taking a train to Bangkok. The train journey took about one and a half days. At Penang, the travel agent gave them tiffin carriers filled with chapattis and vegetables. At Bangkok, a crowd of Sikhs went to the railway

Sikhs in Thailand


station to welcome all the Sikhs getting down from the train. An agent’s representative (who had been alerted with a telegram earlier) collected the tiffin carriers from them at the station. Migrant A had no formal schooling. On arrival in Thailand, he immediately started working with his brother-in-law in a cloth shop. Soon he picked up Thai and English languages. After two years, he had saved enough to move to Pattani, in southern Thailand, where he opened his own shop. Soon he diversified by opening a branch in Yala. Meanwhile, he married a local Punjabi Sikh girl. He sent for his two brothers in India to join him in Thailand. After his wife died in 1941 (just before the Japanese invasion), he returned to his native village in Gujranwala. As he was unable to return to Thailand during the war, he set up a shop in Sargodha. During the Partition of India and Pakistan, he had to flee to India in 1947 where he stayed at Jabalpur for about 5 months. Since he had lost everything, he decided to return to Thailand. He came to Yala and after staying there for two weeks, moved on to Bangkok, where with the help of relatives, he started a small business which has since thrived. He has been visiting India frequently. He has nine children – five boys and four girls. All of them were educated up to matriculation, married and settled in Thailand. He helped his sons to buy houses in Thailand. At home they speak three languages – Punjabi, Thai and Malay. 2. MIGRANT B Migrant B was born in Sheikupura district, in Punjab, Pakistan. He was about thirteen years old when he left his native village in 1928 to travel to Thailand, where he joined his father, who had migrated there in 1904. Accompanied by a relative, he set out with Rs. 24. On arrival in Penang by ship, they were quarantined for three days; the money for the quarantine being included in the price of the ticket purchased in Calcutta. After that they stayed at the Sikh Gurdwara while waiting to take the train to Bangkok; the train service from Butterworth to Bangkok was twice weekly. In Bangkok, they changed trains to go on to Nakhon Ratchasima, which was about 250 km north-east.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

At Nakhon Ratchasima, he started working at his father’s shop but both his parents died in 1932, when he was only seventeen. The shop began to lose money whereupon he decided to move to Khon Kaen. His father had two shops there. The business did well. Two years later he went to Punjab to get married. Upon his return, he decided to settle in Bangkok where he opened a shop while continuing to maintain his shops at Khon Kaen. He started importing cloth from India for sale from his three shops. Consignments from Bangkok were sent by cart to Khon Kaen, taking 27 days. Post World War II, he went to India by Dakota plane. It was only after the end of World War II that people started travelling by air, that too, only the rich. Others still used the Penang-Calcutta sea route until the 1960s – after that air travel became common. With business prospering, he now has branch offices in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, in addition to owning three shops and three houses in Bangkok. He has six children – three boys and three girls. Two of his sons work with him in the family concern, where some twenty workers are employed including relatives. They specialize in import-export business. His youngest son, a German-trained engineer (married to an Indian doctor), had established his own factory in Thailand, producing various types of milk feeding bottles for infants. Proudly he spoke of the fact that all his six children followed the Sikh tradition of keeping long hair. All are Thai citizens. At home, they converse in Punjabi and English as all the children were educated in Mussoorie, India. The grand-children speak in Thai. 3. MIGRANT C Migrant C was born in the district of Gujranwala, Punjab, in 1925. His early education was in his native village, followed by college in Gujranwala up to Intermediate (FA). His father had migrated to Thailand in 1900 who returned to West Punjab, bought property including 500 acres of land. Their joint-family firm, Gian Singh Nand Singh, was well-known in Thailand, with branches in Amritsar, Bombay and Calcutta. During the Partition of India in 1947, he was forced to leave his native village. For-

Sikhs in Thailand


tunately he could stay at the family’s business office in Amritsar before returning to Bangkok next year. He started working in the family business in Bangkok. After a year he moved to their Penang office, in Malaysia. For three years (1952-5) he was based in Kobe, Japan, shipping textile materials to the firms’ offices in Southeast Asia. Upon his return he stayed in Bangkok for seven years before moving to Singapore in 1963 where he remained for twenty-three years. Finally he returned to Bangkok in 1987 and started his own business in partnership with another Sikh. Now they have two shops on Sukhumvit Road. Their main clients are tourists who stay at fashionable hotels located nearby. Usually, he works from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., taking orders from clients for new dresses and suits. When he was twenty-five years old, he got married to a Sikh girl from Thailand. They have two sons and a daughter, who were educated in India in Shimla, Mussoorie, and Bombay. The children are now married and settled in Thailand as local citizens. One son runs two shops at Phuket, the other a shop in Bangkok and stays with his parents. The daughter is married to a Sikh businessman in Bangkok. They keep SGGS at home. 4. MIGRANT D,



Migrant D is a Jat Sikh, originally from Jalandhar who moved to Lyallpur district in West Pakistan. During Partition, the family lost their house and land in Pakistan and were forced to return to their ancestral village near Jalandhar. After matriculation in Lyallpur, he studied for Giani privately. He became head granthi at the historic Gurdwara at Sacha Sauda in 1939. He continued working as the head priest until he was forced to migrate to India in 1947. For two years he worked as a shopkeeper with his brother. A Sikh from Thailand, whom he had met at Sacha Sauda, suggested that he should apply for a job in a Thailand Gurdwara. The young preacher applied to Sri Guru Singh Sabha in Bangkok and was promptly employed by it. In 1949, he, his wife and children (two sons and a daughter) came to Bangkok where he began his career as a granthi as well as a Punjabi teacher. He


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Figure 2.1: Thailand – In some towns motor-cycle public transport was used to visit Gurdwaras, taxis were not available

studied Thai up to standard four as it was a compulsory requirement for foreign teachers. He holds the record for having worked in Thailand as a priest for over four decades. Though recently retired from official duties, he continues to keep his room in the temple and is treated as an ‘Emeritus’ granthi. He can read and write several languages – Panjabi, English, Thai, Persian, Urdu and Hindi. A widower since 1982, he has five children – three sons and two daughters. Both his daughters have postgraduate qualifications and are married and settled in India. Three of his boys have had education in engineering. Two have migrated to Canada; the middle son stays in Thailand with him. He was of the opinion that Sikhs in Thailand are more loyal to their five Ks compared with Sikhs in other foreign countries. Though he would prefer his grandchildren to marry Punjabi Sikh partners, he would have no objection to anyone of them marrying a Thai girl provided she also adopts Sikhism by taking Amrit. Author’s note: Upon his death he was honoured by the Royal family at his cremation as referred to earlier on.

Sikhs in Thailand


NOTES 1. A. Mani and K.S. Sandhu, Indian Communities in South East . Asia, Singapore: ISEAS, 1992. 2. Neil Stoneham, Bangkok Post, 20 April 2004. 3. Manjit S. Sandhu, Sikhs in Thailand, Bangkok: Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University, 1993.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific CHAPTER 3

Sikhs in Malaysia: Largest Sikh Population in Asia

Malaysia has the largest Sikh community in Southeast and East Asia, their population being around 80,000 (according to Professor Dr. Saran Kaur Gill: Sikhs – 1,00,000). There is a chain of Gurdwaras (over 119), the first one being set up in 1881 in Cornwallis in the Police Lines. The first public Gurdwara was inaugurated in 1903 (foundation laid in 1901) in Penang. The country was known as Malaya when it got its freedom from the British rule on 31 August 1957. The country changed its name to Malaysia on 16 September 1963. Less than two years later on 9 August 1965, Singapore was expelled and it became an independent country. Kuala Lumpur is the capital and the hub of activities of the Sikh community. Besides fifteen Gurdwaras, including one of the biggest, Santul Gurdwara, there are some important Sikh organizations with their headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. One is the Aman Club with its sprawling campus. The second is the Sikh Naujawan Sabha – a most active organization with ongoing programmes for youth, practically in all the towns. The third organization is the Malay Khalsa Diwan. There is also the Gurdwara Council of Malaysia which coordinates between most of the Gurdwaras in the country. Sikhs in Malaya became known as ‘Bai Jaga’, the imposing guard with a staff that protects property and premises. The Khoo Kongsi, Chinese Temple, Penang has a pair of Sikh ‘Bai Jaga’ statues carved out of granite, as symbolic protectors, as one ascends the steps of the temple.

Sikhs in Malaysia


Sikhs, Punjabi Muslims and other northern Indians are wrongly referred to as Bengalis in Malaysian records due to historical reasons as their port of embarkation, Calcutta, was in Bengal. SINGHVI REPORT (2001)

In the early nineteenth century, a different class of Indians began to arrive. As British and European capitals became more and more involved in plantation agriculture – coffee first and rubber later – Indian labourers were brought into the peninsula with increasing rapidity and in greater numbers. The largest average annual flow of Indians into Malaya occurred during the period 1911-30, when more than 90,000 persons arrived in the country every year. The Indian ethnic community consists mostly of Tamils (80 per cent), followed by Keralites, Andhraites, Bengalis, Punjabis, Sindhis and Gujaratis. Most Indians are settled in the state of Penang in northern Malaysia, Perak in central Malaysia and the rest in Kuala Lumpur and the state of Selangor. It is difficult to acquire Malaysian citizenship – PIOs/NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) with continuous residence for ten-fifteen years and having a Malaysian spouse are considered selectively for Malaysian citizenship. Religious worship and activities are permitted by the local authorities within certain guidelines. SIKH MIGRATION

Sikhs are well-organized and the Sikh identity is being kept by the majority, many of whom are well placed in senior Government positions and various professions. It is a well-organized immigrant community, well-integrated within the country and yet maintaining its roots culturally and connections with the home country. There is a useful publication by Geraksikh, titled Sikh Community in Malaysia by Tan Sri Dato Seri Darshan Singh Gill.1


Sikhs in Asia Pacific ARRIVAL AS POLICEMEN

The first arrival of Sikh Police Force in Malaya was on 28 September 1873 when Captain T. Speedy arrived in Perak with 110 Punjabis (Sikhs) and Pathans. The recruitment of Sikhs was extended to Selangor, Negri Sembilan and Pahang, where the original police forces became largely Sikh. They were brought in to guard the mines and keep law and order during gang fights between the various Chinese mining clans. The Punjabi policemen soon established peace and earned the respect of the locals (Sikhs had come to be closely associated with the Police Forces of not only Malaya and Singapore; but that of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Fiji and North Borneo, to mention a few). The first armed police force was known as the Perak Armed Police (PAP). The PAP was based in Taiping which was at that time the capital of Perak and the centre of the British administration. There were about 300 Sikhs serving in the PAP by the end of 1877 and most were from Captain Speedy’s force. In May 1884, the PAP came to be known as the First Battalion Perak Sikhs (FBPS). The FBPS attracted many Sikhs from Punjab. However, the practice of recruitment in India ceased in 1886 as most candidates had started arrive in Taiping on their own. In 1896, the FBPS was replaced with a much stronger police-cummilitary force called the Malay States Guides (MSG). The majority of its members were Sikhs from Punjab. This marked another milestone in the history of the arrival of Sikhs to Malaysia. The MSG was a vital security force established in the Malay States which lasted for twenty-three years (it was disbanded in 1919). The members of the MSG had set up a Gurdwara within the precincts of their barracks. There were also many Sikh policemen serving in the Straits Settlements Police Force, and the Federated Malay States Force mainly in Perak, Selangor, Pahang and Negeri Sembilan. The history of Sikh migration to North Borneo (Sabah) began in 1882, where the majority of them served in the North Borneo Armed constabulary. The Sikhs in Sarawak arrived there some time in the 1920s to serve in the constabulary and as prison wardens. There were separate police contingents based in Miri, Sibu and Kuching. In 1931, these contingents were merged,

Sikhs in Malaysia


creating a centralized police force comprising of a considerable number of Sikhs. ARRIVAL AS OTHER IMMIGRANTS

Sikhs, as independent migrants, started to arrive from the beginning of the twentieth century. This phase lasted till the enactment of the Immigration Restriction Act 1953, which made subsequent free immigration difficult. In the earlier phase of immigration, some Sikhs would go back to Punjab to get married and bring their wives to reside here. The immigration of foreign wives was discouraged after 1979. Because of the new stringent laws, Sikh immigration to the Peninsula dwindled. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was another wave of arrivals. This was related to adverse conditions in Punjab, prompting thousands of Sikh youths to flee seeking refuge in mainly Western countries. Hundreds came to Malaysia too. In the 1990s, some skilled and semi-skilled Sikh workers came in to fulfil the demand for labour in the construction sectors. This was a temporary migrant labour force that was here for a specific period of time. In addition, some professionals, mainly in the information technology industry, have also immigrated since the 1990s. Sikh immigration to Malaysia is somewhat different from that of the south Indian immigration. It consisted largely of nonplantation labour force and was unregulated, compared to the south Indian migration which was more regulated. Sikhs came here based on the liberal migration policy, to work in various sectors, such as the police forces, private security engagements and in various government departments, including the technical departments of the railway services. Many ventured into the roles of caretakers, watchmen, bullock-cart drivers, dairy-farmers and mining labourers. Sikhs were also employed in the development of the country’s infrastructure, like the construction of the East coast railway line. In earlier years, transport services provided by Sikhs in the mining areas were important, as bullock carts were then the main mode of transport, especially in the Kinta Valley. Before the introduction of the lorry and train services, Sikhs had virtually monopolized this transport system. Some had


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

also ventured into small businesses such as trade and moneylending (Lopo Dhaliwal estimates that at one time there were 10,000 Sikh moneylenders). A few Sikhs were also engaged in the textile trade. As was the common feature of the earlier migration in most countries, many of them expected to return to India with their savings. The government servants planned to go back home to live on their pension after retirement. But in due course, the majority settled down in the new country on permanent basis. The Japanese occupation of Malaya from December 1941 to August 1945 caused a total cessation of Sikh migration. During this period, some of the Sikhs were involved in the Indian National Army (INA), headed by Subhas Chandra Bose. The occupation disrupted their livelihood and many lost their jobs with many estates and companies closing down. But this was only a temporary aberration. The services and sacrifices of Sikhs during the First World War (1914-18), Second World War (1939-45) and the Emergency (1948-60) have been well recognized: there are 33 Sikh names among the 232 names inscribed on the National Monument plaque situated in Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur. The community, through its trials and tribulations, has risen to become a prominent minority in Malaysia. This would not have been possible without the hard work of the earlier immigrants and their progressive attitude towards their children’s education. They soon became professionals in various fields and Sikhs in Malaysia today are well represented in almost every profession, including medical and legal. GURDWARAS

Over the years well over 119 Gurdwaras have been set up throughout the country. The capital Kuala Lumpur has fifteen of them, with another twenty in the third largest city, Ipoh, once the world’s tin mining capital. Locally, Ipoh was also known as Malaysian Punjab. The second largest city of Malaysia is Penang, where within the island there are three Gurdwaras. In its Province of Wellesley, there are another two, at Prai and Butterworth.

Sikhs in Malaysia


One of the Gurdwaras is a century old. The road on which it is situated is called Gurdwara Road. It is a large Gurdwara, once the centre of Sikh travel to Malaya, and onwards to Shanghai, Vancouver, Philippines, Hong Kong, Sumatra and even Bangkok. Other smaller towns of Malaysia, apart from Taiping, which has three Gurdwaras, generally have one large Gurdwara. In Ipoh there is a large one called Wadda Gurdwara, also situated on Gurdwara Road. The first Gurdwara was set up by the Sikh policemen in Fort Cornwallis, Penang (1881). This was followed by other Gurdwaras in Police precincts such as Gurdwara Parliament Road, Kuala Lumpur (1890), Gurdwara Police, Ipoh (1890) and Gurdwara Malay States Guides, Taiping (1896). By the time of the First World War, the largest Sikh community in Malaya was in the district of Larut and Matang in Perak. When the Malay States Guides were disbanded, the Singh Sabha, a registered local Sikh society, convinced the British Resident that the holy temple, the Gurdwara, within the Taiping army compound, belonged to the Sikhs and not the military. Once the approval of the Resident was received, the Sabha performed an incredible feat of dismantling the building and re-erecting it almost intact on the present site granted by the government near the railway station. The building is today called the Gurdwara Sahib Taiping. The Gurdwaras in Malaysia have structures which are simple. The earlier ones were made of wood, with zinc or attap roofing. However, in the mid-1950s some began to upgrade to brick buildings and tiled roofs. The more recent Gurdwaras, built from the 1980s onwards, are more sophisticated in terms of materials and designs. Some of the bigger Gurdwaras in the larger cities have provisions for a multiparpose hall, visitors’ rooms, classrooms for Punjabi education, library, etc. The kitchens have modern facilities, making the preparation of ‘langar’ more convenient. According to a recent Malaysian directive, Sikhs are required to start training religious functionaries locally rather than recruiting them from India. This could have a long term beneficial effect of developing and piloting a model of local granthi


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

training in the Diaspora. The Government gives some grant to Gurdwaras. A news item is quoted below: Malaysia grants $16,000 for Gurdwara renovation. Kuala Lumpur, 28 November 2011. Tribune, Chandigarh Malaysia has given a grant of about $16,000 for renovation of the country’s oldest Gurdwara in Sabah state. The Gurdwara Sahib Sikh in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah can now carry out renovation with the 50,000 ringgit ($15,633) grant from Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.

‘The allocation is proof of the government’s commitment to help the people, regardless of their religious beliefs’, a Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) leader of the Sabah state said while handing out the donation to Gurdwara member Anup Singh. He said similar allocations would be distributed to temples in other areas. Built in 1924, it is one of the older Gurdwaras in the country—PTI Malaya Samachar is the only surviving Punjabi paper in the country and in the whole of Southeast Asia. Started in 1936 under the name of Pardesi Khalsa Sewak, it was renamed Malaya Samachar in 1965. HISTORY OF THE WADDA GURDWARA, PENANG

(By S. Natha Singh, PJK)* It is a rather detailed account but shows the British patronage. It also highlights Sikh population at the beginning of the twentieth century which numbered around 30,000. The original name of the Gurdwara was ‘Diamond Jubilee Sikh Gurdwara’. It was so named to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. In 1908 the Board of trustees of the Gurdwara changed the name to ‘Tapuan Da Gurdwara’ which loosely translated means ‘Sikh Gurdwara on the islands’. At present, it is generally known as ‘Wadda Gurdwara’ which means ‘big or main Sikh Temple of Penang’. During the last decade of the nineteenth century there was no proper * PJK = Devotional Service Medal, Malaysia.

Sikhs in Malaysia


Sikh Temple in Malaya where all the Sikhs or Hindus could have access to or congregate for religious purposes, though there were few small ones catering specially for the Sikh Police or Military personnel. Before the end of the nineteenth century, it was estimated that there was a total Sikh population of about 30,000 in Peninsula Malaysia. The British wanted comfortable conditions for the Sikhs coming from India, so that the British would not face any difficulty in recruiting them in Malaya or in India for such duties for the administration of Malaya. At that time there was no proper or temporary accommodation for the Sikhs from India arriving in Penang. Such travellers from India were seen camping around some roads and cooking by the side of same. Penang at that time was an important and popular port of call for North Indians, whether Hindus or Sikhs, coming through Calcutta and going to various destinations. People then generally travelled by ship. Before the construction of the present Gurdwara in Penang, a Sikh Gurdwara had been erected in Rangoon in Burma. There was then no ‘Sikh Sangat Gurdwara’ in Malaya. As such in the last part of the nineteenth century Sikhs and others needed and desired that a proper and befitting Sikh Temple for the temporary stay of the travellers and for performing religious functions be established at Penang. Such being the need, the Sikhs and Hindus during the period of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria petitioned the British Government for a grant of free land for the construction of Sikh Temple. Later a memorandum was also sent to the Governor of the Straits Settlements with a similar request. On 25 June 1899 a meeting was held at Fort Cornwallis, Penang (Sikh Police Contingent, Penang) where it was decided that a Sikh temple in Penang be constructed. It was also decided that every Sikh Police Constable to contribute one month’s salary in 8 installments. President of the Gurdwara Committee, Mr. E.A. Gardiner made a speech in which he said he was grateful that a sum of $10,000 had been collected and a sum of $10,000 to $15,000 had been promised. He further said that H.E. the Governor had taken a sympathetic view to the memorandum asking for the grant of free land for the temple. Baba Gurdit Singh, who was then residing in Seremban and later came to be connected with ‘Kamagata Episode’, also contributed. Mr. H. Bell, Superintendent of Police, also spoke. He said that he was happy that the Sikhs had unanimously decided to build the temple.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

He also said that as there were about 30,000 Sikhs in Peninsular Malaya and even if each Sikh contributed a dollar the sum would come to $30,000. Also at the said meeting it was decided that members of the Malay States Guides and the Sikh Policemen contribute a month’s pay for the temple funds. Sikh personnel of the Guides and Police used to be transferred to Penang. My grandfather and father were members of the Malay States Guides. They paid their contributions on being transferred to Penang. Besides the Guides and the Police, businessmen, tailors, labourers and other members of the public also generously contributed to the fund. An appeal was also made to other philanthropic individuals, including the Maharajas of the Punjab. By an Indenture dated 22 March 1901, the Government conveyed a piece of land free, about 20,050 sq. ft. in the area to the then Trustees of the Temple. The present Gurdwara stands on the said land. It is interesting to note that the following trustees included the British officials: W.A. Macarter, Penang E.A. Gardiner, Penang Sardar Sunder Singh, Butterworth, Penang Subedar Gurdit Singh, Taiping, and Jamadar Bhola Singh, Penang. It was agreed that the Foundation Stone be laid on 3 June 1901, an auspicious day being the Birthday of the 6th Guru of the Sikhs, Sri Guru Hargovind Rai Ji. Malkiat Singh in his book states, that a total sum of $58,000 was spent when the temple was completed in 1903. From time to time improvements to the buildings and decorations were made. In the late 1930s, further buildings such as school hall, kitchen, and extra rooms for travelers were added. The day of laying the foundation was a memorable and unforgettable one. The morning function was to start with a procession from the Fort Cornwallis, the headquarters of the Sikh Police Contingent, Penang. The procession commenced shortly after 8.30 a.m. and proceeded along Beach Street, Chulia Street, and Penang Road and eventually to the site of the Temple at Brick Klin Road. The procession was headed by Lt. Longman, Malay States Guides, and Mr. Brown, A.S.P. Behind the band and the aforesaid mentioned personalities was a decorated carriage driven by a pair of horses. The Sikhs Holy Book, the Guru Granth Sahib, was duly installed on the carriage. Four officers from Malay States Guides and Penang Police Contingent in full uniforms with their shining swords drawn were

Sikhs in Malaysia


guards on both sides of the carriage. Sikhs from all over the country had gathered for the occasion. The carriage was followed by Sikhs from Sabah Kulim, Kedah, the Perak Sikhs, the Penang Police Sikhs, the Singh Sabah Penang and the rest of the Sangat from other States. There were Kirtan Jathas too. The band played appropriate tunes throughout the march until it came to the site. At the temple site a decorated shed had been erected with a raised dais for placing of the Guru Granth Sahib, the Sangat sat in the shed. Holy hymns were sung and prayers offered. Sangat was treated to ‘Guru-ka-Langar’ and refreshments. The crowd that participated in the procession was estimated to be around four hundred. The ceremony for consecrating the site ground was performed by reading of certain holy hymns from the Holy Granth. Also the European members, especially the President-Trustee, were thanked for the very active interest they had taken. In return the President – Trustee, Mr. E.A. Gardiner suitably replied. The aforesaid procession was a unique occasion in the annals of the history of Penang. The men of Malay States Guides and of the Sikh Police in their varied uniforms made an imposing and impressive sight. The foundation laying ceremony was carried out in the afternoon. The Sikhs had gathered for a ‘Diwan’ for the ceremony. After 4 p.m. Col. Walker was escorted to the site. Mr. E.A. Gardiner who had been active from the beginning made a short speech and requested Col. Walker to lay the foundation stone which had the words carved ‘Sikh Gurdwara 3 June 1901’. Col. Walker then made a speech in which he spoke of the excellent qualities of the Sikhs and said the temple would benefit immensely the Sikhs in the East. He also addressed the Europeans and said that he was pleased to see them take an active part and to be present at the ceremony. After ceremony, guests and the Sikhs adjourned to the pavilion where music and refreshments were the order of the day. A magnificent two-storey building of the temple was completed within less than two years. It was ready in March 1903. The building has architecture of its own. It is in fact a heritage building for Penang. After completion, it was decided that the Resident-Councilor of Penang do the opening ceremony. The occasion of Vaisakhi day being 13 April 1903 was chosen. On that day, the Resident-Councilor was escorted to the Gurdwara in a procession consisting of European officers, Sikh Officers, prominent Sikhs from Malay and a band rendering music on the way. A congregation was held. Holy hymns were sung, congratulatory messages from the Sikh world were read.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Ardas was said. Parsad and Guru ka Langar were served to all gathered. At 2.00 p.m. the Sikhs gathered again and in their presence and that of the European officers, the Resident-Councilor of Penang officially declared the temple opened. Thus ended the opening of the Wadda Sikh Gurdwara Sahib at Penang. It is believed to be the first Sikh Sangat Gurdwara in Malaya. SIKH INSTITUTIONS

The Malaysian Naujawans – the youth, are energetic and committed to improving their socio-economic status. An increasing number of Sikh students are receiving scholarships and going overseas to study, later on returning home to help nurture the future generations. Almost every week there are youth activities all over the country – be it in the form of weekend trips, camps or just a ‘kirtan darbar’. This helps them stay in constant touch with each other. ‘Seva’ is a big part of their lives. Wherever help is needed, the Malaysian Sikh youth show up in full force. Some spent close to 6 months in Aceh, Indonesia, after the tsunami. The most important organization is Sikh Naujawan Sabha of Malaysia. A detailed write up is given later on. Sikhs in Malaysia actively participate in the existing 55 social organizations. Some have originated from the early twentieth century, when Sikhs were enthusiastic about the welfare and concerns of their community. The pioneer Sikh socio-religious organizations were the Khalsa Diwan Malaya (KDM), which was founded in 1903 in Taiping, Perak, and the Guru Kalgidhar Diwan Malaya (GKDM), founded in 1920 in Selangor. These early organizations of the Sikh community were focused on spreading religious knowledge and Punjabi education. The GKDM had even set up a Punjabi School for girls. These organizations also provided assistance to the poor, destitute and orphans of the Sikh community. Both the KDM and GKDM played a vital role in the affairs of the Sikh community. Both organizations still exist. The Tatt Khalsa Diwan Selangor (TKDS) was established around the same period, which played an important role in promoting education among the Sikhs. There were also

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other organizations such as the Punjabi Sahitik Sabha which promoted the Punjabi literature; the Sikh Education Board Malaya and the Khalsa Bidyak Sabha which also promoted Punjabi education in the country. The second wave of social organizations was based more on the socio-cultural development of the community. The first nonreligious Sikh organization in the country was the Selangor Sikh Union (SSU) which was founded in 1920. The SSU mainly focussed on sports and social activities. SSU’s Aman Club (Kelab Aman) which literally means Peace Club is extensively used for cultural functions, carnivals, hockey, cricket and other sports. It is also popular among Sikhs and other communities to celebrate weddings, corporate dinners and other occasions. The present club location was once the site of a tin mine, where filling started in 1968. The two-storey building with a football field was completed in 1974. The Malaysian-Singapore Sikhs Sports Council (MSSSC) has taken the lead in organizing sports activities. Meets are held at different venues throughout the country, which gives each state an opportunity to host. Singapore has also hosted meets over the years. The prestigious hockey challenge trophy known as Gurdwara Cup is the main prize. The Gurdwara Cup is one of the oldest hockey tournaments today. Other sports practiced are badminton, soccer, netball, golf, athletics and darts. The Annual Sports meet is a festive event held over a period of four to five days during which some 800-odd participants take part. The Sikhs also have other organizations such as the Malayan Sikh Union (presently known as the Malaysian Sikh Union or MSU). Some important institutions are listed in Appendix 14. New organizations keep coming up as needed. The Malaysian Punjabi Party (MPP) was founded in 1986 with the objectives of establishing a Punjabi-based political party. The Malaysian Gurdwara Council (MGC) was founded in 1987 and attends to the needs and other affairs of the Gurdwaras in the country. The Malaysian Sikh Education Aid Fund (MSEAF) is an educational organization set up to provide basic scholarships for needy students. The funds given out by them have helped Sikh students,


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mainly at the secondary, college and even university levels. Sikh professionals in the country have also set up a networking organization known as the ‘Association of Professional Sikhs’. The Network of International Sikh Entrepreneurs (NISE) focuses on business networking amongst Sikh businessmen and entrepreneurs. The establishment of the Malaysia National Sikhs Movement, GERAKSIKH has opened new frontiers for the Sikh community in Malaysia. Sikh women also participate in social organizations, the pioneers, being the Milap Club and the Isteri Satsang Sabha. Lately, several new Sikh women organizations have been established, such as the Sikh Women’s Awareness Network (SWAN) and Single Women’s Awareness Team (SWAT). The SWAN and SWAT are focused on providing assistance and other forms of services to Sikh single mothers. GURPURI ORPHANAGE

It is an organization established in 2000 to provide shelter and care to children who had none. Gurpuri Foundation presently provides for the needs of 47 children in the age group of 6 to 18. All of them go to the nearby schools for primary and secondary education. Gurpuri Foundation runs on a welfare platform and is a Malaysian Government registered charitable organization. SIKH NAUJAWAN SABHA MALAYSIA (SNSM)

SNSM is a very active organization catering to the socio-religious needs of the Sikh youth of Malaysia. I would like to cover his organization in some detail as I was greatly impressed by their work. Its prime objective is to reach out to the Sikh youth on religious and social issues. The SNSM has, since the late 1960s, been successfully organizing youth camps annually. The attendance is very encouraging. These camps, known as Samelans (see Appendix 3 for this year’s poster) have also attracted participants from overseas. The SNSM’s initiatives to help victims of

Sikhs in Malaysia


natural calamities resulted in the formation of Global Sikhs, which is also supported by United Sikhs of America. Global Sikhs was instrumental in organizing relief-aid operations for the tsunami survivors in Aceh (2004), Myanmar flood victims (2008), and those affected by the Johor Bahru floods in Malaysia (2008). The book The Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore by Saran Singh Sidhu2 gives details of the organization. SNSM in their website,3 has the following to say: Malaysian Sikh Youth Organization (Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia) is a voluntary organization formed officially in 1967, began with its first Gurmat Camp in 1963, to cater for the social and religious needs of Malaysian Sikh youth. What began as a small regional organization has become a body with national concerns and links in the spread of the Guru’s Way. In these years, SNSM has successfully become the bloodline of Malaysian Sikh youth. Today, SNSM has spread its activities into other areas with the aim of promoting the Sikh faith. Besides Gurmat Camps, the Sabha also organizes fellowship gatherings, amrit sanchaars, training and development programmes and coordinates the ‘Akaal Purkh ki Fauj’. SNSM organizes various religious, social and cultural programmes in Malaysia. It also keeps in touch with various other organizations within and without that is involved in the Sikh world. The regular activities of SNSM include: Welfare projects. Educational programmes. Operating a Sikh reference bookshop. Setting up youth prayer sessions in the country. Continuous dharmik parchaar all over the nation. Organization of youth leadership and training camps. Representation of Sikh youth at governmental and other national forums. Publication of quarterly publication The Sikh and other pamphlets, articles for distribution. Programmes for spiritual, mental, social, physical and emotional development of youth and children. Annual religious seminar (every November/December) to provide for Sikh youth over the country to be together.


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Running the Mighty Khalsa Brigade, Miri Piri Brigade and Sant Sepahi Brigade throughout the country. Despite its growth in these years SNSM has remained a purely voluntary, non-profit seeking ‘dharmik’ body. Its only source of funds is membership fees and donations. HISTORY OF SNSM AND YOUTH CAMPS

(From a book by Saran Singh Sidhu) SNSM answered the need of the next generation who were finding the existing format of parchaar in Gurdwaras less appealing. What was required was a national organization that could cater for the parchaar and social needs of the younger generation. The first Gurmat Parchaar Samelan was held at Sunshine camp in Port Dickson in 1962 with 22 participants (all boys) and another in 1963. In 1964 another samelan was held in Port Dickson Gurdwara, which was located by the sea. Girls were also included in this samelan. Simple English and Punjabi were used in all the samelans as a means of communication. By now the ‘Sabha’ was known as Sikh Naujawan Sabha, as older boys and girls too, wanted to attend the samelan. As interest in this new format of doing parchaar grew, a travelling parchaar team was included in the Sabha’s itinerary. A number of sevadaars, including some senior members of the Sabha together with some youths, started the first tour from Gurdwara Sahib Seremban and visited gurdwaras in Tampin, Segamat, Batu Pahat and Kluang followed by other three gurdwaras across the causeway in Singapore. On the way back, the jatha passed through Muar, Malacca, Port Dickson and Seremban. These parchaar tours touched the hearts of the sangat wherever they went. In 1967, the inaugural meeting was held in Gurdwara Sahib Port Dickson where a decision was made to register the sabha as Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia, as an entirely new entity. To qualify for the post of Sabah’s jathedar, one must be an amritdhari. The committee members are required to be amritdharis or at least, keshadharis. Speakers are free to speak in English or Bahasa Malaysia in addition to simple Punjabi to reach the target group. In the early 1970s, annual samelans moved into schools as the growing need of space could not be met by our Gurdwaras. Annual samelans have been concentrated along the west of Peninsular Malaysia as Sikh population is concentrated there. Sabha also ventured into Sabah and Sarawak to reach out the Sikh youth there. In June 2001, Sabha was invited to help run a samelan in Jakarta. Fifteen of Sabah’s

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sevadaars went there and participated in a 5-day samelan. It so transpired that all 15 ‘ablaakhis’ partook of ‘amrit’. Samelan has now become an annual event in Indonesia. SNSM purchased a double storey house in Selayang at a cost of $110,000 in 1981. Two parcharaks were employed full time to carry out parchaar activities. However, the location of the H.Q. was not considered appropriate, being on the northern fringe of the city. On 9 November 1981, the Sabha organized a high tea at the Hilton Hotel, Kuala Lumpur to welcome the newly appointed fourth Prime Minister of Malaysia, YAB Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohammad. The Sikh sangat turned up in full force to participate in the event. A building in Bangsar was finally acquired at a price of RM 430,000. Sabha moved into this new HQ in December 1990 (we interviewed the original pioneers – Amarjit Singh, Umrao Singh, Master Daljit Singh, and Autar Singh in this building). Sabah’s magazine The Sikh has been published since the early days. Since the 300 anniversary of ‘Baisakhi’ in 1999, Sabha introduced the ‘Baisakhi’ programme at International Youth Centre in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur which caters for the entire family. Noted Kirtani Jathas and parcharaks are invited from India, Australia, UK and USA for this programme. There are two registered branches of the Sabha. The first is in Ipoh in the State of Perak and the second is in the State of Penang. A third and fourth branch are in the midst of being registered in Negeri Sembilan and Kedah. Plans for a branch in the state of Johor are also being finalized. The Perak Branch of SNSM recently purchased a single storey bungalow in Jalan Tun Abdul Razak, near Wadda Gurdwara Sahib, Ipoh for RM 180,000. The building is registered in Sabha’s name, which is a constitutional requirement. SNSM has recently acquired a 19.8 acre piece of freehold land for RM 1,584,000. It is near Kuala Kubu Baru in the State of Selangor. The Sabha will utilize this land to develop its own samelan grounds, sports fields, swimming pool, chalets, jogging track, senior citizens village, a home for ladies who need shelter, a Gurdwara Sahib, library and office, multi-purpose hall, hostels, etc. SIKHS IN COMMUNITY SERVICE

As mentioned earlier, Sikh youth organisations have been in the forefront in extending humanitarian help when disasters strike not only in Malaysia but even in countries near and far. Some


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

clippings from news reports pertaining to the tsunami in Indonesia are given below: 1. ‘GLOBAL SIKHS’ HUMANITARIAN GROUP LEADS TSUNAMI RELIEF EFFORTS (MALAYSIA), THE STAR, 8 JANUARY 2005 A 24-member relief team will be leaving Langkawi on two vessels today for Lhokseumawe in north-east Sumatra to bring help to victims there. It will take with it, 150 tonnes of cargo comprising medicine, food, water and other emergency supplies. The team, which includes six foreigners, is being sent by Global Sikhs – an international humanitarian effort spearheaded by the Malaysian Sikh Youth Organization. Organization president Harwindar Singh said Global Sikhs involved a partnership with United Sikhs, a US-based nongovernment organization, and Waves of Mercy, a group of Langkawibased sailors who had rallied to make ships available for transporting supplies to Aceh.



(By Dennison Berwick – Story Teller and Nomad) I’d come to Langkawi after the tsunami to help a friend clean up after she ran for her life and lost her house. There was something ironic that, at the start of the twenty first century, two traditional sailing vessels were setting sail with volunteers and supplies bought with private donations while Malaysia’s modern navy was sitting in port only a few hundred miles down the coast. After a day of delays, we cast off loaded with four tons of rice and water, a field kitchen and 12 members of an organization called Global Sikhs, founded for this relief effort and composed of Sikhs from Malaysia, Singapore, Canada and Britain. Eight Sikh doctors and nurses sailed on ‘Silolona’ along with more medical supplies. Originally they had wanted to fly to Banda Aceh but air transport was impossible so they hitched a ride with us and became part of the team. THE SGGS ACADEMY (MUSIC)

The SGGS Academy was established in January 2005. Its headquarters is located on the second floor of Wisma Tatt Khalsa,

Sikhs in Malaysia


Malaysia. Currently, the centre teaches about 300 students all types of musical instruments and classical kirtan. The Music Academy teaches the following instruments: rebab, the serenda, the dilruba, the taus, and the esraj. The following syllabus is followed: Introduction to the instruments; singing exercises for development of vocal capacity; playing exercises for the development of instrumental skills; breathing exercises; rhythm exercises; singing and playing together; Raag Vidya – theory and application of raags. An annual concert, Bhai Mardana Sangeet Festival, is organized (the poster for the 2014 annual event is given in Appendix 4). SIKH BAND

Sri Dashmesh Band was co-founded in the early 1980s by brothers Harvinder and Sukhdev Singh. Their aim was to give the Sikh youth a platform to meet on a regular basis and do something constructive. This in turn helped keep youngsters off the street and away from trouble. In addition to channeling their energy, the band has also helped bring about a sense of belonging and brotherhood. The only Sikh Pipe Band in Asia has performed extensively throughout Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia. A report: ‘And the Sikhs Go Marching’! By Meera Murugesan (Kuala Lumpur, 19 February 2013). Every Saturday afternoon, the grounds of Sri Dasmesh School in Jalan Pantai Baharu, Kuala Lumpur, resonate with traditional sounds of Scotland. Set up by the Sikh community in 1986 as a way to draw its youth into character-building activities, the Sri Dasmesh Pipes and Drums Band has now evolved into one of the leading bands in the country and in Southeast Asia. Made up of non-professional musicians, with members ranging from engineers and businessmen to schoolchildren and university students, it stands out with its impressive use of bagpipes and a striking uniform that’s a combination of Sikh and Scottish attire. Starting out as a small, nine-member unit more than two decades ago, the band is now a 50-man team that’s always in high demand and has performed through Malaysia and also in Canada, Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. For the Sikh community, the band has become a platform for


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its youth to bond with one another and develop emotionally and spiritually. SIKHS IN SABAH

INTERFAITH AND INTERRACIAL MARRIAGES The following has been summarized from a paper ‘Negotiating Sikh Identities in Malaysia: An Ethnography Study of the Perankaan Punjabi in Sabah’, by Sarjit S. Gill, presented at the International Workshop on ‘Sikhs in Multicultural Southeast Asia – Negotiating an Identity’, 12-13 May 2008, ISEAS, Singapore. The study was conducted at the Gurdwara Sahib Kota Kinabalu (GSKK) in Sabah, East Malaysia. But first an introduction to Sabah might be useful. It is Malaysia’s easternmost state, one of the two Malaysian states on the island of Borneo. It is located on the northern portion of the island and known as the second largest state in the country after Sarawak, which it borders on its south-west. The history of Sikh migration to North Borneo began in 1882 and the majority of them served in the North Borneo Armed Constabulary (NBAC). In 1906, their involvement in the NBAC saw the building of a Gurdwara in the barracks of the constabulary’s headquarters at Batu Tiga, Jesselton. By the year 1915, more than half the Constabulary comprised of Indians, i.e. Sikhs, Punjabi Muslims and Pathans. Sikhs also served as prison warders in Jesselton and Sandakan. Sikhs in Sabah have long inter-married with people from various local ethnic groups. These unions have resulted in the establishement of a new community of peranakan Punjabis. The term ‘peranakan’ refers to the children of Chinese migrants, who married Malay women. Peranakan Punjabi refers to a new generation born from intermarriage of Punjabi Sikhs with nonSikh communities like the Kadazan-Dusun, Murut, Bisaya and Chinese in Sabah. The majority of peranakan Punjabis in Sabah, especially the younger generation, can only speak Malay. Nevertheless, they have inherited Sikh religious values, especially those related to faith, religious practices and prayer.

Sikhs in Malaysia


The older Sikh generation here does not frown upon intermarriage as they themselves had practiced it. However, Sikhs who want to marry someone from another race, have to ensure that the partner is willing to be Sikh and follow its teachings. After getting the consent without any form of duress, the Granthi Sahib will initiate the amrit ceremony. Here, the Granthi Sahib will explain the tenets of the faith in a language that the partner can understand. Then, the individual is given a Sikh name. The first mixed-marriage in Sabah took place on 19 October 1933 between Sarban Singh and Satya Kaur (new name) from Kepayan at the Gurdwara Sahib Jesselton. In an inter-marriage, the Sikh male does not convert out of his faith due to the importance attached to the male as the bearer of the family name and to retain the family’s ethnic identity. The tradition and custom is alive today and still practiced by peranakan Punjabis who marry partners from another ethnic group in Sabah. This means that the non-Sikh wife has to embrace Sikh faith.What is interesting is that most peranakan Punjabis have been given the nonIslamic Bhumiputra status. They have utmost respect for the Guru Granth Sahib. They refer to the Granthi Sahib when faced with cultural and religious problems and challenges. The peranakan Punjabis also take the Gurdwara as a holy religious centre as it houses the Guru Granth Sahib. Besides important religious activities at the Gurdwara, they also celebrate other occasions there. SIKHS OF SARAWAK

(Jaspreet Singh [Malaysia], Sikh Review, January 2015). Eight month ago, I was directed to work in Kuching city, in the state of Sarawak, Malaysia. This city lies in the western tip of a large island known to rest of the world as Borneo. Sikhs here are small in numbers and a source of great interest to most local Sarawakians. I am often asked about my food and language, in particular. For example, they find my penchant for drinking milk unusual. I find their aversion to it equally odd. I was once told by a Punjabi friend that when a local Sarawakian asked what he did with the milk his buffalo produced, the Sarawaklan man replied in surprise – ‘Buffaloes produce milk?’


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Within three days of arriving in Kuching, I found my way to the Kuching Gurdwara Sahib – a modern looking, dignified edifice, with tarred grounds suitable for parking vehicles. The Sikh community in Kuching includes families from smaller towns nearby, such as Bau. It is estimated that there are more than 100 families, some of whom have been in Kuching for the last three generations. Despite being a small community, it is progressive. Education is emphasized and many are professionals, government employees and businessmen/businesswomen. Each weekend is busy without fail. Saturday afternoons are reserved for Punjabi language classes which are attended by the children and teenagers. The teachers are parents from the Sangat and their dedication is unquestionable. Saturday afternoons are also when the sangat gets together to clean and prepare some of the food for Sunday’s langar. Upon completing sewa, the adults prepare tea and snacks for the children who have attended Punjabi language classes. The sangat gathers invariably every Sunday for kirtan and prayers. The young boys who accompany the Giani Ji on the table are adept and trained by the Giani ji himself. The langar that follows is a good opportunity for the entire community to mingle. The Sikh community is tightly knit and everyone supports each other, both in good days, success in school etc are celebrated at home or in the gurdwara and is attended by everyone. Illnesses and deaths bring the community closer and everyone contributes in any way that they can. Baisakhi celebrations are planned weeks in advance. Sporting activities are held in conjunction with Baisakhi and the entire community participates. Games are held for all age groups. The Akhand Paath at the Gurdwara has the ambience of a mela. Since Sikhs are few in number in this city and are often looked upon curiously by other due to our distinct appearance, a mini exhibition open to the public was recently held on the gurdwara grounds to educate and enlighten the public about our presence and contribution. All Sikh families provided old photographs and documentation of their contributions to Sarawak dating to the pre WW II period (1939-45). Punjabi food and Sikh culture was elucidated in the hope that other communities would understand us better. Sumptuous Punjabi cuisine was prepared for the public. To foster closer ties with Sikhs in other parts of Borneo (Sibu and Miri in Sarawak state, Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah, the federal territory of Labuan and Brunei), The Borneo Sikh Games were held

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in 2012 and apart from enormous participation from all these places, it was a treat to see everyone making new friend getting along well. SIKHS IN KEDAH

Kedah is an important province of Malaysia and Sardar Ajmer Singh has very kindly sent this write up which is both comprehensive and interesting. HISTORY OF SIKHS IN KEDAH (By S. Ajmer Singh) A number of kingdoms have been known to exist in this part of the world. The most notable one is the Malacca Sultanate which is considered as the golden period of Malay rule. Present day Malays often take a great deal of inspiration from this period. However in 1511, the Portuguese took over the kingdom and later it was taken over by the Dutch in 1641. The British took over Malacca in 1824, Penang in 1786 and Singapore in 1819. The coming of Sikhs is largely the result of the spread of British influence in Malaya and India. As far as Kedah is concerned the large majority of Sikhs came in the twentieth century although a few individuals might have come in the 1890s. For the purpose of discussion, I shall sub-divide aspects of Kedah Sikhs under four periods. 1900-1941 The number of Sikhs in the police and the Para military force tended to increase with the intervention of the British in the Malay States. Therefore after 1874 Perak, Selangor, Negeri Sembilan saw the recruitment of some Sikhs and later the same thing happened in Pahang after 1888. Kedah at that time was under Siamese rule but it had begun to experience British influence indirectly. Although it was in 1909 that the Siamese sovereignty ended and formal British interference began, the Sultan of Kedah already had an organized police force of 501 of whom 260 were Malays, 134 Indians, 6 Chinese, 5 Siamese. We can safely assume that the majority of the 134 Indian would have been Sikhs. So when the Bangkok treaty was signed in 1909, this police force combined under the British rule in Kedah. The Sikhs continued to be recruited into the police from time to time to replace those who returned to India or to increase the numbers. There


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were police barracks where most of them lived. A small Gurdwara at one end of the barracks possibly founded around 1910 served the religious needs of the Sikhs. The pay was from M$26 to 100-150 for Sergeant Major. One important personality of this period was S.M., Bishan Singh who having joined police before British intervention returned in 1920 after which he became a contractor – built the Alor Star water reservoir, planted rubber trees in Doubling estate, Kulim; built roads in Sungai Patani. Later he owned rubber estates in Southern Thailand and in Changloon in Northen Kedah. Apart from the police there were Sikh warders. In 1906 there were about seventeen of them. Others became watchmen. Using this as a base many of them indulged in money lending business as well. A section of them kept cattle which provided them milk for self-consumption and for sale. Many owned bullock-carts which were the main means of transport for building material for roads, railways and other structures. There were also Sikhs who worked as labourers on the railway line to Alor Star. In the field of agriculture there were a few Sikhs who owned rubber estates to the north of Alor Star and in central and south Kedah. Some even tried their hand at rice growing. Some Sikhs had vast stretches of land for growing paddy and one or two leading rice cultivators returned to Punjab only in the second half of twentieth century. Before the war there were very few who had English education. These people worked mainly in government service – hospital, post office, police, court, Public Works Department and other government departments. A few worked in the private sector: There was a cloth merchant and an outstanding licensed money lender who could be labeled as ‘millionaire’ of the time in Kedah. Those who were illiterate took a lot of trouble to learn Punjabi language especially in the police force. Not only did they learn to read and write Gurumukhi, they also picked up Romanized and Jawi scripts to learn Malay. Whether educated or not, all of them had the awareness to send their children to English schools – an effort which paid dividends in the post war period. Like the other immigrant communities in Malaya, the Sikhs in Kedah did not settle to live here. They knew they were there to earn some money and go back to Punjab. 1941-1945 This was the period of Japanese occupation as a part of the Second World War which began in 1939 in Europe. People suffered a lot of

Sikhs in Malaysia


hardships. Basic needs such as food and clothing were difficult to get. Most of the Sikhs turned to animal husbandry because the Sikhs of that time still had the skills of cattle rearing with them. The cattle provided them with milk and milk products such as ghee for home use. Sale of milk provided them with cash to buy other things. The rearing of cattle provided them with bulls which were trained to pull carts. These bullock carts were a very important means of transport. In every town there was a bullock-cart station, from where people could easily hire them. Not only were the bullock-carts used for local transport within the town but were also used for long distance. The Japanese used to hire tens of bullock-carts from Alor Star to Kulim (a distance of 70 miles) to transport rice. These carts traveled in convoys and the return journey took a week. English schools closed during this period. This means the education of many was interrupted. Some went to Malay primary schools where Japanese language was taught. In 1943 the Japanese handed control of Kedah to Siam and the students had to learn Malay and Siamese language. Wheat flour was not available. Punjabis had to make do with rice or chapattis made from of a kind of black grain. Some even tried to make chapattis with rice flour. Even rice and sugar were rationed. Most people got used to drinking tea or milk without sugar. Open sale of rice was prohibited but some smuggling was going on – some men used to come to the houses under cover of darkness and deliver rice very secretly at the back of the houses. Sometimes people bought paddy and pounded it themselves to get the rice. Sikhs in Kedah were mainly concentrated in Alor Star, Sungai Patani and Kulim but there was a sprinkling of them in places like Jitra, Bedong, Gurun, Baling but the most homogeneous group was in Gua Cempedaksituated 19 miles south of Alor Star. There were almost 10 families who earned their living through cattle rearing and using bullock carts for transport. The most striking thing was that they used to have Akhand Path annually in different houses by rotation and the whole community would go all out to do ‘sewa’ with full heart and in between listen to Gurbani. Many from Alor Star would go there to attend the function. Whenever there was a ‘jorh mela’ in Alor Star they would go there in full force. During this period, there was a complete stop in the trips to and from India. For the first time since WW I, the Sikhs were cut off from their dear ones in India. Therefore the Gurdwara became even more important as a focal point of gathering not only for religious purposes but also for social needs. The Police Gurdwara mentioned ear-


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

lier seemed to have stopped functioning during this period. The SGGS and other paraphernalia were transferred to main Gurdwara in Jalan Langar which was very active by now. This Gurdwara began after World War I, probably in the 1920s. 1945-1957 With the surrender of the Japanese after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the British returned to rule Malaya. The post-War period saw many changes which affected the whole country. English schools reopened and many whose schooling was interrupted went back to school. Perhaps for the first time some were taken direct as Police Inspectors. During this period a few Sikhs also joined in the police band. With the formation of the Federation in 1948, the Kedah police force came under central control and thus Sikhs in the police force became transferable. Two Sikhs who joined as constables and rose to higher ranks are worth mentioning. One was Gurbaksh Singh who eventually retired as ASP and the other was Didar Singh who retired as DSP. The momentum of Sikhs joining police slowed down although many did join during the emergency period. People who were rearing cattle gradually reduced their numbers and did away with bullock carts as other opportunities cropped up. Many became watchmen in banks, rice-mills, schools and other government department. Moneylending continued as a parttime vocation to complement their incomes. Some business activities though small are worth taking note of. Apart from those who sold milk from their own cows, there were a number of people who collected buffalo milk from Malay paddy farmers and sold it in town. Malays kept buffaloes to plough the fields and did not have much use for the milk. Therefore, they readily milked their buffaloes, and supplied milk to these milk vendors. This activity had perhaps begun much earlier during the Japanese occupation. But it was well marked at this time. There were also a group of Sikhs who took to selling cloth. They used to go on bicycle to places a few miles away wherever there were weekly markets. There was another peculiar business which was the precursor to hiring cars. A Sikh who worked as a security guard in Overseas Chinese Bank owned about 15-20 trishaws and had them hired. In the evening he would go and collect $1.00 from each of them. This was good income at that time. As soon as the War ended many went to Punjab to meet their relatives. Some did not come back but majority returned. Sometimes new immigrants

Sikhs in Malaysia


came as the law was still liberal. 1953 was the final year until which Sikhs continued to come to Kedah though it was a trickle compared to pre-War years. Due to political changes in Malaya, the outlook of the Sikhs changed. They were now more willing to settle and invest. New citizenships laws required them to make a decision. In most cases families decided to adopt this country as their home. But the wind of independence which began to flow in the mid-1950s had some worried. They remembered bloodshed and poor treatment in Burma. A few went back due to this fear but the majority stayed behind. It was usual those days for men to go to India and bring brides from there. This period saw some go back and return with Indian wives. After 1957 this trend fizzled out. In fact local marriages began to increase from the time the War ended. 1957-2000 With Malaya achieving independence, Kedah Sikhs like their brethren elsewhere began to show more commitment to this country as they regarded it as their home. Sending money to India was no more upper most in their minds. Indeed they began to invest in this country and to spend money on education of their children. Traditional occupations as in pre and post war period continued but with changing trends. There was no more recruitment of police constables from Indian arrivals. Instead some local young men joined the police. Some even with senior Cambridge certificate joined direct as Inspectors and rose to higher ranks. An example is Gurdial Singh Grewal who retired as SP. There were a number of boys who on passing their Senior Cambridge joined government service. In those days joining government service was considered very prestigious. It was during this period that there was a significant increase in the number of Sikh professionals in Kedah who achieved high status and fame in their chosen professions as auditors, doctors, surgeons, dentists, engineers, educationists, pilots, etc. With the above changes in occupation and with the industrial development of the country there has been a shift in population. Alor Star which had the most Sikhs at one time probably has the least now. Many professionals mentioned above and others moved to KL/ Klang Valley. Sungai Patani and Kulim become areas with a lot of factories and this has led to these areas having more Sikhs. Sungai Patani is now the most populated area in Kedah.



Malaysia has a population of 30 million, out of which the majority is comprised of Bhumiputras (61 per cent), Muslims (50 per cent) and others (11 per cent). Chinese form about 25 per cent and Indians 7 per cent (85 per cent south Indians). Under the affirmative action policy, first priority goes to Malays–Bhumiputras. All businesses have to include a Malay partner. All top posts, including Government, go to Malays. This discrimination is very apparent: for instance at one time, sponsored Malay students were given first class return ticket to go abroad, whereas nonMalays got economy class tickets. There is now some dilution of this policy. The economy is presently being run by the Chinese and Indians. All university vacancies are reserved for Malays, but now some spots are allocated to minorities. The Chinese have set up their own universities fully manned by Chinese staff with admission reserved for Chinese only. The Indians have no such institutions. The Government is now realizing that these actions have led to lowering of standards. Foreign investors are recruiting graduates other than the Malays. All Gurdwara lands are owned by the Malay Government (freeholds) and the Government can get the Gurdwaras to move out anytime. The country does allow freedom of religious practices. However, any move by Sikhs towards organizing protests about Indian Government policies in India is firmly clamped. The Malaysian view being – we allow you to live in our country, if you want to protest, leave Malaysia and go to India. Therefore Khalistan is a dead issue amongst Malay Sikhs. One does not see any photographs of Bhindranwale in any Malay Gurdwaras. The Sikhs seem to have surmounted these hurdles as a community by being highly organized. Though, one heard of some conversions to Islam and marriages to Malay partners to take advantage of Malay opportunities – such unions are quite rare. The scene in Malaysia is still somewhat different from that in Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. HUDUD LAW

The pan-Malaysia Islamic Party, or PAS, is pushing for approval from Parliament to introduce strict Islamic Hudud laws (includ-

Sikhs in Malaysia


ing amputation and stoning) in north-eastern Malaysia. PAS is part of a three-party opposition coalition, which has ruled in the north-eastern state of Kelantan since the 1990s. Its strict administration includes separate check-out lanes for men and women in supermarkets. In February, gender segregation was extended to hair salons. Last month, the national government and the Kelantan administration agreed to set up a technical committee. The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Sikhism and Taoism are opposing application of the above law. DEVELOPING CRISIS IN MALAYSIA! (The Sikh Review, March 2014) The ‘Allah’ issue has become very complicated because it is being used by some Malay politicians to arouse the sentiments of Malay Muslims to unnecessarily claim that Islam is under threat! Even the judges of the Appeal Court (who were all Malay Muslims) muddied the situation by ignoring the facts and the relevant law and instead declaring that word, Allah was not integral to Christianity. Even today the King of the country who is also Sultan of one of the states is reported to have declared that word Allah is exclusive to Muslims. The problem started when some Malay Muslims, who are a majority community and hold the reins of power in this country, felt threatened that the Christians might convert the Malay Muslims to Christianity by confusing them that Allah is common. They also created some other fears in the minds of both the public and the politicians and managed to pass laws through state Legislatures, with the participation of non-Muslim MLAs who did not then realize the gravity and the likely abuse later of these laws! The law was titled Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation among Muslim) Enactment. Each of the nine states passed this law including restriction or prohibition of the use of many words which they erroneously declared to be Muslim. A Religious Authority of Muslims raided the Bible Society premises and carted away about three hundred Bibles in Indonesian language alleging that it contained the word ‘Allah’. These Bibles have still not been returned. The Muslims in this country are free to convert others to Islam, but they do not allow Muslims to be converted to other religions. Many Sikh boys and girls have converted to Islam for one reason or another and now are in a limbo as in this country you cannot convert out of Islam!


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

We are facing many problems because of one-way ticket to Islam. AS OTHERS SEE THE SIKHS IN MALAYSIA

1. SIKH GURDWARAS IN CHINA AND THE FAR EAST (By Mahinder Singh [ex-IFS, New Delhi], Sikh Review, March 2000) From 1964 to 1967 I happened to be posted as Head of the Indian Chancery, High Commission of India, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) and, in between for some time, I also acted as Head of the then Indian Post in Singapore which was then a constituent of the Malaysian Federation. In Kuala Lumpur then I found there were fourteen Gurdwaras named after Malwa, Majha, or Doab as they were patronised by Sikh immigrants from these parts of the Punjab. Some Gurdwaras were named after nearby locality or road too. I found each Gurdwara used to celebrate Gurpurb separately and there was a big competition among them and each used to vie with other in serving best food in Guru ka Langar. The representatives of each Gurdwara before the Gurpurb used to come to me in the High Commission that I should visit their Gurdwara first. The population of Sikhs in Malaysia maybe about fifty thousands, amidst the total population of the country of 15.6 million. Sikhs were mostly holding high position such as in government, doctors, engineers, or big traders. Dato (Sir) Ajit Singh travel agency firm was well known and he, on every New Year day, used to hold Akhand Path Bhog, followed by Kirtan and langar for the whole Indian community at his house.

2. SIKHS IN MALAYSIA: SOME HISTORICAL NOTES4 (By Malkiat Singh Lopo-Dhaliwal) This account basically says that Sikhs came to Malaya before the contingent brought by Capt. Speedy in 1873. It is likely that Sikhs in small numbers must have been in Malaysia earlier than that. Sardar Khushwant Singh, a famous Sikh Historian, writes: ‘It is not unlikely that from the time Sir Stamford Raffles took Singapore in 1819, Sikhs from Malwa started coming to this region to seek their fortunes’. Although the Sikh Kingdom of Punjab was not annexed until 1848, parts of the Malwa territory came under British protection in 1809 as a result of the Treaty of Amritsar’.

Sikhs in Malaysia


In the course of my research I have come across documentary evidence which indicates some of the Sikh political leaders exiled abroad were sent to Malaysia. Lady Isabella Bird and Mr. Charles Burton Buckley are authors who have recorded incidents involving early Sikh detainees in Malaysia and Singapore. Isabella Bird when writing about the Singapore jail mentioned the various races in the jail. She writes: ‘The men from India are Sheikhs, Dogras etc. The ‘Sheikhs’ referred to are perhaps Sikhs. Incidentally, the Dogras, too, had strong political links with the history of the Sikh Kingdom. In September 1863 there was a report in the Singapore Free Press regarding a small outbreak in the Singapore jail. About one hundred ‘generally powerful, daring’ Sikhs made an attempt to escape. These Sikhs had been brought to Singapore from the Allipore jail in India. The attempt was initially successful but failed because other Indian prisoners in the jail helped the jail authorities to capture the runaways. The Sikhs did not surrender quietly. As a result they were given ‘severe punishment’ as heavy defaulters and kept in irons. The first Sikhs to reach East Malaysia were also political persons. After the Indian Mutiny 1857, the British Government in London asked Rajah Sir James Brooke if Sarawak would absorb Indians exiled from British India for their participation in the Mutiny. The Rajah agreed to accept non-Muslims only. The British Government obliged and sent some Sikhs and Hindus. Their descendants are still in Sarawak and are respected members of the Indian Community. However, my research has provided me with documentary evidence that Sikhs were already in the employment of the Government of the Straits Settlements as well as various local Malay Chiefs before 1872. For example, in July 1871, when the H.M.S. Rinaldo shelled the fort at Kuala Selangor, Sikhs took part in it. This incident took place after some Chinese pirates had plundered a junk. The event is recorded by R.O. Winsted in the history of Salangor. Selangor at this time was ruled by Sultan Abdul Samad. The Sultan had appointed Tengku Kudin, a prince from Kedah, who had married the Sultan’s daughter, as the Viceroy of Selangor. When the Renaldo had shelled his enemies out of Kuala Selangor, the Viceroy Tengku Kudin garrisoned the place with 100 Sikhs and some 30 or 40 of his Kedah followers. The officer of the Sikhs was a European named PenneFather. Many of these Sikhs were later killed. This account shows there were already Sikhs employed by the British before Captain Speedy’s recruitment. I am sure there were many more Sikhs in Malaya besides those mentioned here.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

3. THE EARLIEST ARRIVAL OF THE SIKHS IN MALAYA (By Rajindar Singh Bedi, a paper presented at Colloquium on ‘Indians in Penang: A Historical Perspective’, Penang Haritage Trust, 22 September 2001). Watchmen (Jagas) The history of the Sikhs in Penang cannot be separated from this profession. Initially the foreign trading houses employed Sikhs as watchmen in their business premises and godowns. Soon they were employed to guard their residences. Soon large and small Chinese businesses started employing Sikhs to guard their premises. These ‘Jagas’ were present till the early 1970s when uniformed security personnel started being employed. There are only a few old men who are still employed as watchmen today. Some of these watchmen also went into money lending as a part time business to supplement their incomes. My father’s salary as a watchman in the Runnymede Hotel in Penang in 1937 was $13 per month. Seeing the value of education, these watchmen led a frugal life and sent their children to school. SOME IMPORTANT PERSONALITIES

1. Dato Ajaib Singh (1927-95): Supreme Court and High Court Judge. 2. Tan Sri Dato Ajit Singh: Ambassador to Vietnam, Austria, Brazil and Germany; Secretary General ASEAN. 3. Amar Singh Sandhu: District Councilor; President Malaysian Gurdwara Council. 4. Subedar Major Bahal Singh (1872-1920): First Sikh Justice of Peace, Kedah. 5. Bhan Singh: First Sikh Justice of Peace, Selangor (1919). 6. Dato Chet Singh: Senator Malaysian Parliament (1995-7). 7. Tan Sri Dato Seri Darshan Singh Gill: Magistrate and Justice of Peace; President, Malaysian National Cycling Federation. President, Malaysia National Sikhs Movement – GERAK-SIKH. 8. Gurnam Singh: Headmaster and Trade Unionist. 9. Harcharan Singh: President Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Bahai. 10. Harjit Singh Hullon: Newscaster/TC News Editor, Head

Sikhs in Malaysia

11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 19. 20.


International Unit, TV News, RTM (more details are given separately). Hon. Karpal Singh: Member Parliament, and State Assemblyman. Datuk T. Mahima Singh Dhaliwal: Member of Parliament (1959-69). Dr. Parmjit Singh: President, Malaysian Association of Private Colleges and Universities; CEO, APIIT. Datuk Ranjit Ajit Singh: Managing Director, Securities Commission of Malaysia. Brigdier General Dato Ranjit Singh Gill: Commanding Officer, Kluhag & Subang Air Bases. SAC I(R)U. Santokh Singh (1925-84): Officer-in-charge of various Police Districts. Tan Sri Sarwan Singh Gill, Chief Judge of Malaysia, 1974-9. Tarlochan Singh, National Archer and Sikh Activist. Dr Karminder Singh, Director Anti-Terrorist Cell and Advisor, Deputy P.M. SOME INTERESTING PERSONALITIES

HARJIT SINGH HULLON I am giving him special coverage because his appearance on local TV as a newscaster in Bahasa Malaysia completly floored me on my visit to Malaysia in the 1970s. As a TV newscaster, the turbaned Sikh has created an iconic position. An article in says: Sikh-Malaysian Harjit Singh Hullon: TV News Icon, SIFY A Sikh-Malaysian has set a new record as the ‘Longest serving television news presenter’ after working 38-years with Radio Television Malaysia (RTM). Harjit Singh Hullon, 57, who said that it has always been his dream to appear on television, was awarded this title by the Malaysia Book of Records on 25 January 2011. Harjit, joined RTM as a radio DJ in 1972. The bilingual newscaster, known for his flawless Bahasa Malaysia and English, won the inaugural Information Minister’s Special Award at the Angkasapuri Awards presentation ceremony in 2006. As a regular and familiar face to


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

viewers of RTM as well as being the only Sikh newscaster on the channel, Harjit said his friends have given another meaning to the acronym ‘RTM’. ‘My friend’s say it stands for ‘Regular Turbaned Man’, he joked. Another humorous anecdote mischievously related by Harjit is on meeting a lady. ‘Have I seen you before?’ a woman once asked. ‘Yes, of course, I think so. Let me think . . . I came to your house,’ he said. ‘NOOO’, she exclaimed. He continued, ‘I think I came to your house. . . . In fact I think I even came to your bedroom’. The woman looked at him incredulously. ‘Hold on, hold on,’ he said, ‘do you have a television set in your bedroom? I read the news . . . you may have watched me whilst in your bedroom,’ he grinned.


(By Prabhjot Singh, Tribune News Service, Chandigarh, 4 May 2008) Malaysian ethnic Punjabi Karpal Singh and son Gobind Singh Deu have created history by becoming the first-ever father-son duo to be elected members of a Parliament in the world. The only parallel of two members of an ethnic family getting elected to the highest House of a country has been in Canada where the husband-wife team of Gurmant Grewal and Neena Grewal got into the House of Commons from British Columbia province some years ago. A lawyer by profession, Karpal Singh is also the chairman of the main Opposition party, the Democratic Action Party (DAP). Known in Malaysia as ‘Tiger of Jelutong’, Karpal now moves in a wheelchair following a major road accident in 2005. Though Karpal originally comes from Punjab, he and his family are known to have stood against injustice and fought many an important court cases in Malaysia.


Sardar (Colonel) Dara Singh was the head of the Perak state Tribal and Aboriginal Affairs Department in 1958. Later he was transferred to become the Head Game Keeper of Penang State Wildlife Department. He also headed the same departments in Negeri Sembiland and Selangor states. Very few Sikhs, even in Malaysia, would know that Colonel Dara Singh had a colourful past. He was born in Taiping, Perak, but went on travels to

Sikhs in Malaysia


China in his youth, where he joined the Kuomintang National Army of Chiang Kai Shek fighting against Mao Tse Tung’s communists. He is the single recorded and known Malayan or nonChinese to have fought in the National Army of any Chinese Government. Because of his hard work, and commitment and bravery in battles, he was made a Colonel in the Kuomintang army and awarded by Chiang Kai Shek personally. CASE STUDIES

JAZTAR AND AMBIKA SINGH Jaztar Singh, our host in Kuala Lumpur during our November 2014 visit, got his name spelling changed inadvertently from Jagtar to Jaztar. His ancestors belonged to Thunda village, dist. Amritsar, tahsil Taran Taran. His grandfather came to Indonesia not as a policeman but more as a businessman. Jaztar’s grand parents lived in Barastagi, up in the mountains, 2-3 hours’ drive from Medan. He was quite well off – moneylending was one of his businesses. Jaztar was born in 1961 in Indonesia. So were his elder sister and two brothers. Other two younger siblings were born in Malaysia. Jaztar’s father had moved to Malaya, Penang, in 1948 after their grandfather’s death. Jaztar’s father was not educated even though he had once desired to. His grandfather felt that since he had lots of money, there was no need for his children to study. Jaztar’s father was born in 1916 in Indonesia and died in Malaysia in 1996. Jaztar’s mother was born in India, village Jamarai. Jaztar’ father had great love for land and moved to the Kuala Lumpur area to practice agriculture and cow-rearing. After settling down in Kuala Lumpur, he had to go back to Indonesia during the war, as he was with the Dutch Army for a short period. He had cut his hair, and was away in Java a long time while Jaztar’s mother held fort in Malaysia. She was tired of cows! Everyone was getting jobs – so she felt one needed a salary. According to her, education was the answer. Jaztar’s elder brother went to Kishen Dayal School, a private charitable school. Jaztar


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

had to work at home, cut grass for the cows very early in the morning every day. His father bought some buffaloes in addition to the cows they had. Small houses were available for MR 5,000. The mother told his father to buy houses, arguing that their lands, though vast, were not legal and would sometime be taken away. But his father preferred the vastness of land and looked down upon small houses and small land holdings. The buffaloes and cows started dying after eating red clay. Then a train accident killed some of the cows. Thereafter, his father walked away from cow herding. He went out to work, first in dredging in the tin mines. The British mine owners left in the 1970s, so his father became a night guard instead. In the meantime, the Government allotted two legal plots for their illegal land. Jaztar’s eldest brother studied up till Form 6 (high school). The other brother did not study but looked after the cows. Jaztar went to high school, but did not finish Form 6. He had plans to go to Europe, first to work and then maybe study. He had two Indian Muslim friends who also had similar plans. Each needed MR 5,000 for the air ticket as they were hoping to get jobs on arrival and if unsuccessful, they would come back. His friend Abu went first but had to return due to an incident. When Jaztar met him, he recommended that he join Les Roches International School of Hotel Management, Crans-Montana, Switzerland. The curriculum involved six months study and six months training at hotels. Based on Abu’s information and advice, Jaztar borrowed money from his father, brother, and mother and managed to collect MR 7,000. He was able to get admission through an agency in Malaysia. The school fee was MR 15,000, including stay and food. He landed there and was awestruck by the place. It was a complete change, like living in a luxury palace: you lived in a hotel, rooms were cleaned, laundry was done, and food was free! It was a three year course. Every six months they worked at his hotels or in the food and beverage industry. Hard work was recognized. Jaztar met his future wife Ambika in his third year of school. They worked for six months at the same hotel, staying together as partners. Ambika told her mother about Jaztar. Ambika’s father, followed by sister and brother-in-law, came over to Swit-

Sikhs in Malaysia


zerland to check out Jaztar. Postgraduation, Jaztar worked illegally in a restaurant in Montreaux for two years while Ambika worked legally for a year. Jaztar’s mother had told him not to come back as he would not get a good job since there was a recession in Malaysia at that time and jobs were hard to come by. After a tour of Europe, Jaztar came back in 1987. Soon thereafter he went to Bombay to meet Ambika’s parents. They were then in the process of moving to New Delhi. He went along. After a month in New Delhi, Jaztar returned to Malaysia to find that his mother had cancer. He started a business and at the same time looked after her mother. He opened a snooker centre. It was recession time – so business was hard. In February 1988, his mother passed away. Thereafter he looked after his father. At this stage he called Ambika even though he wasn’t settled. She obliged and Jaztar’s father arranged their wedding in PJ Gurdwara and the marriage was duly registered. She applied for a permanent visa but was only granted a renewable visa for a year at a time. She had to go to Singapore annually to renew her visa after assuring the Malaysian Embassy each time that she was truly married and that they were still living as a couple. In 1991, she had her first miscarriage. Thereafter, she went to all the Gurdwaras to seek blessings. They had four children – two boys and two girls. The snooker business flourished and they also started a used cars business. Along with Jaztar’s father, they moved to a better location in 1993. They decided to open a pub as well, which became a success. There was even coverage in the newspapers about a young couple from Switzerland running a successful pub. They expanded this business together. In the meantime the political climate was undergoing a change towards islamization and the Government wanted the pub to close down. In Malaysia, to run a night club was like asking for trouble: ‘panga laina’! The owner of the building, however, did not want them to leave. He encouraged them to fight their case for reopening the pub. They tried for one and a half years. Troubles continued but finally they were allowed to re-open and his license was reissued. Ambika by now was tired out. She went to the Golden Temple in Amritsar with her mother and prayed to get out of the pub business. After six months, the owner agreed


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

and it took them three months to clear all the equipment and convert it into a store. So now Ambika had more time with her family. In between all of this, Jaztar started a real estate business as a consultant. Now he works as a negotiator, and gets commission only from the seller. He deals mostly with Chinese. Business goes up and down. Two and a half years were good. People started selling smaller properties to buy bigger properties. All this was possible through a network of friends who became clients. They also started to deal with property rentals. Initially, Ambika worked with Jaztar. The real estate markets had a downturn again because of the increase in interest rates. In a tragic case of how greedy Indians can be where NRI properties are involved, Jaztar’s family experience, though very sad, is worth narrating. His father had farm land in his ancestral village, which he was managing through frequent visits to Punjab. The land was being looked after by relatives. After his father’s death, his two brothers went to their village to set up future arrangements for the land. Outwardly everyone was very polite and welcoming, but instead both were murdered. There is no solace in the fact that the culprits have been arrested. The legal case is still going on in the courts of Punjab. DR. MOHAN SINGH

He is a medical doctor born in 1945 in India. His grandfather came in the early 1900s and reared cows. He had five sons and two daughters. Mohan came to Malaysia when very young, with his mother. His maternal grandfather (Nana Ji) also migrated to Penang. Mohan’s father did Senior Cambridge from Lahat village in Malaysia. He kept cows and became a clerk in a hospital. Despite his small income, he invested in the education of his children. Mohan went to Amritsar after his Senior Cambridge in 1965 – the year of the Indo-Pak war. He was in India till 1973. He did his pre university education after which he joined the Amritsar Medical College in 1967. In 1969 he had to migrate to Srinagar to complete his medical degree. The Amritsar Medical College, which was earlier affiliated to Panjab Univer-

Sikhs in Malaysia


sity, got affiliated to the newly set up Guru Nanak Dev University, which at that time was unknown and not recognized in Malaysia. However, the Srinagar Medical College was recognized in Malaysia. Mohan graduated in 1972 post which he did his internship in India for a year. Upon his return to Malaysia in 1973, he did his housemanship for one year. At that time, one was obliged to do compulsory service either in the military or in the rural areas for two years. He became a Medical Officer with the Ministry of Health. He did not like the job and opted for Short Service Commission with the Army. He was selected for a course in radiology and was sent to UK by the Army. He had, however, to post a bond which he did. He reached the rank of Colonel. Sensing no further future because of Bhumiputra’s affirmative policy, he resigned and set up his own practice. There was a ceiling for non-Bhumis, the only exception being that of Major General Datuk Mohan Das, whom we met at a club. In a significant observation Dr Mohan Singh said that his batchmate, a Bhumiputra, had failed his course in UK but still got promoted to the rank of Major General, while he could not go higher than a Colonel. The trend to favour Malaysians started in the late 1980s and intensified in the 1990s. Some of the nonBhumis showed their resentment in the military by putting the right hand facing down when they were required to stand straight and put both hands in front of the face as in Muslim prayers. After a year, they were compulsorily required to put their hands upwards, as in prayer. At one time in the army, 95 per cent were non-Malays but now they are no more than 25-30 per cent. When the British left, they formed the first Malaya Regiment but post-independence, the Government decided that in future, the backbone of the military will be Malays. In Technical, Reconnaissance and Medical areas of the Army, mixed Battalions were permitted. For every two Malaya Battalions, there was one mixed Battalion. However, the Medical corps were made up of 50-60 per cent Indians, but now even that comprises of 80 per cent Malay. While he was in India, Mohan got married in 1972. At that time Malaysian matches were not favoured. The preference was to look for a spouse from those settled in the West. His


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

father-in-law was a chemist from USA. Mohan has one son and two daughters – all of them are doctors. His youngest son and daughter-in-law live in Singapore. One of his daughters studied medicine in Ireland. She is a marathon runner, deep sea rescuer, and now a scuba diver. Her husband is qualified as a lawyer, but after practicing for one year has now become an investment banker. Her father-in-law was a Secretary to Penang City Council, now an Advisor. Dr. Mohan Singh highlighted the important role played by the Gurdwara in his formative years and is unhappy with Sikhs migrating to other countries, forgetting their cultural heritage and traditions. According to him Sikhs have done well in Malaysia despite the affirmative action policies. He cited the example of Manjit Singh Hundal who was a past president of Selangor Club (very similar to the Bombay Gymkhana) where we were having lunch. Another important example is Ranjit Ajit Singh, Chairman of the Securities Commission, a Sikh one star General, and several senior officials in the Police Forces. Sikhs have done well in civil services but now there is a ceiling. Many Sikhs are now turning to the private sector, where no discrimination exists, at least so far. The textile business is a popular arena. Sikh women have also done well especially in teaching and medicine. Amongst young people, there is a trend to migrate out, especially to Australia. JASPREET KAUR

A fourth generation Malaysian, recently moved to Singapore (Interviewed in Singapore on 29 October 2014) In Malaysia, the issue of Bhumiputra negatively affects Sikhs and other minorities. A sense of unfairness prevails. There are limited vacancies for minorities in Government jobs and there is little scope for rising to senior levels. People strive for Government jobs because of the perquisites such as free medical for the whole family. Jaspreet’s great grandfather, Maha Singh, arrived in the late

Sikhs in Malaysia


1800s. His sons followed him. It was easy to migrate as both countries were part of the British Empire. Jobs were available in the police, or as ‘Jaga’ (watchman), or for cow herding. He served in the police till the Japanese occupation, which caused the exodus of the British. There were no jobs left except for some cow herding and tapioca farming. For the occupying Japanese, Sikhs were not a threat. However, times were hard. Schools were closed and education was disrupted. Her grandmother had to make shorts for the children out of gunny bag material. Her father was born in 1931 in Tronoh, Perak State where her grandfather was located for a short period. He later moved to Seremban in the state of Negeri Sembilan, now Jaspreet’s home town. His father and brothers went to King George the Fifth School and finished high school. After the defeat of the Japanese, Jaspreet’s grandfather got back his job with the police. Her father became interested in studying Law. He started with correspondence courses, and took some exams. For his final year, he had to go to the UK. He was there for two years. Upon his return, he started practicing law. He chambered with another lawyer, who later became the Sultan of Perak. Despite being low down in the line of succession, he got lucky as all those senior to him died – so he became the Sultan! Jaspreet’s father dabbled with politics for a while as he had the right contacts. He became one of the founding members of the Gerakan Party, a Malaysian secular party. He fought an election but lost. All this was before he got married in early 1968 in Punjab. Jaspreet has an older brother who is a cardiologist. He studied in Manipal, India. Considering their numbers, Sikhs form a disproportionately large number of professionals in Malaysia. For Jaspreet, admission in Malaysia University was difficult. She also had to go to Manipal for two and a half years, returning in 1999. She finished her radiology course in Malacca, as clinicals have to be done in Malaysia, in order to be able to work there. Interestingly in Manipal, Malaysians formed the largest number of foreign students. Upon her return, Jaspreet worked as a radiologist, an hour south of her home town. Starting in 2003, she worked in ten different hospitals. The Government decides the posting and you


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

are obliged to accept. In her case, the bond executed by her for the study of radiology was under the Government scheme. In that case, if you want to join a private hospital, you have to repay the subsidy. The Government has an ambitious plan of making Malaysia a medical tourism hub. All Government hospitals are linked up, each specializing in a different field. They are affordable and medicines are free. It is easy to see a medical specialist. Jaspreet is married to a second-generation Sikh in Singapore, a banker with HSBC, while her brother got married in India. They maintain strong family connection in India. There are more than 100,000 Sikhs in Malaysia. The young meet at samelans, run by the Sikh Naujawan Sabha. Marriages are mostly within the community to keep the Sikh traditions, and linkages with Punjab, Jaspreet’s father married in India, seaking his origins and identity. Zaban chalni chahidi hai is what he used to say. They spoke more English than Punjabi at home, and Malay at school. Malay language was considered a valuable asset. In her grandparents’ time (1980s), they and their children spoke Malay. Later on, they realized that if they don’t speak Punjabi, the kids will never know their own language. In an effort to revive the mother tongue, 10-15 years ago, each Gurdwara offers Punjabi language lessons by native speakers as an honorary service. The young enjoyed learning Punjabi despite the fact that most of them spoke mainly English at their homes. Sikh identity is getting eroded and is at a low of 50 per cent. In the beginning, Sikhs cut their hair but continued to don turbans. Later, they discarded their turbans too. Now they wear them at Gurdwaras only. They maintain that they are being made fun of when they wear a turban. Jaspreet’s brother is proud to wear the turban. Jaspreet’s husband, however, doesn’t. Now young Sikhs prefer to migrate to Australia or North America, which, she feels, can cause the loss of their traditional values. She thinks it is better to ‘know your enemy’ and hence does not want to migrate. Singapore is increasingly being dominated by the Chinese who in her words can be very arrogant, while the Bhumiputras of Malaysia are friendlier at the individual level. Roots are important and there is a degree of com-

Sikhs in Malaysia


fort being in Malaysia. It is easier to maintain Punjabi values in Asia, as compared to the West, despite the fact that in Malaysia, mosques are everywhere. Even the schools practice Muslim prayers. The Sikh diaspora leaves its mark through a private Sikh school in Kuala Lumpur, the Khalsa School in Medan, Indonesia, and the Gurpuri Foundation run by Sukhdev Singh, who opened his house to orphans and the poor and takes care of them through donations. SNSM: INTERVIEW WITH SOME PIONEER ORGANIZERS

Interviewed: Amarjit Singh, Umrao Singh, Master Daljit Singh, and Autar Singh, 2 November 2014. Details on SNSM have been given earlier. Some other observations are being mentioned here. 1. SNSM Annual Camps: attendance has increased manifold. In 1963, the total number of participants was 18 but now there are more than 1,000 girls and boys. The participants are subdivided into several categories. The youngest are called ‘Nikka Khalsa’ and their parents come with them. Then are the ‘Mighty Khalsa’: 5-11 years of age followed by the Miri Piri: 13-16 years of age. Girls and boys are treated as equals. Older members are sevadars who take classes or prepare the langar, work as security, or at the Darbar Sahib. A total of 1,200 persons stay in residence at the camp for a week. The camp is normally held in the third week of December. Attendance at ‘Asa di Waar’ is optional but all attend ‘Nit Nem’. Assemblies have inspirational sessions and kirtan goes on continuously. Many visitors come in the mornings and go back at night. Camps have been organized in Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, and Australia, Southeast Asia and even India. 2. Khalsa Diwan Malaysia is the oldest organization. They hold Punjabi classes in every Gurdwara, normally on Saturdays, from 2.30 to 6.30 p.m. There are about 200 students across 47 centres in Malaysia.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

3. The occupational profile of Sikhs has undergone a major change over the years. The second generation was predominantly teachers, as educated Sikhs joined this profession. As children of the third generation had opportunities to pursue higher studies, they are opting for professions such as law and medicare. Today there are more than 600 Sikh lawyers and doctors in the country. Earlier on, Government jobs were preferred as they provided security and pension. Some Sikhs also joined the Malaysian Army. Brigadier-General Ranjit Singh (clean shaven) was a one star General. In the police there were some senior officers, like Assistant Commissioners, and Deputy Commissioner. S.S. Gill was Chief Judge, who kept a turban. Even now there are two well-known Judges, Harminder Singh and Jagjit Singh. Those who are ambitious are now not joining Government jobs because of limited opportunities to reach the top. Lately, some Sikhs have joined private companies. Some are starting their own businesses, both small and large. 4. Travel to India is common, and mainly to Amritsar, Hemkund Sahib. For the ladies, it is usually done for shopping especially for Indian dresses. 5. Sikhs are quite active in community service. As an example, the Titiwanga Gurdwara does ‘langar sewa’ at hospitals by providing packed rotis and daal to the patients. Even nonSikhs get free langar. Every Sunday, members of Sikh Social Groups go to the prison after getting permission from the prison officials and give motivational and inspirational talks. HARCHARAN SINGH Sikh Council, Kuala Lumpur. Member, Council of Non-Muslims, viz., The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST). There are at present no Khalsa Schools but some institutions teach Punjabi. In the past, three Khalsa Schools existed. There are 119 Gurdwaras; Gurpuri is an orphanage run by Sikhs. There are not less than 2,50,000 Sikhs in Malaysia, including Sabah and Sarawak. Numbers are declining due to outward migration, conversion to Islam and Christianity and inter-marriage.

Sikhs in Malaysia


Religious practices in the Gurdwaras, are not hampered by the Government. In fact, the Government offers financial support to minority religious institutions such as Gurdwaras. However, Gurdwaras have received no grants for the last three years. The Sikh Council feels that churches are beginning to have more clout. Even some Chinese schools are Government aided. When asked about linkages, if any, with the SGPC in India, Harcharan Singh lamented that it was most disheartening and disappointing that SGPC takes no interest whatsoever. The council of non-Muslims, viz., The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism is a non-profit interfaith organization. Formed in 1983, it is composed primarily of officials from the main non-Muslim faith communities and acts as a consultative and liaison body towards more open dialogue and cooperation. Sikhism is represented by The Sikh Council. One of the major issues presently is conversion. Once you are converted to Islam, you cannot go back. When Sikh-Muslim marriages break, many Sikhs want to come back but are unable to do so. Talking about Bhumiputras, he clarified that if one follows Malaysian customs, language and religion, one can become a Bhumiputra – a citizen of Malaysia. For example in Sabah, Pakistanis can become Bhumiputras almost overnight. For nonMuslims it is almost impossible to get that status even after having lived in Malaysia for generations. AMAR SINGH AND ISHAR SINGH Internet search: Sikhs overseas, accessed 11 October 2012. Three generations of Amar Singh’s family have been in the police force for over hundred years. Senior Asst Commissioner Datuk Amar Singh says that his father, Ishar Singh, was fated to come to Malaya because a soothsayer told him he would travel across the seas. After hearing this, he would pester his parents to let him leave Punjab and seek a better life elsewhere. Ishar’s opportunity to leave came through a villager named Karnail Singh. He was already in the Malayan police force and had returned to his village of Moosa for a visit. Both of them left Punjab via Calcutta


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

in 1938 when Ishar was eighteen years old. He had Rs. 80 with him. Like all Sikh recruits, Ishar was required to keep a turban as the British believed that it would ensure their loyalty to the Government. Ishar arrived in Penang and did odd jobs while waiting for an opportunity to join the police force. In 1939, he was accepted into the force and after his training, posted to Sitiawan, Perak. Ishar was a pioneer member of the police jungle squad which was first established during the Emergency. Squad members would stay in the jungle for up to two months at a time and keep shifting camp in pursuit of terrorists. Ishar retired as a Corporal in the Federated Malay States Police (FMSP) in 1971. He later worked as a security guard in the Kinta Omnibus workshop and passed away in 1999 at the age of 80. Ishar was a strict parent who emphasized the importance of education as he believed it was the only way for his children to improve their prospects. His strictness paid off as all his children graduated from University Malaya (UM). Amar’s sisters became teachers. Amar is a third-generation policeman as his maternal grandfather, Bachan Singh, was a constable in the police force too. Bachan journeyed to Malaya as a teenager in the early 1900s. Bachan retired in Klang in the 1940s. Amar, 54, never really aspired to a life in uniform. After graduating in 1982, he was toying with the idea of doing his Master’s degree. His father, however, advised him to apply to the police force, saying, ‘It will make a man out of you.’ Amar trained for six months at Pulapol (Police Training Centre) to become an Assistant Superintendent in Jalan Semarak, Kuala Lumpur, in 1983. He was the only Sikh in his batch of 19 trainees. The training was tough and Amar sometimes wondered as to what he was doing there. Something his uncle, Corp. Basant Singh, told him spurred Amar to stay on. He said in Punjabi: ‘Those salutes that your father and I have given, as rank and file policemen, collect them all back once you are an officer.’ Amar’s first posting was to his hometown in Ipoh in the crime unit, he has also had stints in Johor Baru and Klang. His last posting before his present position as Deputy KL CPO, was as the 40th and only Sikh Commandant of Pulapol from 2007 to 2010. As the

Sikhs in Malaysia


Head, Amar made it compulsory that all trainee officers go to their respective places of worship every day. ‘Spiritual guidance is the key to building character,’ he states. Amar also insisted that all Sikh trainees tie turban when performing their religious obligations at the Pulapol Gurdwara as ‘this makes you proud of whom and what you are’. As a senior Assistant Commissioner, Amar is the highest-ranking officer among the 279 Sikhs currently serving in the Royal Malaysia Police. Despite his pride in being a third generation policeman, it looks like there will be no fourth generation. None of Amar’s three sons by his wife Raj Kaur, a teacher, plan to follow in their father’s footsteps. The eldest, Harpreet Singh, 19, is doing medicine, Harprem Singh, 18, plans to do accountancy after his A-levels while Anil-prem Singh, 15, who is in Form Four, has set his sights on actuarial science. Amar is philosophical about this, realizing that with the better socio-economic standing of Sikhs, more options are now available to them. Like most Sikhs here, Amar still keeps in touch with his relatives in Punjab and has visited his father’s village several times. All his first cousins are still making a living as farmers, illustrating how truly life-changing Ishar’s decision to leave over seventy years ago was. HISTORY OF KHALSA DIWAN MALAYSIA ( Against the influence of Christian missionaries, Sikh leadership at Lahore in 1888 established the Singh Sabha movement to promote religious fervour in thought, word and deed. Khalsa Diwan was mainly established for education and publicity. Khalsa Diwan Malaya was established on 27 December 1903. The first committee of 21 members hailed from different towns of Malaya. A Parchaar Fund was launched in 1905 to maintain regular parcharaks, ragis and dhadis to tour different towns. Amrit Parchaar was performed in different places. Malayan Istri Satsang was established at a Sikh Women’s Conference in 1933. Sikh scholars from India were invited to address different Sikh congregations. Arrangements were made with Government hospi-


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Figure 3.1: A Sikh Bullock-cart driver transporting goods in Serdang, Selangor in 1944

tals and prisons to maintain Sikh symbols and other religious requirements of Sikh inmates. Some needy Sikh children were provided financial aid for education. After World War II, a KDM Education Aid Fund was established from which many students benefited. This was of two types; needy school children were given outright grants for school, examination and tuition fees; tertiary education students were granted interest-free loans to be repaid after completion of education and getting employed. KDM also participated in the Malayan Sikhs Education Aid Fund and also initiated the formation of Perak Sikhs’ Education Aid Fund. A Khalsa Boarding School was established in 1910 at Kuala Kangsar. Sikh students of English schools boarded here, and were taught Punjabi, Sikh history, Gurbani, kirtan, etc. They carried out all day-to-day operations of the Boarding House – sweeping, cleaning, washing, cooking and drawing water from a well to fill

Sikhs in Malaysia


tanks – which imbibed in them the regular habit of sewa. These students maintained close association with Sikh institutions to their last days. Khalsa Diwan Malaya provided occasional financial aid for Punjabi and religious education in different places, particularly Pusing, Taiping, Penang and Kuala Lumpur. Efforts were made to acquire suitable land for a school. Ultimately on 24 November 1950, Guru Nanak Institution was established at Maxwell Road, Ipoh. This was a regular school, with enrolment open to all communities. Up to 1978 there were thirteen principals, only three being Sikhs. The average annual enrolment over twentyeight years was 460 from Kindergarten to School Certificate. Two Punjabi classes were also run. Khalsa Diwan Malaya began to organize annual conferences in different towns where thousands of Sikhs gathered. Up to 1937, a total of 29 conferences were organized. These gatherings were open to all Sikhs and involved other Sikh institutions as well. Providing a forum for Sikh issues generally, these rallies resulted in substantial funds from the offerings. Of the surplus from such collections, 75 per cent were used for the Gurdwaras or schools of the towns where the rallies took place. Commencement of some gurdwaras had its roots in the early rallies. KDM has remained active ever since its inception and at present is engrossed in many national level projects especially in championing the teaching of the Punjabi Language and the propagation of the Dharmik programmes.

NOTES 1. Darshan Singh Gill, Sikh Community in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur: MPH Group Publications, 2009. 2. Saran Singh Sidhu, The Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, . Kuala Lumpur: SNSM, 2003. 3. (website of SNSM). 4. Malkiat Singh Lopo-Dhaliwal, Sikhs in Malaysia: Some Historical Notes, Penang: Lopo Ghar, 1971.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific CHAPTER 4

Sikhs in Singapore: A Model Minority

Singapore Sikhs could serve as a model for any minority community abroad. They are professionally organized and have succeeded in various walks of life such as business, education, civil services, military, education and the corporate sector. With a total population of less than 20,000, Sikhs run seven well organised Gurdwaras. Despite the small numbers, Sikhs have been able to get recognition from the Government as a model community for propagation of Punjabi language. According to the V. Dusenbery, ‘Singaporean Sikhs have revitalized ties to their linguistic, cultural, and religious heritage and have gained significant recognition from the State not only for their distinct social identity but also for being a local ‘model minority’. THE COUNTRY

One of the smallest nations in the world with a population of 3.8 million and almost no natural resources, Singapore boasts of a primarily export-based, thriving, vibrant economy. In a pluralistic, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society dominated by the Chinese, ethnic Malays and Tamils, there are less than 20,000 Sikhs – a small minority indeed, but with a powerful presence. The government appears to have adopted policies that prevent a large concentration of an ethnic group in any one locality. So there are no exclusively Chinese, Tamil, Malay or Sikh enclaves. The downside to some extent is the loss of culture, tradition and often of identity. Sikhs remain a small minority in Singapore, as they do anywhere, and this is an issue they have to face.

Sikhs in Singapore



Sir Stamford Raffles brought along with him a contingent of Indians in 1819. By the mid-nineteenth century, Indians had become the second largest community – about 13,000 in number. Indian migration to Singapore also took place post World War II and India’s Partition. In 1950s, migration almost ceased because of Government ordinances. But about 50,000 crossed over from Malaysia because of political uncertainty. From the 1960s, migration was reduced to negligible levels. However, the majority of temporary construction workers are still being recruited from India on a temporary basis. The Indian population comprises mainly of Tamils – 64 per cent, Tamil being one of the four official languages together with Chinese, Malay and English. The Sikhs constitute about 7 per cent of the Indian population, most of them initially arriving as members of the British army and police. THE SIKH SCENE

Besides others, I have drawn from two references – one an article ‘Sikhs of Singapore: The Den of Lions’ by I.J. Singh,1 of New York University and the other from the book Early Sikh Pioneers of Singapore by Sewa Singh Gandharab.2 Bhai Maharaj Singh, exiled there by the British in 1850, and his attendant Khurruck Singh, were the first Sikhs in Singapore, soon after the annexation of Punjab by the British.The first wave of Sikhs to land in Singapore came as ‘sepoys’ (policemen) recruited in India to help keep peace especially to put down the Chinese gang wars. For details please see the Malaysia Chapter as Singapore used to be a part of Malaya. The success of the Sikhs as policemen or sepoys in Malaya led the British to bring some down to Singapore. The first batch arrived in the late 1870s and formed the first Sikh Police Contingent stationed at Sepoy Lines, later known as Pearls Hill, overlooking China town. Sikh policemen were also recruited by the Tanjong Pagar Dock Company to form the Tanjong Pagar Dock Police Force. While the first wave came mainly as policemen, by 1885, more


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

and more Sikhs were making their own way to Singapore to seek their fortunes. Those who could not join the police force became watchmen (guards) and small-time businessmen, or went into dairy farming. Traders and businessmen came much later, after World War II, and established themselves in High Street, dealing mainly in textiles and related businesses. As in most countries, the early Sikhs gave high priority to education and, not surprisingly, their children became either civil servants or professionals thanks to their studying hard. After the Partition of India, a number of Sikhs, particularly businessmen, came from West Pakistan and settled in Singapore. The Sikh migration boom continued well into the 1950s. Most of these migrants were textile merchants. Sikhs also fought valiantly for the allied forces in their campaigns throughout Southeast Asia. In the war memorial at Kranji in Singapore, which lists the Martyrs of World War II, Sikhs are the largest single community. The Sikh community in Singapore is vibrant, and participates actively in the social and economic life of the country. About 2,000 Sikhs are in banking, finance and also work as IT professionals. All prominent Sikh festivals are celebrated with great gusto and the Government encourages the Sikhs to preserve their distinct culture. Some of the Gurdwaras also conduct classes in Punjabi and educate Sikh youth in the tenets of their religion. However, a large number of Singaporean Sikhs have gradually become westernized and are slowly beginning to lose their distinct identity. Intermarriages of the local Sikhs with other Indian communities, as well as other races, are adding to the assimilation process. Sikhs serve in every section of society, including the armed forces and the police. Singaporean and Malaysian Sikhs worked closely with the California based Ghadar Party during the early twentieth century. During the Indian National Army movement in the 1940s against the British, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose received a lot of aid, support and volunteers from amongst the Sikh community. During the 1980s and early 1990s when Punjab was in turmoil, Sikhs attempted to stage demonstrations. But those were swiftly curbed by the Government.

Sikhs in Singapore


The Khalsa Association of Singapore was founded in 1928 by six students of the Raffles Institute, amongst them Justice (Retd) Choor Singh of the Supreme Court. The Sikh Missionary Society in Singapore has been in existence since before World War II. From 1944 to 1965 it published over 1,00,000 pamphlets, booklets and titles in Punjabi, English, and Tamil and even in Chinese. As mentioned earlier, the Sikhs in Singapore have come to be regarded as something of a model minority, praised at the highest levels of government for their contribution to the well-being and stability of the country – more than in proportion to their numbers, and rewarded with state support in preserving their distinctiveness. Dusenbery3 in his book Sikhs at Large says: In the late – 1980s a Sikh Resource Panel, a self-generated body of twelve Sikh professionals operating under the leadership of a secondary school principal, Bhajan Singh, presented evidence both to the Sikh community and to the Government suggesting that there existed a sizeable underclass of Sikh youth who were not doing well in school, who were getting into trouble with the law, and /or who were marrying out of the community; that this group was characterized by its estrangement from Sikh culture and from local community and its institutions.

The group of Sikh professionals used these survey findings and a fresh set of proposals to address ‘the problem’ by transmitting the Punjabi/Sikh heritage, in order to gain a significant degree of credibility both within the Sikh community and with the Government. The Sikh professionals’ public analysis of the problem and their proposed solutions addressed the perceived lack of cultural ballast among Singapore’s Sikhs, particularly the youth. The professionals sought to advance an agenda, first by taking control of a key institution, the Sikh Advisory Board (SAB), and then by using it as a base from which to begin soliciting state support for addressing the community’s problems. During the 1980s the SAB had pressed the Ministry of Education to include Sikh studies as part of the religious studies curriculum at state-run schools. The Government acquiesced, on the condition that Sikhs themselves


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

prepare the teaching material, train teachers, and cover the costs. SAB was successful and Sikh Studies is offered as an elective track in the schools’ Religious Studies programme since 1983. At the same time, the Sikh Advisory Board (and sister organizations, such as the Sikh Education Foundation and the more recently formed Sikh Welfare Council) began systematically courting government officials, inviting senior ministers to attend community functions and popular religious festivals, openings of new community institutions, and international Punjabi/Sikh heritage gatherings. These visits, with appropriate coverage in the national media, gained a measure of respect for Sikhs in the eyes of a wider Singaporean audience. In November 1990, the then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, visited the Central Sikh Temple. The occasion was Guru Nanak’s 521st birthday celebration. The visit was carefully choreographed (complete with Sikh bagpipers in tartan and turbans) and presentation of a ceremonial turban and sword, the purported meanings of which – ‘dignity and justice’ and of ‘responsibility to family and nation’ – were carefully woven in congruence with Singaporean National Values. And Singapore’s Sikhs were, in turn, praised by the Prime Minister for contributions and successes as a ‘distinctive group’ which ‘had been a credit to Singapore, law-abiding, hardworking and successful in educating their children to enter the professions and business’ (Straits Times, 3 November 1990). The full transcript of his speech is given later, under ‘As Others See Sikhs in Singapore’. At the end of his visit, the Prime Minister promised, ‘The Government will support all your constructive schemes’. This commitment was accompanied by assurances that Punjabi would be made a testable option at the secondary school level as long as Sikhs themselves produced the teaching materials, ran the classes, trained and paid the teachers, and procured the evaluators. Subsequently, in 1993, the same permission was extended to allow Punjabi as a testable second language at the primary level. Sikhs were thus successful in advancing a ‘Sikh agenda’ in Singapore. Since the late 1980s, the Government has: (1) recognized Sikhs as a distinctive ‘race’, (2) granted Sikhs permission to strengthen their ‘cultural institutions’ (‘for example’ through Sikh

Sikhs in Singapore


studies, Punjabi language, Punjabi/Sikh heritage centre, etc.); and (3) fostered and licensed two legitimate channels for transmitting Sikh interests to the Government and mobilizing Sikh support for Government policies: (a) the Sikh Advisory Board and its affiliates, under the direction of Bhajan Singh (who also serves as the appointed Sikh representative on the boards of the Religious Harmony Council and the Singapore Indian Development Association), and (b) the elected Sikh Member of Parliament, Davinder Singh of the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). Davinder Singh was chosen under a system of Group Representation Constituencies introduced in 1988, whereby a slate of four candidates, including at least one ‘minority’ (that is, non-Chinese) representative, is elected from a single constituency as a team. GURDWARAS AND SIKH INSTITUTIONS

With a total population of less than 20,000, Sikhs run seven Gurdwaras, details of which are given in Appendix 15. The two main Gurdwaras are the Silat Road Sikh Temple which also houses the ‘samadhi’ of Bhai Maharaj Singh, who was exiled from Punjab and the Central Sikh Temple. Alongside the Silat Road Sikh Temple is a 7 storeyed building – The Sikh Centre. This organization’s role is to promote Sikh values and look after the wellbeing of the Sikh community. The building includes: a library, several class rooms, a fully equipped gym, an auditorium that can be used as a multi-purpose hall. Apart from kirtan and Sikh studies, martial arts (gatka) and dhol classes are also taught. Regular health checkups are carried out. SIKH INSTITUTIONS

The Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA), which owns huge premises and looks after all the needs of the Sikh immigrants, collective as well as individual. One of the earliest non-religious Sikh groupings was the Singapore Sikhs Cricket Club (SKCC). It was established in 1927 as a sports club for the Raffles Institute which later expanded to include boys from other educational institutions. In May 1931, the SKCC was officially registered as


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

the Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA). The club’s activities were interrupted by the Japanese Occupation (1942-5). It re-convened after the war and gradually expanded its scope from organizing sports events, to social events such as fun fairs, camps for young Sikhs, Punjabi classes for children, lectures, conferences as well as other cultural activities. The Punjabi Foundation of Singapore promotes the Punjabi language. As detailed earlier on, Punjabi is recognized as one of the elective subjects in schools at the ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels. The Government, however, provides no facilities for its teaching. This Foundation has organized Punjabi teaching classes catering to the needs of approximately 2,000 students, with over one hundred part-time paid teachers, using the premises of Government schools during weekends. The Sikh Foundation is a non-profit and non-political charitable organization promoting the heritage and future of Sikhism. Singapore Sikh Sewaks was founded in 1978. This organization has been responsible for Gurmat Parchar to the Naujawans (youth) of the country. Main activities include annual samelan (Gurmat parchar) camps for seniors and juniors. Other activities like Naujawan talks, paath and kirtan by the beach are organized regularly. The Mighty Khalsa is a group of parents with children aged 4 to 12. They hold darbars twice a month. In each session, children experientially learn about Sikhism and the Sikh way of life. The Sikh Welfare Council (SIWEC) formulates overall community policies in respect of Sikh welfare services in Singapore. Their main activities include rehablitation for Sikh drug addicts, prison counseling and rehab, including programmes to mentor prison inmates towards becoming responsible citizens, and financial assistance for needy families. The Sikh Advisory Board works with the Government on matters concerning Sikh religion and customs and the general welfare of the Sikh community. The Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (CSGB) oversees the management of the Central Sikh Temple, the Silat Road Sikh Temple and the Sikh Centre in Singapore. The Singapore Sikh Education Foundation (SSEF) was inaugu-

Sikhs in Singapore


rated on 30 December 1990 with a primary objective to provide mother tongue education to Sikh/Punjabi children living in the country. Gurmat Sangeet Academy: Teaches kirtan and musical instruments to all age groups. Young Sikhs Association: Details are given under Case Studies: Malminderjit Singh. CELEBRATIONS

Celebrations of the 400th year of Prakash and the 300th year of Khalsa: At times like this all the seven Gurdwaras join in a Nagar kirtan, with Punj Piyaras leading a procession, dutifully going from one Gurdwara to another. Kirtan is continous, but in a very dignified and law-abiding manner. Chingay Parade: A week after Chinese New Year, there is a procession of many floats down Orchard Road. Since 1999, Sikhs have been participating in it with great enthusiasm. SOME PROMINENT SIKHS

Sikhs in Singapore are by and large well-off. Some of them are being mentioned below: 1. JUSTICE CHOOR SINGH SIDHU: He became the first Sikh Judge of the Singapore Supreme Court. Born in India in 1911, Choor Singh was six years old when he arrived with his mother to join his father. Young Choor Singh walked 4 miles every morning to attend the Pearls Hill Primary School. He had a tough childhood, but was a brilliant student. He used to study under streetlights and take a bath at the public pipes. Choor Singh started his career as a clerk in the Singapore bankruptcy office where he developed an interest in the legal profession. He went to England to pursue higher studies in law, came back and was called to the bar in 1948. The following year, he became the first Asian magistrate in Singapore. He became a District Magistrate in 1955, a senior Judge in 1960 and a Supreme Court Judge in 1963, from which position he retired in 1976. Choor Singh has authored


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

many books, including one on gambling that has become standard material for lawyers. He was a founder-member of the Singapore Khalsa Association in 1931, and served as its president for six years. On his initiative as chairman of the Sikh Advisory Board in 1955, the Singapore Government allowed the use of Government school premises to teach Punjabi on weekends. 2. JASWANT SINGH GILL: He was the first Commander of the Singapore Navy. He started his career as a teacher joining the Royal Reserve Force in 1948. Starting as a private, he rose from the ranks to become the first Commander of the Navy when the British left in 1968. He retired in 1971. His portrait in full naval regalia adorns the National Museum of Singapore. 3. BRIGADIER GENERAL RAVINDER SINGH: He became Singapore’s Army Chief, the first Sikh to be given the force’s baton. A Singaporean of Indian origin, Ravinder was Deputy Secretary (Technology) at the Defense Ministry. He joined the Singapore Armed Forces in December 1982. He also served as Assistant Chief of General Staff (Plans), Head of Joint Communications and Information Systems Department and Chief of Staff – Joint Staff. He is also the first non-Chinese Chief of Army in nearly thirty years. 4 & 5. INDERJIT SINGH AND DAVINDER SINGH: The two turbaned men stand out whenever the Singapore Parliament convenes. Inderjit Singh and Davinder Singh are two Sikh MPs in the eightyfive-member Parliament. Both represent the People’s Action Party (PAP). Young Inderjit Singh was picked up for his excellent record in community service, and Davinder Singh, for his professional standing. Despite being only 0.5 per cent of the Singapore population, it is creditable to have two Members of Parliament. Davinder Singh is the first Sikh MP of Singapore, also one of the leading lawyers of the country and a senior counsel (Singapore’s equivalent to Queen’s Counsel in Britain). A graduate from the National University of Singapore, Davinder Singh has a trailblazing record in his profession. He joined the litigation department of Drew & Napier in 1982 and later became its managing partner. He was listed as one of Asia’s top litigation lawyers for

Sikhs in Singapore


the year 2000 in a publication titled Asia Law: Leading Lawyers. He is in the Singapore Government’s India think tank group. He is a nominated MP. Inderjit Singh is an elected MP from Toh Payoh GRC (Group Representation Council). His is a rags-to-riches story and at present he owns two manufacturing plants. 6. BHAJAN SINGH, THE EDUCATIONIST: He is the renaissance man of the Sikh community in Singapore. The Sikh Education Foundation that promotes Sikh heritage is his brainchild. This Foundation has developed first-rate books for teaching Punjabi in Gurmukhi script. They have even produced games and ancillary computer aids to teach the language. (In Singapore, every child learns two languages – English and one additional language. For those who opt Punjabi, there was a dearth of quality textbooks.) He, along with other Sikhs was instrumental in organizing a farewell party for Lee Kuan Yew and a welcome party for the new Prime Minister. They also invited scholars from twenty countries to debate Sikh issues and introduced the concept of Sikh heritage dinners to discuss the glorious past of the Sikhs. Excellence awards were introduced for brilliant Sikh students. 7. KARTAR SINGH THAKRAL: He is the owner of the Thakral Group of Companies which has interests in electronics, computers, real estate and finance. Thakral is reputed to be one of the richest Singaporeans. He has extensive investments in China but not much investment in India. The firm was started in Bangkok by Kartar Singh’s father as a textile merchant. They had set up a branch in Japan in the 1930s. They have now spread out all over the world. They entered the Chinese market in a big way in the 1960s. Globally, they have diversified in manufacturing, property, hotels, finance and consultancy as a conglomerate that extends from Lagos to London in the West and to Beijing and Sydney to the East. 8. AJIT SINGH GILL: He was the first Sikh hockey player to represent Singapore in the Olympics. He played as a fullback in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Other Sikh players who have repre-


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

sented Singapore at various levels include Pritam Singh, Kartar Singh and Bir Singh. 9. PARAM AJEET SINGH BAL: He was one of the first Sikhs to be recruited to the Singapore Civil Service directly in the 1960s. In the 1969 National Day Honours, he was conferred the Public Administration Medal by the Government. On his retirement, Bal served as director of the Asian Mass Communication Research and Information Centre before moving to the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. 10. JAGJIT SINGH: He rose to the number two spot in the City Police before his retirement in 2001. He was in charge of the entire police operations when Singapore Airlines flight SQ-117 was hijacked by four Pakistanis in the 1990s. When talks broke down and the hijackers threatened to take off from Changi Airport, the Police commandos stormed the plane, killing them. 11. DR KANWALJIT SOIN: She is a well-known orthopedic surgeon and the first nominated woman Member of Parliament (in 1992, renominated in 1994). She is married to former Supreme Court Judicial Commissioner Amarjeet Singh. CASE STUDIES



(Interviewed Singapore, 29-30 October 2014) YSA was founded in August 2003 to fulfil the aspirations of young Singaporeans. Their focus is to enhance mutual understanding on issues of common concern and foster friendship across all ethnic groups in Singapore, the region and the world. According to Malminder, YSA is based on five pillars: 1. Community Service: Their flagship event is the annual ‘Khwaish’ expedition project where they send every December (school holidays) around 20-25 young Singaporeans to village schools in Punjab. They (half are non-Sikhs including Chinese and Malay-

Sikhs in Singapore


sians) spend three weeks in Punjab. Funding is provided by wellwishers, prominent among them being Inderjit Singh and the Thakrals. The project costs up to about 80 thousand dollars. They bring computers and set them up in the school, equip the library and provide other necessary things to upgrade the school infrastructure. They themselves paint the school walls, library, staff and student rooms. Usually they live with families, including in the Sarpanch’s house. They have sent 14 teams to India till now. 2. Conferences and Seminars. 3.. Professional and Intellectual Development: They invite all the previous year’s graduate Sikh students and facilitate them. A minister or senior business executive is invited on the occasion. See Appendix 6. 4. Cultural Development: They organize an annual regional ‘bhangra’ competition. Teams from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, and Australia are also invited around Diwali . 5. Sports: They hold an annual football tournament which is now the second most attended event.

A write up on Khwaish VIII team project to Punjab in 2008 is given in Appendix 5. Malminderjit Singh works with the Foreign Desk of the Business Times where his primary responsibility is to decide on the content of the newspaper’s foreign pages. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Director (Trade Division) at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, where he worked on Singapore’s economic and trade relations within ASEAN and with its dialogue partners. He has also worked at the Institute of South Asian Studies where, as a Research Associate, he developed expertise in India’s foreign and economic policies. Malminderjit dedicates a significant portion of his time to public service. He serves on the Fourth PAP Policy Forum Council as its Assistant Secretary, as a petition writer at the Kebun Baru branch and he is also the Legislative Assistant to a prominent Member of Parliament. Further, he is actively involved in the wider Indian community and serves on the Singapore Indian Development Association Youth Executive Committee and the Singapore Indian Education Trust’s Youth Committee, where he has led a project team on the development of an e-Mentoring programme. In addition, he is a Mentor to the Citibank-YMCA


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Youth for Causes programme and plays a leading role in several other projects within the Sikh community. Malminderjit graduated from the University of Buckingham in the United Kingdom with an Honours degree in Economics, where he was an active member of the student government, earned a Department Best Performance award and a scholarship, while also spending a summer term at Oxford University pursuing his interest in colonial history. In 2008, he completed a Master of Science degree in International Political Economy from the Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technological University. FAMILY HISTORY

Malminderjit’s grandfather, Besawa Singh, was an activist in the Ghadar Movement. He was banished to Singapore by the British along with a couple of others, in 1914. He did not spend too much time in jail and upon his release, he stayed back until his death in 1985, while the others returned to Punjab. His grandmother joined him much later. He had two sons (Malminder’s father was born in 1949) and worked as a moneylender, while Malminder’s father worked with the Banks. His uncle (Taya Ji) was employed with the CID. His father’s links with their Punjab family are strong. Malminder is married to a Sikh girl from Singapore. His mother-in-law is from a business family in Bangkok. THE SIKH SCENE

Talking about the present Sikh scenario in Singapore, he lamented that most Sikhs’ educational skills are now declining, because kids of today have it much easier. A significant number of Sikhs in Singapore are engaged in odd jobs and there is less emphasis on studies. Sikh numbers in schools are declining (in a class of about forty, there would be only two Sikhs). Many of them are thinking of migrating to Australia where work is not too hard and the quality of life is better. His own uncle has moved to Australia. Despite being not very well educated, he is doing better as a skilled worker in Brisbane. However, in Australia,

Sikhs in Singapore


your identity is of less value than your worth. Amongst the professionals, there is a small group, about fifty only who are maintaining the Sikh tradition of keeping a turban, Malminder being one. The others feel the need to assimilate with the local community, turban would make this difficult. The Sikhs, even though being a small community, are still a significant force to be reckoned with. They are a visible minority and get benefits and support from the Government on various matters. For examples the Government spoke out to allow Sikhs to wear turbans, while Muslim girls were not allowed the hijab. The argument being that the turban is a historical legacy of Singapore, from British days, while the hijab is a newer phenomenon. SIKH INSTITUTIONS

There are two youth organizations: 1. Young Sikh Association run by the Sikh Sewak Singapore is religious. 2. Sikh Welfare Council is social. There is The Sikh Advisory Board set up by the Government. Malminder is the Secretary on this board. Then there is the Khalsa Association which devotes time to cultural and sporting activities. A Government minister invariably comes for their Diwali celebrations. Young Sikh Association recently held a reception for the graduate Sikhs. All graduates were invited. A Singapore minister came to honour them and motivate others to likewise perform. See Appendix 6. PARMATMA SINGH (Interviewed on 31 October 2014, at the Silat Gurdwara, Singapore) Parmatma Singh came to Malaysia in 1953. He is now 83 years old.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

He hails from dist. Jagraon, Punjab but was born in Calcutta. He came to Saraban in Malaysia in June 1953. He just beat a restriction imposed by the Singapore Government which stated that post 1954, only professionals could immigrate, the only other avenue being through sponsorship as a family member. He was a graduate and had some work experience in the newspaper industry in India. He applied for a job with the Police, was interviewed and joined on 1 October 1954. He had relatives who had sponsored him, which helped get him a passport in India, as well as entry into Singapore. It took him seven years to get citizenship of Singapore. He resigned from the police at Inspector level (equivalent in rank to a Commissioned Officer in the Army). There was a contingent of about 500 Sikh Policemen before the Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945. After the Japanese surrendered, the police was disbanded by the British, who became Commissioners and Assistant Commissioners. Below them the rank were the Chinese, and then the south Indians. Sub-Inspectors and lower ranks comprised of Malays and Sikhs. Crimes mostly related to ‘gangsters’. Each Chinese gang had its area of control. Extortion, collections from vendors on weekly or monthly basis was prevalent, which resulted in territorial rivalry. Post retirement from Police, Parmatma became a private detective in 1986, duly certified by the Government. He operates from a one-room rented office with four people on its staff, the name of his agency is Karma Security & Private Investigation Services Pvt Ltd. Most investigations pertain to matrimonial issues, imitations, copyright infringement, missing persons and life style checks. Its reach can extend to China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore. Parmatma got married at an early age, and had two children. They stayed back in India with their mother. His wife joined him in Singapore in 1957, where two more children were born. He went to Manila, Philippines for a checkup after a mild heart attack and has been going there for the last 6-7 years. Presently he is settled there with a new life-partner (whom he knew previously in Singapore), in a house near the airport. The cost of living in Philippines is much cheaper than Singapore and

Sikhs in Singapore


Parmatma has taken full advantage of the fact that Asean countries allow free movement to their nationals. Parmatma’s first daughter married in the UK but is now settled in the USA. One of his sons works with Standard Chartered Bank, while the other is with an American company and is married to a Singaporean Malay. Parmatma maintains his contacts with Punjab where he keeps going every two years. His children also continue to maintain connections with the motherland. He has no plans to sell his 14 acres of village land in Punjab which he shares with his two brothers. His elder brother has retired as a Major General in the Indian Army. Speaking of social life in Singapore, he said that the relationship with one’s neighbours does not go beyond politeness. They invite each other on special occasions like weddings, only to basically hand over the envelope with money as a gift. The children are, however, closer to different ethnic groups. Intermarriages within Chinese, Malay, and South Indians are now common. They speak English, or Punjabi when amongst Punjabis. Since 2009, Parmatma is considered as a senior citizen, or as they call them in Singapore, the ‘Pioneer Generation’. Senior citizens are entitled to reduced cost transport and free medical care at government hospitals. He also shared that unless one is a Permanent Resident (PR), there is no free schooling for your children. Professionals get PR on priority, which entitles them to similar facilities as applicable to citizens. They can apply for housing in Housing Boards, where they are waitlisted and get a place in 2-5 years on a cash or instalment basis. Under the Central Provident Fund, with the Government, the house can be paid for through the CPF. GURCHARAN SINGH (Interviewed on 31 October 2014, at the Silat Gurdwara, Singapore) His family hails from Ruriwala village, Amritsar district. His parents migrated to Singapore in 1901. He has three sisters and four brothers. One sister was born in Taran Taran while others


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

were born in Singapore. His father worked with the British Army but on the civilian side. Post his retirement, his father became a school watchman. Later he worked with a bank as security staff prior to his final retirement. They had lands in Pakistan and in Moga, Punjab. Gurcharan Singh was the youngest of the family. He joined the Police Department temporarily and worked as a salesman for four years, before joining the Singapore Army in 1963. At that time there were only five Sikhs in the Army. Now, there is the National Service. He got married to a Sikh girl in 1965. In 1971 he went to Sambutan, Malaysia and joined the New Zealand Army base there. He thus became an employee of the New Zealand Government. He was attached on security duty to Australian and British ships between 1971 and 1989 when he got retrenched. He got a taxi drivers’ license in 1979 while still working for the New Zealand Government and then became a part time taxi driver in Singapore, along with other 200 Sikhs driving mostly at night, as he was still working for the New Zealand Government during the day. The taxi rental is S$134 per day which covers fuel, maintenance, license fees, etc. The yellow top license is renewable every seven years till the age of seventy. He stopped driving in 1992, because he got a stroke. He has two sons and a daughter. The daughter works in a bank and is married to a Punjabi banker. His younger son is an accountant, married to a Chinese. His older son, who keeps a turban, is based in the Philippines, working in the field of semi-conductors and micro-chips. RASHPAL SINGH SIDHU, CEO-CUM-MANAGER, THE SIKH CENTRE (Interviewed on 1 November 2014, at the Silat Gurdwara, Singapore) Rashpal’s father was a first generation immigrant in 1935, and worked in the police service. His elder brother became the first male Singapore born Sikh Professor in 2002 at the National University of Singapore. His sisters are into professions such as nursing and teaching. Rashpal, born in 1945, had a number of

Sikhs in Singapore


scholarships for study and training in various countries. In return, he had to serve in Singapore for a number of years. He did a stint in New Zealand where he was associated with setting up a library. This involved travel to 18 countries with his boss. In the meantime, he got married in 1984 to a Punjabi girl, a lecturer in accounting in New Zeland. They moved to Australia in 1988 where Rashpal worked till 1996 as Development and Policy Adviser with the National Library. They had no children and got divorced in 1994. During this period he became Australian citizen in 1990. He returned to Singapore in 1996 to take up a job with the National Library where he worked for four years. He remarried in India in 1996 and had a child. His wife is a home maker. His son who is now 16 years old was born in Singapore but is an Australian citizen. He felt his son will have a better future in Australia and returned there in 2000. He has taken up the present job as the CEO-cum-Manager of the Sikh Centre, which is more of ‘sewa’ as it pays very little. He lives in a private housing condominium, which is the next best to owning landed property which is not allowed by the Government. Sidhu is on a ‘Professional Pass’ visa in Singapore. Some details of the Sikh Centre are given under Gurdwaras. HARI SINGH The story of Hari Singh Choney is typical of the early immigrants. He came to Singapore in 1885 by ship, travelling like many others on deck, cooking his own meals. He landed in Singapore at Tanjong Pagar and was helped by some Sikh policemen on duty who gave him temporary accommodation. Another police constable helped him to find a job patrolling the grounds of the Botanic Gardens. Like many of the Sikhs in Singapore then, Hari Singh led a very frugal life, repatriating most of his savings and helping to bring in other relatives. A couple of years after his arrival, he brought his younger brother and found him a job as an Additional Police Constable (APC). The job of the APCs in those days was to guard the governmentrun opium shops which were then legal in Singapore. Hari Singh


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

had to return rather suddenly as his elder brother died, leaving behind a young son. Singh got married in India and adopted his brother’s son. He returned to Singapore after 1900 and got a job as a watchman with Lim Hoe Chiang of Tanjong Pagar. He was given a place to stay at the factory. Next to the factory was an open piece of ground where Hari Singh decided to build a wooden shed and keep some dairy cows. He started with three cows and began what was eventually to become a full-time business. His adopted son started schooling and the family settled down. He had four sons of his own. The boys had plenty of Sikh friends as by then a lot of other Sikhs had migrated to Singapore. Another Sikh from a nearby village built a wooden shed next to Hari Singh’s and started his own cattle business. Hari Singh made sure his children acquired both English education as well as schooling in Punjabi. The adopted son joined the Government Printing Service in Johor Bahru (now in Malaysia) as a proof-reader. His own sons also did well: two of them joined the Medical Department. Another son migrated to England and became a coal miner. The fourth son unfortunately died in his teens. After spending virtually his whole adult life in Singapore, Hari Singh returned to India in 1952 and died there soon after. His descendants, now fourth-generation Singaporean Sikhs, are comfortably settled middle-class Singapore citizens who have no intentions whatsoever of returning to India. N.B. The above case study has been excerpted from the book: Early Sikh Pioneers of Singapore by Sewa Singh Gandharab. AS OTHERS SEE THE SIKHS IN SINGAPORE


Thank you for your warm words. When we took office in 1959, we had to look after a broad mix of races, practicing different ways of life and religions. We soon learnt that each community was deeply

Sikhs in Singapore


attached to its language, its culture and its religion. All wanted their children to retain their traditional values and practices. But parents were also pragmatic and realistic. In the end they all sent their children to English language schools so that they make a living when they grew up. But all tried with varying degrees of success to teach their children their mother tongue and to inculcate their key values in them. Now a younger generation, some totally English educated, have grown up and do not know the past. I was puzzled when I read of the fears and anxiety of Indians and Malays over the slogan of the recent Speak Mandarin Campaign. Some English educated Chinese also expressed unhappiness not only about the aggressiveness of the campaign but also at Goh Chok Tong’s proposal that we should teach CL1 in primary schools to preserve Chinese cultural values, provided that EL1 standards in secondary schools are not sacrificed. These fears are totally unfounded. The clock cannot be turned back. Let me explain. For thirty years Chinese language schools have been steadily losing out to English language schools. Parents have chosen English language schools for their children’s future prospects. This trend reached its logical conclusion so that no school teaches only the Chinese language. They have also to teach English if they want students. This policy has given Singaporeans a common working language, English. Many, including the organizers of the Speak Mandarin Campaign, fear that in the future Chinese command of Mandarin will be so shallow that it is only adequate for the market or the kitchen. This is a legitimate concern, although, I believe, it is unlikely to happen. Bilingualism will continue to be the policy of the government. On the other hand, Malays and Indians need not read too much into an untactful slogan. There will be no reversal of policy on bilingualism with English as the common language. We need to be tolerant, indeed sympathetic, of each community’s effort to hold on to its language, culture or religion. At the same time, we must be aware of the serious troubles in other multiracial, multi-religious countries. Religious fervour has led to violence and bloodshed, as in Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh between Hindus and Muslims. Tolerance is crucial when peoples of many races, languages, cultures and religions live together. Singaporeans have by and large accepted diversity as an unchangeable fact of life. Every student in Singapore pledges every day to build a united nation as equal citizens regardless of race, language or religion. This is a commitment that you and I have made, and it is right that we get our children and grandchildren to pledge this every morning in school. Mr. Goh Chock Tong will continue the Government’s long established policy of inter-racial har-


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

mony and tolerance, impartial and firm in implementing its policy of equal opportunities, and equal treatment, regardless of race, language, culture or religion. Your wholehearted support for the maintenance of Religious Harmony Bill reflects your realistic appreciation of Singapore’s realities. Your contribution to the well-being and stability of Singapore has been more than in proportion to your numbers. The Sikhs in Singapore, as a distinctive group, have distinguished themselves in adjusting to the Singapore environment. You have been a credit to Singapore because by and large you are law abiding, hardworking and successful in educating your children to join the professions and to go into business. I wish you success in preserving your distinctiveness and all that you hold dear.

2. SPECIAL STATUS OF PUNJABI IN SCHOOLS In an article by Roopinder Singh titled ‘Asi Punjabi Singapore de’ which appeared in the Tribune, Chandigarh on 7 November 2004, the writer describes how Punjabi language is being taught in Schools of Singapore. Quite a number of students in Singapore are interested in learning Punjabi. We reached Singapore on Saturday, a day when three or more schools in various parts of the city state took on a Punjabi hue. Over 2,000 students clad in blue turbans/patkas, girls in matching salwar-kameez dresses, were brought there by their parents to study Punjabi. The three schools I visited that day were the Khalsa Centre, Bedok Centre and Clementi Centre. At the Clementi School, there were 25 different classes and over 500 students from KG to ‘A’ Level. This is the kind of multiculturalism that we in India are used to, not a narrow interpretation of the principle of separating religion from the state as for example, is being enforced by the French Government, banning various visible religious symbols (including turbans, headscarves and large crosses) in schools. It is in the same vein that four languages, including Tamil, are recognized as national languages, and there is official support for multiculturalism. The Singapore Sikh Education Foundation (SSEF) has been working since 1990 to develop and get government approval for a ten-year curriculum, with comparative textbooks and guides for students, teachers, as well as parents. They also use overhead projectors and multimedia, in which prominent singers have recorded songs and nursery rhymes. .

Sikhs in Singapore


Figure 4.1: Learning Punjabi in schools by Sikh and non-Sikh students (Photo: Roopinder Singh, The Tribune, Chandigarh)

The foundation uses ‘simple learning methods to teach children Punjabi by getting them to sing about how wonderful mothers are; about teachers who teach you and are kind; about animals, vegetables, fruits, relatives – who a chacha is, differences between a taya and a chacha and that the feminine gender for phuphad is not phuphadi. All in song and even dance or movement choreography’. About 5 per cent of the students are not of Punjabi origin. The students say the time they spend from 2 pm to 6 pm every Saturday is ‘fun’. This is where many ‘friendships are formed’, where ‘you meet your own kind’. Their textbooks are colourful with illustrations by well-known artists. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Acting Minister for Education, commended the new Punjabi curriculum in the form of 81 books from pre-primary to pre-university levels and appreciated the attractiveness of the books during a function held to mark the SSEF’s 14th anniversary celebrations last year. He also honoured 200 Punjabi students for excellence in education, especially in Punjabi. ‘The Foundation has accomplished much in its central role in delivering Punjabi language education in Singapore’. Now there are course books, workbooks and student guides to IT-based teaching


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

and learning in the form of CD-ROMs, audio-CDs and computerbased learning. ‘What makes this achievement all the more commendable is that all the instructional materials have been developed and written by the Foundation’s teachers,’ he added. There are also tape-recorded vocal tests which parents can review, games and a lot of singing, especially poems on relationships and moral values. ‘In the teaching of Punjabi overseas, the Singapore experiment has been outstanding. In terms of number of students learning Punjabi and the teachers available, Singapore stands by itself among the overseas Punjabi communities. Two factors were the key to success here. First, the recognition assigned to Punjabi by Singapore is not to be found in any other country.’ ‘Second, Punjabi in Singapore found in Dr. Bhajan Singh, a charismatic individual who was willing to dedicate his life for this cause. He created the SSEF and convinced the government to recognize Punjabi as part of the curriculum. He impressed upon the parents to encourage their children to learn Punjabi, inspired and trained teachers and simultaneously created the classroom materials,’ says a commentator. The Singapore Punjabi programme is now spreading to Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia. Bhajan Singh is now working towards ‘internationalisation of the Foundation’s Punjabi model and books for all levels’.

NOTES 1. I.J. Singh, ‘Sikhs of Singapore: The Den of Lions’, The Sikh Review, March 2001. 2. Sewa Singh Gandharab, Early Sikh Pioneers of Singapore., accessed on 10 September 2015. 3. V. Dusenbery, Sikhs at Large, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008.


Sikhs in Indonesia: Sikhs not Recognized as a Separate Religious Group

Sikhs started migrating to Indonesia at the end of the nineteenth or beginning of the twentieth century. In the 1920s, they came in significant numbers and most of them settled around Medan (Sumatra). They mostly worked as farmers and in the dairy business. They opened a Khalsa High School (English medium) in those early days. Quite a few moved to Jakarta in the past two to three decades because of better opportunities. In the Jakarta area, their presence in the sports goods industry is significant. The Government requires all adult citizens to carry a National Identity Card (KTP), which identifies, among other things, the holder’s religion. Members of faiths not recognized by the Government generally cannot obtain KTPs unless they (even if incorrectly) identify themselves as a member of a recognized religion, the recognized religions being Islam, Christianity, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism or Confucianism. SINGHVI REPORT (2001)

Though there are no official figures, it is estimated that there are around 50,000 PIOs/NRIs living in Indonesia of which the Indian expatriate community registered with the Embassy and our Consulate in Medan, numbers around 5,000. Indians were first brought to Indonesia by the Dutch in the nineteenth century as indentured labourers to work on plantations located around Medan in Sumatra. While the majority of these came from south India, a significant number also came


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

from the north. The Medan Indians include Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs. They have now been in Indonesia for over four generations and hold Indonesian passports. While local statistics continue to suggest that there are some 40,000 PIOs in Sumatra, the vast majority are now completely assimilated in Indonesian society, though some segments of the Tamil and Sikh Communities still maintain their cultural traditions. The Indian Diaspora also includes several thousand Sindhi families who constitute the second wave of Indian immigrants who made Indonesia their home in the first half of the twentieth century. The Sindhi community is mainly engaged in trading and commerce. Tamils and to a lesser extent Sikhs, were primarily engaged in agriculture, while Sindhis and Punjabis mainly established themselves in the textile trade and sports business. Due to economic factors, most traders and businessmen among PIOs have over the past decades moved to Jakarta from outlying areas such as Medan and Surabaya. Almost half the Indian community in Indonesia is now Jakarta based. The inflow of major Indian investments in Indonesia starting in the late 1970s, drew a fresh wave of Indian investors and managers to this country. This group of entrepreneurs and business professionals has further expanded over the past two decades and now includes engineers, consultants, chartered accountants, bankers and other professionals. The Indian community is very well regarded in Indonesia, is generally prosperous and includes individuals holding senior positions in local and multinational companies. There are six main social or professional associations of the Indian PIO/NRI community in Jakarta. There is a Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee in Jakarta and Sindhis as well as Sikhs are associated with Gurdwara activities. SIKH MIGRATION

In his travels to China, Japan and Java in 1902-3, H.H. the Maharaja of Kapurthala met some Sikhs in Java in the last leg of his travel, establishing their presence at the beginning of the twentieth century, if not earlier.

Sikhs in Indonesia


Sikh settlements have existed in Sumatra from about 1898 after the Malay Archipelago began to be policed by Sikhs. The origins of the Sumatra Sikhs was not as recruits in Police as was the case in neighbouring countries, but more as herd farmers and small businessmen. The main migration of Sikhs to Indonesia was, however, probably around the 1920s. Most of the Sikhs settled around Medan (Sumatra). They opened a Khalsa High School (English medium) in those days and while the building is still standing, the school is now closed. Quite a few of the Sikhs have migrated to Jakarta in the past two decades in search of better opportunities. There is a senior Sikh civil servant who was heading the Agriculture Department of Indonesia and his brother is President of the Indonesian Hockey Federation. Both were born in that country and wear turbans. The origin of Sikh immigration is somewhat interesting. A branch of the De Jasasche Bank was opened in Medan at the end of nineteenth century when the Dutch currency was introduced. A number of Sikhs were employed there as security guards. Others soon followed, mainly finding work as watchmen. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the Sikh population in western Sumatra, particularly in Medan, had increased significantly to warrant the establishment of a gurdwara in Medan in 1911. However, the establishment of the Sikh community in Batavia had an entirely different story. Unlike the Sikhs of Sumatra, who came mostly directly from India, the Sikhs in Batavia (Jakarta) were mostly an overflow from the Malay States. The earliest settlement was at Tanjung Periok, the seaport for Batavia. Sikh population in Indonesia is estimated at around 7,000, spread in various provinces and cities like North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Surabaya, Bandung, Jakarta, Semarang, Bengkulu, Pekan Baru, Yogyakarta, Samarinda, Balik Papan, Batam, etc. In North Sumatra, where most Sikh people settled, there are approximately 4,000 Sikhs spread in many places such like Medan, Binjai, Lubuk Pakam, Kaban Jahe, Kisaran, Siantar, Belawan, etc. Sikhs who live here work as teachers, milkmen and entrepreneurs. Some work in offices and private companies.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific SIKHS IN NORTH SUMATRA

(Indian Communities in South East Asia by A. Mani and K.S. Sandhu, Singapore: ISEAS, 1992.) Sikhs have been present in North Sumatra from the earliest days of tobacco plantations. By 1920 the Sikh population in Medan and Binjai had increased to significant numbers to establish Gurdwaras in these two towns. Most Sikhs came on their own accord to work as watchmen or postmen in the plantations. Some of them came to work for the British firms that started their branches in North Sumatra. By the end of World War I many Sikhs had gone into trading of textiles sourced from the few Sindhi firms, and had begun to set up small textile shops in the markets. Many also drifted into dairy farming to meet the local demand for milk and other dairy products. Prior to World War I, they were spread over tobacco and rubber plantations and most towns in North Sumatra. Most early migrants were single men who worked for a period of six or seven years, returned to Punjab to marry, and upon their return to Sumatra made arrangements to bring their family over. Most of the Sikh families stayed in North Sumatra during World War II. After the war they were forced to move to towns. Most Punjabis have become Indonesian citizens. The educational attainment among Sikhs is rather high compared to other Indian groups in Medan. More than 50 per cent of Sikh children complete secondary school education but seldom do they use education to obtain an occupation? Generally, most of them are self-employed in sports goods, textile, or other small businesses. A sizeable number still continue in the dairy trade. In the smaller towns of Binjai and Siantar, most Sikhs are still dairy farmers and milk vendors. The average Sikh family income ranges from 200,000 to 300,000 Rupiahs (1982 estimation). There appears to be a general trend towards rising income. For instance, as milk vendors who shied away from rearing cattle for meat production, their income increased tremendously. In 1982 a litre of milk earned only 100 rupiahs, whereas each cattle raised for slaughter earned about 300,000 to 400,000 rupiahs. The seven Gurdwaras not only establish the extent and spread of Sikh population in North Sumatra, but also reinforce Sikh identity. Each is identified for particular grand celebrations to which the entire Sikh populations may visit on the specific occasions. For instance, the Gurdwara at Gedung Johore celebrates the martyrdom day of the fifth Guru Arjan Dev; the Gurdwara at Tebing Tinggi

Sikhs in Indonesia


celebrates the first installation of Sikhism’s holy book: the Guru Granth Sahib; and Binjai’s Gurdwara celebrates all important events of Sikhism. Family network ties and kinship ties are very strong among Sikh families in North Sumatra. Most Sikhs who live here work as teachers, milk men, and entrepreneurs. Some work in offices and private companies. Many are business people and merchants, but a large segment of the group have become famous for their ability to breed cows for milking. KHALSA SCHOOL, MEDAN

The first English-medium school in Medan, the Khalsa English School, was built in 1931 near the Gurdwara. The school soon became very popular and there was keen competition amongst local people to get their wards admitted there. Some Sikhs from as far away as Malaysia sent their children to the school which had boarding facilities. It was still closed when I visited in 2008. I could imagine the activity that once must have been taking place as the building is very large and well built. Mani writes about the situation in 1982: The factional conflict centred on the Gurdwara at Medan appears to have divided the community’s opinion of its future orientation. Partap Singh, seventy-two years old in 1982, as president of the Gurdwara Management Committee, had become the spokesman for the community in its dealings with the Government. The school adjoining the temple (formerly the Khalsa English School) has been a sore point for various groups in the community. Pratap Singh’s efforts to maintain a school operated by the temple is opposed by another group, which feels that the English medium of instruction should be kept. The debate about becoming fully Indonesian versus remaining Indian is carried out within the community concerning the school. For the time being Pratap Singh administers the school, where 2,500 children study in the Indonesian language medium, which has increased the school revenue’. SIKHS IN JAKARTA

The earliest settlement of Sikhs developed at Tanjung Priok, the sea-port for Batavia (Jakarta). The two British firms that brought Sikhs over as watchmen were Ocean Liner and General


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Motors. The number of Sikhs increased sizeably by 1925. In that year, the Tanjung Priok Gurdwara was founded. In the preWar period, there were 100 Punjabis from twenty-five families in Jakarta. Most of them were watchmen by night and moneylenders by day. They also kept horse-carts, which they rented to local Indonesians for use as taxis on a daily basis. Most Sikhs who did not arrive as watchmen came to work as salesmen and clerks in shops run by compatriots. The Dutch had encouraged sports goods companies to establish branches in Jakarta and Surabaya. For many Sindhis and Sikhs, their current economic status originated with them having worked as employees, vendors, or watchmen, with the large pioneer firms. By the beginning of the twentieth century, economic niches among the major north Indian communities had become distinct. Sindhis came to dominate in the textiles and fancy goods business, while Punjabi Sikhs entered the sports business. During World War II, the Indians prospered under Japanese rule. After the war, many Sikhs and Sindhis left for India or Malaya. The post war revolutionary period in Jakarta caused a misunderstanding of the role played by Indians and there were riots. In Jakarta Barat, twenty-five Indians, the majority of them Sikhs, were killed. In November 1945, the security of Indians had deteriorated to such an extent that most of them moved to Pasar Bharu for protection. Many returned home. As political instability increased in the towns in Central Java and as Jakarta (controlled by the Dutch) was more secure, a slow shift of Indians to Jakarta started. This exodus increased in towns controlled by the Partai Komunist Indonesia (PKI). For instance, in March 1950, PKI supporters burnt down all the Sindhi shops at Madiun when they ransacked the business area. When Jakarta was declared the capital of Indonesia, it attracted the Indians even more. Surabaya had, thus, lost most of its Indian businessmen. As the number of Sikhs increased in the Pasar Bharu area, travel to Tanjung Priok became inconvenient. People felt that a modern Gurdwara should be built near the Pasar Bharu area. Thus, the Yayasan Sikh Gurdwara Mission was established in Jakarta in 1954. The Gurdwara, built at Jalan Pasar Bharu Timur, received a grant of 50,000 Rupiahs from the Dutch lady from

Sikhs in Indonesia


whom the property was bought. The total cost of the Gurdwara was 250,000 Rupiahs in 1954. Many Sikhs have moved from the Medan area to Jakarta for better opportunities. Many of them have established a foothold in shipping. The Gill shipping Company and P.T. Indonesian Oriental Lines represent the pioneer companies among Indonesian Indians. Both are coastal shipping companies, plying ships from Medan. Some Medan Sikhs in Jakarta are diversifying from sports goods business to furniture. GURDWARAS There a total of twelve Gurdwaras. Details are given in Appendix 16. SOME PROMINENT SIKHS Gurnam Singh, an Indonesian Sikh athlete who won three gold medals in the 1962 Asian Games in athletics. H.S. Dillon Harbinder Singh Dillon was appointed as Special Envoy to the President of Indonesia for Poverty Alleviation in April 2011. He has been a member of the National Economic Committee (KEN) since 2010. He is currently a member of the ITB (Bandung Institute of Technology) Board of Trustees and has been a member of the Washington-based International Policy Council on Agriculture, Food and Trade since 2005. Harbinder’s great grandfather, a farmer in Punjab, migrated to Medan, when Sikhs were already a fairly large community of two to three thousand people, employed mostly as farmers. His great-grandfather joined this work force and went on to found the Khalsa School. By the time Dillon entered the world three generations later, Sikhism meant less to him than to his forefathers. Instead, he was more interested in being an Indonesian. Growing up in Medan, Dillon was exposed to the unfortunate lives of the farmers at first hand. It made him understand the importance of a strong agricultural economy. According to him,


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

‘Agriculture and agriculture-based industrialization should be at the centre of economic strategy. When you enhance agricultural productivity, you increase incomes.’ However, the situation in the 1950s was a far cry from his understanding of today. The plight of farmers was characterized by poverty and negligence. The gross injustice of their plight struck a chord in Dillon. He wished to speak out against it but he realized at a young age that to be heard one first needed to be armed with the power of knowledge – and money. After his basic education in Medan, Dillon went on to Cornell University in the United States, where he was offered a fellowship in agricultural trade and development. He majored in international trade and development and also studied resource management, economics and developmental sociology. He came back to Indonesia to serve as a researcher in the Ministry of Agriculture, rising to be the Assistant to the Minister of Agriculture. For a man with a degree from Cornell, it was an unusual decision to head back to Indonesia. He turned down a lucrative job for a lesser paying one to realize his burning ambition – to help the farmers and make a difference. But rampant corruption at every level disillusioned him. He spoke out against important officials which cost him his job in the state bureaucracy. Dillon opted for consultancy work thereafter and embarked on a variety of challenging posts, including as a commissioner for the National Commission on Human Rights; a member of the Council for the National Economy (DEN) reporting to the President; a member of the Joint Investigation Team (anticorruption) reporting to the Attorney General. Dillon then became the Executive Director of the Partnership for Governance Reform in Indonesia. He has been married to Droupti, an Indonesian Muslim, for over three decades now. They have three sons. AS OTHERS SEE THE SIKHS IN INDONESIA

1. From My Travels in China, Japan and Java, by Jagatjit Singh, Maharaja of Kapurthala, who visited China, Japan and Java (Indonesia) from 18 October 1903 to 1 February 1904.

Sikhs in Indonesia


JAVA On reaching Bandung, I was surprised to see quite a crowd collected on the platform, and among them I was delighted to see a number of Punjabis. They brought fruit and money offerings for my acceptance, and there was an obvious effort on their part to give me a great reception. I chatted with some of my countrymen present, and discovered, to my great astonishment, that two of them were natives of a village near Phagwara, and consequently, my subjects. I inquired what circumstances had taken them so far from their homes, and was informed that they went originally to Java to better their condition, and there they had remained.

2. According to Van Dusenbery, Sikhs at Large, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008: In the early 1990s, Sikhs were concentrated in the ‘3-S’s’ – sport (sporting goods manufacturing and retail), sekolah (English language education), and susu (dairy industry). The fall of the Suharto regime and the opening up of the Indonesian economy have proven something of a boon, especially for educated Indonesian Sikhs, whose English language skills have become an advantage in the marketplace. Thus, we see the continued migration of Sikhs from Medan to Jakarta and their increased employment in transnational corporations. At the same time, the Sikh sporting goods manufacturers, although potentially challenged in the domestic market by increased competition from foreign manufacturers, have been well-positioned to partner with international capital as it expands its manufacturing base in Indonesia. Thus Indonesian Sikhs, while still small in number and relatively unrecognized within the Indonesian polity (where they still must register their religion as ‘Hindu’), are at least potentially well-positioned to take advantage of some of the local economic benefits of globalization. After the Sindhis, the next dominant group among the Indians in Jakarta is the Punjabi Sikhs. Though Sikhs are concentrated in greater number at Medan, North Sumatra, most Sikhs who came to Jakarta originally were migrants from Punjab via Singapore. Most Sikh migration occurred between 1920 and 1940, with the post-War migration being characterized largely by women and children. In the preWar period, there were 100 Punjabis from 25 families in Jakarta. Most of them were watchmen by night and moneylenders by day. They also kept horse-carts, which they rented to local Indonesians


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Figure 5.1: Indonesia – Medan: Khalsa School, Now Closed

for use as taxis on a daily basis. Many Sikhs also came to work as salesmen and clerks in shops run by Sikhs. The Dutch need for sports goods had encouraged companies like Bose & Co. to establish branches in Jakarta and Surabaya. The other sports companies were Bir Co., Nahar Sports, and Hari Brothers. These firms were largely responsible for the migration of literate and educated Sikhs to Jakarta. For instance Bose & Co. alone was responsible for bringing in fifteen Sikh families. The Sikh population in Indonesia is estimated at around 7,000 spread in various provinces and cities like North Sumatra, West Sumatra, Surabaya, Bandung, Jakarta, Semarang, Bengkulu, Pekan Baru, Yogyakarta, Samarinda, Balik Papan, Batam, etc.


According to Mani: M.S. Gill is the son of a watchman at the Tanjung Priok harbour. In 1930 his father started a textile shop which failed. In 1938 both

Sikhs in Indonesia


father and son ventured into the sports goods business and the son later inherited the business. By 1982 M.S. Gill had emerged as one of the leading elite in the Indian business community in Jakarta, his business having expanded into six branches – three in Jakarta, one in Surabaya, and two in Singapore. He had become the sole agent for ‘Adidas’ and ‘Speedo’ sports goods in Indonesia. The Vice-President of the Indian Association, M.S. Gill, estimates that of the 100 sports stores in Jakarta, 75 per cent may be owned by Sikhs. The Sikhs, moreover, control the wholesale business in sports goods, while the Chinese are generally retailers.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific CHAPTER 6

Sikhs in Fiji: Free Passage Immigrants in Indenture Country

As against the majority of Indian immigration to Fiji as indentured labour, Sikhs migrated under what is termed as ‘Free Passage’. I could not visit the country and hence the comments are entirely based on desk survey. The population of Sikhs at present is roughly estimated to be 4,000 only. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was approximately 10,000 but the wave of migration to greener pastures lured them to move on. Paying tribute to the Fiji Sikhs during the silver jubilee celebrations of Ba Khalsa College and Khalsa Primary in 1984, the late Ratu Toganivalu, then Deputy Prime Minister of Fiji, commented, inter alia, in his opening speech: The Sikh community occupies an important niche among the farming population in this country. In fact the Sikh community of Fiji is mostly engaged in farming and it has made a valuable contribution to the economy of this country. The Sikhs are hard-working people. THE COUNTRY

Fiji consists of 332 islands in the south-west Pacific Ocean about 3,000 kms. from Sydney, Australia. About 110 of these islands are inhabited. The two largest are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. It has a total population of 858,000. Fiji’s capital is Suva. Its major languages are English, Fijian and Hindi and its major religions are Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. In 1874, Fiji came under the British Crown and large-scale cultivation of sugar cane began in the 1880s. Over the next

Sikhs in Fiji


forty years, more than 60,000 indentured labourers from India were brought to the island to work the plantations. By 1920, all indentured servitude had ended. Racial conflict between Indians and the indigenous Fijians has been central to the small island’s history. Fiji became independent on 10 October 1970. In October 1987, Brig. Gen. Sitiveni Rabuka staged a coup to prevent an Indian-dominated coalition party from taking power. The military coup caused an exodus of thousands of Fijians of Indian origin who suffered ethnic discrimination at the hands of the Government. There have been many coups and changes of Governments since. The latest general elections were held on 17 September 2014 when the previous PM, Frank Bainmarama, was re-elected. SINGHVI REPORT (2001)

After the British annexation of Fiji in 1874, the colonial Government decided to introduce a system of importing indentured labour from India. The first of the sailing ships taking Indian workers to Fiji, the Leonides, docked in Fiji on 15 May 1879 with 463 persons. It had been stricken en route with cholera and dysentery because of the miserable and unsanitary conditions on board. The last of the 87 ships, the Sutlej-V, arrived there on 11 November 1916. When the indenture system was finally terminated after considerable opposition in India because of the inhuman treatment meted out to the indentured Indians, a total of almost 61,000 persons are reported to have been transported to Fiji. They had been compelled to work under deplorable conditions on the sugar plantations that had begun to dominate the local economy after the demise of cotton as the preferred cash crop. About 75 per cent of these Indians had been recruited from what are now Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and the remaining 25 per cent from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. As in the case of indentured labour in South Africa and elsewhere, they had been taken there to work for assigned employers on a five-year contractual agreement. This was referred to as a ‘girmit’ in the popular parlance of the illiterate


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Indian labour, who soon came to be referred to as girmitiyas. After the contractual period, they were free to move to another employer, or work for themselves. At the end of ten years in the islands, they were entitled to a free passage back to India if they so desired. But most of them neither returned to India nor remained in the plantations to which they had been assigned initially. Instead, they preferred to settle down wherever they could find land to cultivate on their own with the new skills that they had acquired. The British colonists soon discovered that it was going to be difficult to maximize profits by extending their plantations to new areas due to the dearth of locally available capital to finance them. Accordingly, the Australian Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSRC) was encouraged by the colonial government to enter the picture from 1880. In spite of the principle of native land ownership laid down by Gordon, the CSRC was initially allowed to purchase a thousand acres of prime land, with the option to acquire another thousand. By the 1920s, Australian CSRC had come to own almost all the plantations and sugar mills in Fiji islands. Owing to the problems encountered in managing such extensive estates in a centralized manner, the company soon initiated a scheme of small farmer cultivation. Its vast holdings were divided into 10 to 12 acre blocks and offered under contract to Indian labourers as and when they had completed their compulsory period of indenture. These lessees had to plant the land with cane under the supervision of company officials and sell it to the company at an agreed price. In the initial period of indenture, the Indian expatriates in Fiji had been fully occupied in trying to find their feet in an alien land, and under hostile and unsympathetic conditions. The proportion of women to men was totally skewed during that period. A settled family life was impossible in the barracks provided to them by the planters. The different castes and even the more distinctive religious differences between Hindus and Muslims had become dimmed by having to live together, and thus compelled to forget the divisions that had separated them in India. Christian missionaries from Britain and elsewhere, who

Sikhs in Fiji


had succeeded in converting most of the Fijians to one or other of the various Christian sects, had little effect on the Indian settlers who remained loyal to what they recalled of their ancient religions and traditional customs. Gradually, ‘free immigrants’ (corresponding to the ‘passenger Indian’ of South Africa) began to arrive from India to seek their fortunes. Along with returning former indentured labourers, they represented a wide spectrum of various professions. Some of them were farmers from the Punjab. Others were Gujarati craftsmen and tradesmen. There were also religious teachers among them, even a few lawyers. The local Government or private employers brought in clerks, policemen, artisans, gardeners, doctors and school teachers. These waves of voluntary immigrants were endowed with better education and had greater material resources at their command, with which to start a new life on the islands. Already by 1920 there were two or three thousands of them. With their arrival in Fiji, there was a revival among the earlier Indian settlers, of the complex social structure existing in India. And very soon, there was also an awakening of political awareness and desire to remedy their skewed position in the country’s civic and political life. A former indentured labourer and self-educated sanatani priest, Totaram Sanadaya of Rewa and later, Manilal Mohanlal doctor who had come from Mauritius, provided leadership to the Indian community. But by this time the problems of the Indian settlers had mounted considerably. CONTEMPORARY SIKH SCENE

The future of the Indian diaspora in Fiji appears to be rather bleak. It can only improve if there is change of heart towards it on the part of the indigenous Fijians. That does not, as of now, seem at all likely. Meanwhile, many Indo-Fijians are planning to migrate again from the land in which they or their ancestors had settled down. This second migration is not likely to be back to India, but to any developed country that would agree to accept them. It would, in all probability, be to one or other of the Pacific Rim countries, where many other Indo-Fijian PIOs have


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

already settled down and started a new life of ‘trans-national Indians’. This was the main ambition that was projected to the Committee when, during our visit to Sydney in July 2001, we met a group of PIOs who had already migrated to Australia after the Rabuka coups. SIKH MIGRATION

SIKHS UNDER INDENTURE There is a view that a small number of Sikhs did come as indentured labour but it is difficult to confirm this hypothesis. Recruitment of indentured labour for Fiji did not take place in the Punjab but some people who stated their home province as being Punjab were recruited from other parts of India. Between 1879 and 1900, out of the 21,368 emigrants from Calcutta, only 369 were from Punjab. Some of these could have been Sikhs. But the majority of Sikhs came as Free Passage Immigrants later on. Punjabis were in any case not considered as suitable material for indenture. According to Tatla,1 Punjab’s entry into the indentured system in the 1870s was a disappointment. The first few hundred Punjabis so recruited were found unsuitable by the planters in the West Indies, who protested that these Punjabi migrants are very objectionable as field labour. Many absconded to the Spanish Main, refused to work in the fields, and nearly all have been unruly and troublesome. On the other side of the globe, Punjabis and Pathans who arrived in Fiji also caused trouble by objecting to their conditions. Sir Everard Thurn, the colony’s Governor, observed their previous occupation as ‘soldiers or something of that sort’ which makes them unused to labour.

Tinker2 also noted that Punjab’s migrants were unlike other Indian labourers: Sikhs were an unusual group in the Indian emigration: they were prepared to fight for their rights. The mass of poor labourers mainly from Madras, and the traders and shopkeepers from Gujarat, who formed the bulk of the emigrants were not prepared or organized for struggle.

Sikhs in Fiji



The following write up draws on an article by Joginder Singh Kanwal,3 The first Sikh free migrants came to Fiji as part of the group of seventy Punjabis who were lured into coming to New Caledonia, in 1904, on the understanding that high wages were paid there. After finding working conditions unacceptable in the French colony, the seventy came to Fiji where some found temporary employment but most soon left for India dissatisfied at the low wages paid in Fiji. From 1905, when the Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand began a regular service from Calcutta to Fiji, there was a regular flow of Sikhs. The early Sikh migrants came mainly as single men. Some of those who stayed in Fiji married Hindu women and became prosperous farmers. Some of them, however, went back to Punjab to get married and brought their wives to Fiji. Majority of the people maintained close ties with Punjab and remitted money back to their families. Fiji was a tough landing for immigrants. From 1910-20, a small number of young Sikh migrants came to Fiji with the assistance of the shipping companies. The following letter, which was written in 1914 and addressed to the Deputy Commissioner Jullundur, makes an interesting reading: ‘We, all the Punjabis, now residing in Fiji Islands, left our country on the inducement and representation of Wali Mohammed and Atta Mohammed, tehsil Nawanshahar, District Jullundur, Punjab. They have been sending our people during the last 5 years and, on each steamer, 45 or 46 men are being emigrated while they take Rs. 35 as their commission for each individual and Rs. 5 from the shipping company. We were made to understand that in Fiji we can get work on daily wages at 5 shillings, but regret to say that even 2 shilling can hardly be earned – thus we have been suffering much. We had no previous experience of such tricks and they are deceiving the people and also against the law. We all paid Rs. 325 as commission to them. We therefore request that enquiries be made and action be taken to stop further emigration. If possible money be refunded to us.’ This letter was signed by forty-six men, all from Jullundur district, and twenty from Nawanshahar Tehsil and the rest from Gharshankar, Phagwara and Phillaur. Majority of the Sikhs arrived in Fiji between 1920-30. The Government of Fiji imposed restrictions on the free flow of new immigrants


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

in 1930. From next year, the number was limited to 500-700 a year. During this decade some Sikh families, particularly those whose friends and relations had migrated earlier, were only able to travel to Fiji. In the 1940s and 1950s, only the professionals were given permits to enter and reside in Fiji and about a half a dozen Sikh teachers and doctors came to work. In the days of early settlement, Sikhs worked in Suva and Nausori areas. Some of them were engaged in small scale farming and running small shops. In the late twenties and early thirties when new batches arrived from Punjab, they moved to the Western districts and became agriculturists. As time passed, they spread to all the cane-producing areas including Labasa but there was more concentration in some areas e.g. Matniqara, Votua (Ba), Tagitagi (Tauva) Votualevu and Sabeto (Nadi) and Naidiri in Sigatoka district. ARRIVAL AS POLICEMEN

From the early 1900s Sikh policemen were brought to Fiji from Hong Kong and Shanghai. C.F. Andrews and W.W. Pearson, in their report on Indian indentured labour in Fiji, in February 1916, expressed high regard for the Indian Police Force in Suva made up of Sikhs. They noted that unlike in India, these policemen did not take bribes. They wrote that: We found an extremely well-conducted Indian Police Force in Suva. These Indians, who were Sikhs, were paid a good monthly wage, and expressed themselves, on the whole, contented with their position. They had come out under an agreement, but there was nothing about it that was servile. Their passage was quite different from that of the ordinary coolies. They were treated well by their senior officers, who spoke highly of their men.

Walter Gill, who served as an overseer for the Colonial Sugar Refining Company in Lautoka during the final years of indenture has also written about significant numbers of Sikhs employed in the Western Division of Fiji to police the Indian population. GURDWARAS AND SIKH INSTITUTIONS

The Sikhs have built five Gurdwaras in main centres of different districts, namely Suva, Lautoka, Labasa, Tagitagi and Nasinu.

Sikhs in Fiji


The Suva Gurdwara, built in 1922, is the oldest of all. Sikhs in Fiji built their houses on their farms and thus they do not have Punjab-type villages. For them the Gurdwaras took on more than usual importance as social centres. Baisakhi, Guru Nanak’s and Guru Gobind Singh’s birthdays are celebrated in all the Gurdwaras. Akhand Paaths attract a large number of people. The list of five Gurdwaras is given in Appendix 17. SIKH INSTITUTIONS

The Sikh Educational Society of Fiji formed in 1960 looks after the educational matters and the Sikh Association promotes religious and other interests of the community. The Khalsa College and the Khalsa Primary School in Ba, Fiji, have completed a fascinating journey of more than half-a-century. Some of the institutions which are run by the Sikh Educational Society of Fiji, have already celebrated their golden jubilees. The Sikhs of Fiji have established the following institutions: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)

Khalsa College, Ba. Shri Guru Nanak Khalsa Primary School, Ba. Khalsa Secondary School, Labasa. Shri Guru Nanak Khalsa Primary School, Labasa. Nadiri Bay Khalsa Primary School, Sigatoka.

Pupils of all races, including the natives, attend these institutions. The medium of instruction is English, but vigorous efforts are being made to teach Punjabi in Gurmukhi script in Ba and Labasa institutions. There are sports, social and cultural groups in all the important centres KHALSA COLLEGE, BA Shri Guru Nanak Khalsa School Committee was formed in 1955 and they acquired the buildings and lands of Ba Methodist School in 1958 to build the first Khalsa School. The first session started in 1959 at the ‘Wailailai Heights’. It became a High School in 1960. In the district of Ba, Xavier College was the only institution which was aided that time and Khalsa High School became the


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

second aided school in 1967. In 1974, Khalsa High School was renamed Khalsa College. Secondary Schools were allowed to do so. It provides instruction in the Gurmukhi language to Sikh pupils. It is a multi-racial and co-educational institution open to students of all communities. In 1972, out of a total roll of 491 students, only 124 were Sikhs. The Guru Nanak Khalsa Primary School was also built at the same site in Ba. A small school, the Naduri Bay Khalsa Primary School, was built near Sigatoka to provide for the needs of the small Sikh community in the area. The Guru Nanak Khalsa Primary School opened in Labasa in 1970 with 47 students on the rolls. Gurmat Camp in Fiji Islands (Sikhnet News, 17 January 2008) was held at Tagi Tagi Gurdwara Sahib, Tavua, Fiji Islands, from 7-12 January 2008. There were 27 participants, both girls and boys, aged from 8 to 19 years. The schedule was from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. each day. The programme included: Nitnem, Gurbani recital and explanations, Gurmukhi teaching, Guru Itihaas, Sikh History, Rehat Maryada, Kirtan and Music, Sikh Discipline, Sports and Kaar Sewa, etc. All participants were very eager to know about Sikhism. Writeup details were handed out and Power Point presentation covered many aspects of Sikh faith, Gurbani, Sikh History and prominence of Sikhs around the world. This Gurmat Camp was the first ever organized in Fiji. SOCIAL AND CULTURAL LIFE

There are sports, social and cultural groups in all the main towns. Bhangra and giddha have recently become very popular among the Sikhs and non-Sikh communities because of the colourful costumes and fast, rhythmic movements of the dancers. The local radio stations give a lot of prominence to Punjabi songs. Inspite of all this, there is a feeling among the Sikhs that they are cut off from the cultural mainstream which prompts them to move out to the UK, USA, and Canada which have more substantial Sikh populations.

Sikhs in Fiji



(Website: The Sikhs of Fiji) Although the majority of gainfully employed Sikhs in Fiji were agriculturalists in the beginning, farming was and is not the sole occupation but is combined with other activities. Sikhs are alert to business opportunities and like to make productive investments. There are Sikh building contractors, business executives, civil servants, drivers, lumbermen, market vendors, pedlars, policeman, school teachers, shopkeepers, and bus operators. Additionally there are a few in the fields of medicine and law and some others in nearly all walks of life in Fiji. Because of their traditional connection with agriculture, most of the Sikh immigrants looked for work in farming localities, especially in Suva, mostly in areas like Tamavua and Nasinu, and started small farms. A few found jobs as labourers in the city of Suva while a majority moved to the cane-lands of the west in Nadi, Lautoka, Ba, and Tavua. This is where most of the Sikhs settled as cane cultivators themselves after spending on an average two or three years as farm labourers. A Sikh farmer’s hours of work began very early in the morning and finished quite late in the evening. Many of the Fiji Sikh farmers helped each other and so saved spending money on labour. In the early days in the West the cane farmers thrived under the most difficult of circumstances, as heavy machinery had not yet arrived, they built their foundations with lots of hard manual labour and with the help of ox driven ploughs. In later years there was widespread awareness among the cane farmers, especially the rich Sikhs, of the value of mechanization. Along with the use of new seed varieties and commercial fertilizers, hundreds of tractors had been acquired to modernize the farms. Apart from cane cultivation, a number of Sikhs were engaged in dairy farming which was carried on in the wet parts of Fiji where rice could be grown profitably. Some of the Sikh dairy farmers, who did not supply milk or cream to the factories, sold their milk to the Gujaratis and other residents of Suva and turned the surplus into ghee.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

A number of Sikhs were found in the timber industry as well, most of the timber mills were small and there was not much capital to install modern and efficient machinery. Since the demand for timber was heavy and cost of imported timber relatively high, these small operators, in spite of many problems, were able to make some profit even as machinery and equipment were out-dated. SIKH POPULATION

The population of Sikhs is estimated to be 4,000 at present and about 85 per cent of the families have their roots in Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur districts. In the 1960s and 1970s, it was approximately 10,000, but many have since migrated to greener pastures. According to the 1921 census, 449 of the 61,000 Indians were Punjab-born. Between 1927 and 1930, 1,508 male but only 18 female Punjabi immigrants came to Fiji. According to the 1956 census, 468 out of a total of 25,848 Fiji Indian households stated Punjabi as their main spoken language. According to the 1966 census, only 3,002 of the 240,960 Fiji Indians were of the Sikh faith and there were 175 households who had knowledge of Gurmukhi. In the 1996 census, 3,076 individuals listed their religion as being Sikh. And finally according to the 2007 census, 2,577 individuals listed their religion as being Sikh. This represents 0.86 per cent of the Fiji Indian population. SIKH EXODUS

In recent years, not only the Sikhs but the whole country faced political crisis, suffering and economic problems because of the two coups; one by General Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987 and the other by a civilian, George Speight in 2000. The ethnic Fijians, are becoming more nationalistic in their outlook. Their argument is that Fiji is their country and they, not any immigrant race, should rule it. The majority of the Indians are tenant farmers. When the land leases expire, the natives do not want to renew it. At present the

Sikhs in Fiji


Indian farmers, including Sikh families, are facing a difficult situation created by landlessness, displacements and evictions. During the last few years, the trend towards out-migration has again accelerated. They are not optimistic about their future in this country and therefore are trying to migrate to Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. The most interesting feature of migration is that not a single Sikh family has gone back to Punjab to settle on the soil of their roots from which their forefathers had come. SIKHS IN POLITICS

The constitution of Fiji classifies Sikhs as Indians. Majority of them have been supporters of the National Federation Party which was once predominantly the party of the Fiji-islanders and its President was a Sikh for many years. However now the new generations are inclined more towards the Fiji Labour Party. Since Fiji’s independence, two or three Sikhs have been members of Parliament. Ujagar Singh was elected to the Legislative Council of Fiji in the 1968 by-election from the Nasinu Indian Communal Constituency. He was also a member of independent Fiji’s House of Representatives. Sarvan Singh was member of the House of Representatives of Fiji, representing Labasa from 1972 to 1982. Battan Singh, a businessman based in Nausori, was member of the Senate of Fiji from 1970 to 1977. Gurmit Singh, an educationist, who served as a teachers’ college Principal, and as an Education Officer, was Justice of the Peace of Suva. SOME PROMINENT SIKHS

1. Bhai Gyan Singh Sangha was the first Sikh priest in Fiji. He was known for his work in the field of religion. He shared his knowledge and spread the words of Sikhism and Sikh Gurus’ philosophy to others. He and his wife Pritam Kaur were very devoted to the Sikh community. Many Sikhs having left India were forgetting their culture and religion. This devoted couple helped the immigrants retain their Sikhi.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

2. Mehar Singh (a.k.a Padri Mehar Singh) was the first President (1937-44) of the first effective Cane Farmers Union in Fiji, the Kisan Sangh. 3. Jogindar Singh Kanwal has been a long serving Principal of Khalsa College in Ba, Fiji. He has written a number of books in Hindi which include, Mera Desh Mere Log; Savera; Dharti Meri Mata and Karvat but his best known book is a survey of the development of Hindi in Fiji, called A Hundred Years of Hindi in Fiji. With like-minded people, he formed the Hindi Association of Fiji. 4. Phuman Singh served in WW I and survived. He was appointed Justice of Peace. He was a prominent member of the Suva Gurdwara.

NOTES 1. Darshan Singh Tatla, The Sikh Diaspora: The Search for Statehood, Seattle: University of Washington. 2. Hugh Tinker, Separate and Unequal, London: C. Hurst & Company, 1976. 3. Joginder Singh Kanwal, The Sikh Review, December 2003.


Sikhs in the Philippines: The ‘5-6 Bumbay’ Moneylenders

The Philippines, being a protectorate of the USA in the early twentieth century, was used by Sikhs as a base to migrate to America. Migration to the Philippines was low, but picked up somewhat post Indian independence in 1947 and much more from 1990s onwards till now. The Sikhs, who were watchmen in old times, are now moneylenders, famously called ‘Bumbay 5-6’. Over the last decade or more, they have been the target of several murder plots, and hence their safety has become a matter of concern. The Indian population in the Philippines is anywhere around 30,000 to 1,00,000 and the Punjabis are in a majority. SINGHVI REPORT (2001)

It may be noted that as against the exodus of the Indian indentured labour to the British colonies in Southeast Asia (and Africa), the Indians who went to the Philippines were free to select their destination and were not vulnerable to the unmitigated exploitation of the indentured system. Despite there being no discrimination or restrictions on Indian immigration into the Philippines, Indians came only in trickles. They preferred to migrate to the USA and Canada. The Philippines was the last choice for them after Singapore and Hong Kong. Sindhi merchants were the first to arrive. Immigrants from Punjab came close behind, in around 1902. Quite often, the Indians would come to Hong Kong and from there to the Philippines without even knowing its name and existence, for purely economic reasons. The majority of the Indians in the Philippines is settled in


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Manila, but some are also present in other towns of the country. Amongst them the Sindhi community is mainly engaged in trade and manufacturing, whereas Punjabis are dealing in moneylending. There are two Indian joint ventures in artificial yarn production. Indians have a dominant position in manufacturing and export of garments. There are many Gurdwaras and Hindu temples. The traditional structure of the two main linguistic groups – the Sindhis and the Punjabis constituting the Indian community in the Philippines, has gradually changed with a large number of highly educated civil servants from India coming to join the international organizations, such as the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and a number of other UN agencies with regional offices in the Philippines. In addition, business and industry representatives from India engaged in joint ventures in the Philippines, or multinational Indian corporations (Birlas, Kirloskars, Dalmia), have made Manila their business base in Asia. There is a monthly magazine called Samachar (in English), which is run by the Sindhi community. We may mention among the prominent Indians the name of Prof. Ajit Singh Rye, who retired as Head of the Asian Centre, University of the Philippines. He has been in the Philippines for about fifty years and has an intellectual passion – both written and spoken – about India. Considering the comparatively small number of Indians in the Philippines, they have had some presence in local politics. Mr Ramon Bagatsing, born to an Indian father and a Filipino mother, was Mayor of Manila during the Presidency of Mr Marcos. Former Senator Laticia Shahani, sister of President Ramos is married to an Indian. Her son, Ranjit Shahani is a Member of the House of Representatives. SIKH MIGRATION

In 1902, a Sikh from the village of Sangatpur, Dist. Jalandhar was the first to settle in Manila. His choice of the Philippines

Sikhs in Philippines


was accidental, since, he was, in fact, booked to travel to the United States. He sailed, instead, for Manila when he learned that the Philippines had fallen to the Americans and there were many opportunities for advancement there. He was soon followed by others. In 1924, Sikhs built their first Gurdwara in the Paco area of Manila. According to Darlene Machell de Leon Espena,1 Lecturer, Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University, In the 1930s, there were only about 250 Sikh migrants in the Philippines and in 1939, their number increased to approximately 457. In 1952, Indian migrants rose to 1,535, approximately three-fifths of which were Sikhs. In 1967, the number Indians barely increased to 1,640, in 1982 it increased to 2,033 and in 1990 it rose to 4,129. At the turn of the century, the strength of the Indian community in the Philippines mounted to 34,955. From the data presented it is apparent that the Indian community rose slowly but steadily after India’s Independence in 1947. From 1990 to 2000, it is also interesting to point out that Indian population escalated rapidly. The statistical data on Indian migrants does not distinguish the Sikhs from the Hindus, but based on the accounts of the Sikhs themselves, they outnumber the Hindus in the country – 60 per cent are Sikhs from Punjab and 40 per cent are Hindus from Sindh. From this estimate, we can assume that in 2000, there were about 23,300 Sikhs all around the country and about half this number resides in Manila and its surrounding areas. In the 1950s, Sikh moneylenders were able to accumulate substantial amount of money and were able to establish their own retail stores in Manila, particularly in Escolta and Quiapo area. In 1954, the Philippine Government issued the Nationalization of Retail Trade Act which prohibited foreign nationals to engage in retail trading. Although the law, which was passed by President Ramon Magsaysay, was not directed at the Sikhs, some of them were still affected. Some Sikh retail store owners were forced to move out of Manila and go to the provinces where the implementation of the law is more relaxed and where there was less competition in business. This process indirectly pushed Sikhs to move from the congested urban centres to rural areas, further dispersing and expanding their presence throughout the country. Other Sikhs even managed to avoid the law by marrying Filipinas and consigning their properties under the name of their wives. From the 1950s onwards, some Sikhs in Manila continued their moneylending business while some also ventured into other


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

occupations. Some have already established restaurants specializing in Indian cuisine like the New Delhi Restaurant along Quirino Avenue. Others are employed in local and multi-national companies located in and out of Manila. At the turn of the century, some members of the Sikh community have established various Indian specialty stores along United Nations Avenue in Ermita. Assad, the earliest Indian specialty store near the Sikh Temple in Manila, was established by a Muslim in 1990. It was subsequently followed by several other Indian specialty stores and outlets owned by Sikh merchants such as Uncle Ed’s and Little India. From being serenos, they ventured to peddle and then to money lending and thereby they slowly fortified their economic standing in Manila. From being transient drifters who had practically nothing to lose as they simply wanted to try their luck, the Sikhs, have relied on hard work, determination and perseverance and have eventually sowed firm economic grounding in the Philippines. THE MONEYLENDERS: ‘5-6 BUMBAY’

One evening in Manila on my way back to my hotel in a taxi, I was stopped at a Police Check Post and asked to present my ID. The first question by the Policeman was if I was a ‘5-6 Bumbay’. That’s how widespread is the association of a Sikh with moneylending. An article by Saeed Naqvi in the Indian Express dated 20 April 2001 has the following to say: In the Philippines, they are the 5-6. There are approximately 30,000 Indians in these 7,000 islands. The Sikhs from Jalandhar bribe their way to a visa, cut their hair, pack away their turbans, force themselves to acquire a working taste for seafood and become moneylenders. They lend at the rate of 5:6. In a sense, they are the economy’s rural credit. Equipped with some capital and a motorbike, a 5-6 will lend, 100 pesos to a shopkeeper. Then, for the next month, he will collect 4 pesos a day without collateral or written record, frequently robbed on their way home, engaged in work that is illegal.

In Philippines, Americans are called ‘Joe’, Japanese ‘Hapon’, and Chinese ‘Intsik’, anyone from South Asia with sharp features is called ‘Bumbay’. The addition 5-6 came from the nature of the moneylending transaction, viz. borrow 5 and pay 6, the real trick or flexibility or negotiation being over what period the instalments have to be paid.

Sikhs in Philippines


The article ‘Indian Financiers: The Unwelcome People in the Philippines’ by Mari Kondo2 (2003) describes the moneylending activity by Punjabis very comprehensively. While transacting business, generally Indian 5-6 moneylenders take the initiative, preferring to deal with female customers. If a store is run by a couple, Indians prefer the husband to be absent when they make their initial approach. Although many Filipinos speak English, for daily communication they use their local language, either Tagalog (Filipino) or a regional language in non-Tagalog regions. Indian 5-6 moneylenders can also speak some English, but many are more fluent in the local languages in which they conduct almost all their business. The first transaction with a new client is considered by the Indian 5-6 to be an investment. Though his business is moneylending, he initially offers not money but goods to be paid back on instalment, an arrangement called hulugan. (Earlier, some Indian moneylenders had engaged in door-to-door peddling and some eventually ran shops still known for their hulugan business.) The standard items offered in the initial transaction are umbrellas, towels, bed sheets, and small electrical appliances. There is nothing special about these goods except that they are needed by everyone. The moneylenders purchase them in Manila wholesale markets where they are sold at low prices. The lender then goes to the store of a prospective client with these goods and simply asks her to purchase on an instalment basis. The Indian 5-6 moneylenders admit that it is difficult to convince potential customers to do business with them. The key to penetrating the market is to be humble but persistent. One described his approach – ‘Ma’am, would you like to buy something from me?’ – while he started to show his goods. The usual reaction of Filipinos is to decline instantly, saying ‘No, I am not interested,’ because they prefer not to associate with a strange ‘Bumbay’. But the Indian is persistent. Perhaps as a reflection of the difference in risk involved, Indian 5-6s offer shorter credit terms. The time spent on daily collection visits provides the lender an opportunity to assess whether the client will pay daily without delay and in what manner. Upon receipt of goods, some clients insult, malign, or shout at the ‘Bumbay 5-6’ when he comes to collect. When this happens, especially with a firsttime client, the Indian lender is often quiet and tolerant. He tells the client that he will come back the next day. A customer who does not want to pay the Indian 5-6 usually hides. Daily collection of payments is key to the success of 5-6 business. Indian lenders these days ride motorbikes when collecting payments. For various reasons, Indian


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

5-6 moneylenders are prime and easy targets of hold-ups while on their collection routes. First, they are easily identified because of their appearance, sometimes including a turban and beard as proof of being Sikh, and they are always on a motorbike. Second, their chance of having cash is high. ‘We are like a walking cash dispenser,’ it is uncommon for Indian hold-up victims to report the incident to the police. Many are illegal immigrants without the required papers to conduct business in the country. Even if the hold-up is reported, the police may not be sympathetic to someone considered a foreign loan shark. All Indian moneylenders interviewed had either experienced a hold-up himself or had a close friend or family member who had been robbed, and death was not an unlikely outcome. Some big-time Indian 5-6 have a good relationship with the police. The availability of cheap and abundant funds is crucial for a financing business and shapes the ability of any moneylender to expand his business. One distinctive characteristic of Indian moneylenders is their ability to source funds from India. Most Punjabis (90 per cent Sikhs and 90 per cent of them clean shaven) are into moneylending business. Everyone knows them especially all small shops, retailers and people in the street (if wife borrows, she tells 5-6 not to tell her husband and vice versa, same for parents and children, sisters and brothers). It’s a big economic phenomenon. There are thousands of them spread all over and are very well known across the country. They are serving a useful purpose: no questions asked, instant credit given, no documentation whatsoever and home delivery.

I saw this phenomenon in action. The sole documentation involved in a note book which stays with the borrower, with no signatures whatsoever but only with a notation of the total sum borrowed and the daily payments date wise. A 5-6 comes by a motorbike (earlier bicycle, or walking) on his rounds for a quick stop on the road-side, and the borrower pays a daily instalment. The 5-6 tick marks against the date. If not received, he puts a cross, which means that the next day, two instalments have to be paid. At one stage a few years ago, the President wanted to abolish 5-6 but there was hue and cry by the borrowers. In case of a bad debt, 5-6 do not resort to threats or anger – only persuasion and request. The debt is rarely denied, but inability to pay is conveyed by not being present when the 5-6 is expected for collection, or

Sikhs in Philippines


Figure 7.1: A ‘5-6 Bumbay’ Lending Money to the Color Foto Lady Shop Owner

by explaining that because of difficulties the borrower cannot pay the instalment. Government authorities claim that the practice is illegal: it violates the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, which prohibits foreigners from engaging in small businesses, reserved for Filipino nationals. Thus, any foreigner engaged in retail trade, such as micro-credit, is liable to deportation. In another transaction I witnessed the 5-6 went to a woman running a pavement kiosk and asked her if she needs money. She wanted P10,000, which was to be returned from the next day through 120 instalments of P100. Which means the lender makes 20 per cent over 120 days, if he gets his money back. Negotiations were quick, while customers were watching, and conducted with smiles and Punjabi humour, with a friendly ‘gaali’ thrown in like ‘Bibi hunn bhulli naan – Asi tere yaar haan!’ And off goes the 5-6 to his next client. Sometimes, a woman from the next kiosk or across the road, shouts at the 5-6 to come to her as she needs money too. I saw several 5-6 going around the roads. With a hassle-free lifestyle and easy availability of women and sex the Philippines is an attractive country for Punjab village youths, whose landholdings are small and who just have high


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

school education with no prospects of a good job. Police and Immigration and even the Indian Embassy staff seem to be malleable to say the least. Many Punjabis are irregular immigrants, and their main occupation, 5-6, is a tax free income. Considering that there are a total of around 15,000-20,000 Sikhs (legal immigrants or otherwise) in the business, and an individual’s collection of say between Pesos 3,000-4,000 a day (some mentioned a figure as high as Pesos 1 lakh a day), it works out to a daily collection at lower estimate of 4,000 × 15,000 or 60 million per day. Annually, considering bad debts, delayed payments, etc., multiplying with 250 days, the amounts of money involved runs into Pesos 15 billion. Considering country’s GDP of Pesos 3,200 billion, it is a significant part of Philipino economy. Some estimates say that money involved is much higher. How does a Sikh get started? He brings in from home or borrows from relatives in the Philippines say P5 lakh (a medium size operator). He would get in a month and half or so P6 lakhs which he re-loans, thereby completing 8 cycles in a year, or let’s assume 7 cycles a year. Taking out his monthly expense of P40,000 including facilitation fees to the Police and other officials and a bad debt of say P50,000, his net increased capital would be 17.5 lakhs minus 5 lakhs, i.e. 12.5 lakhs which is more than double the initial investment. The issue is, can he muster so many clients – once someone starts borrowing, it is almost impossible to get out of the trap. Assuming the average client size is at the lower end of borrowing P10,000, he would need P12 lakhs to lend to 120 clients. A normal number is 100-50 clients. So when he gets bigger, he looks for clients who would borrow higher sums and since clients of the right type might not be available, he starts diluting his customer profile and making the business risky and vulnerable. Also taking 120 clients per 5-6, there would be at one time 15,000 × 120 = 1.8 million people borrowing in a population of 80 million. That’s how big and spread out the 5-6 business is. The 5-6 are socially sensitive. In an incident in a hospital, the mother of the child in the next bed to a 5-6, could not pay a bill of P10,635 as she had no money because her husband had left her. The 5-6 paid up on her behalf without any hesitation.

Sikhs in Philippines


Some client stories are typical: One vegetable and fish vendor in Caloocan says Indian moneylenders are understanding of clients who sometimes are unable to pay on time. She says she borrows from an Indian moneylender every two months to reinforce her capital. For a P5,000-loan, the vendor pays P100 per day. On days when she earns only P300, she cannot pay her daily due. But she says her Indian lender merely takes note of it and doesn’t make a scene. A tricycle driver who usually has a daily due of P20 to an Indian moneylender at any given time admits to being remiss with his payments occasionally. But he says the Indians ‘rarely complain. They just say, ‘Okay, tomorrow’.

Other tricycle drivers and market vendors also say the Indian moneylenders do not get ‘overly angry’ or violent, although they say some do get fed up and huff, ‘You’re all just –’. Asian Institute of Management Associate Professor Mari Kondo even says that it was the Indian lenders who helped keep Filipino vendors afloat during the 1997 financial crisis. The moneylenders tapped funds from India, where the rupee was only slightly affected, she says in a 2003 paper, ‘Indian 5-6s can be an asset for Filipino society, especially during economic downturns’. In an article in Hindustan Times titled: ‘India’s “Five Sixers” do Important Business in the Philippines’, there is an interesting case study. There is smart looking Sonu Singh, in his early 30s, who migrated to the Philippines a decade ago right after completing his schooling in India. ‘I brought along a lot of cash. I sold my portion of a property and migrated here,’ Sonu Singh told the correspondent while listening to Punjabi folk music in his car. How much did you bring? ‘Around Rs. 5 lakh’, he said, a little hesitantly. And then? ‘Well, I started my micro-finance business. I go on my motorcycle to rural areas and offer micro-finance to the people who need money. I also sell them goods like bed sheets, towels, fancy clothes, anything, all in the form of a loan,’ said Sonu Singh, who slips easily into Punjabi or Tagalog (Filipino) but cannot speak Hindi well. There is a sore lack of banking facilities in the Philippines, especially in rural areas. These youths from Punjab fill in that


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

gap of money requirement. The US, which took over control of the Philippines from the Spanish from 1898 to 1946 and still shares very close ties with the island nation, imbibed in the locals their ‘spendthrift ways’. A Filipino earns well, but spends equally well. By the time it is the 15th of the month, he or she has no cash left. The Philippinos invariably spend their monthly earnings on good living. The incentive to save money has not been built into the system yet. It is for this reason many Filipinos opt to draw their salary twice in a month – in two half packets. SIKH MURDERS

The ‘5-6’ phenomenon has led to some resentment among the local Filipinos against the Indians. At the same time, there is a realization that they cannot do without the services of these microfinanciers. And so the service continues, with deadly consequences at times. Every year there are some reported incidents of Indians being murdered or shot while on their rounds to collect payments or getting into a fatal fight with rival moneylenders who have forayed into their turf. According to a Reuters report from Manila: Kidnapping for ransom has become so common over the past three decades that the Philippines has been dubbed the kidnapping capital of Asia, with small-scale ‘freelance’ kidnappers aiming to make money operating alongside politically-motivated groups. The Philippines National Police says foreign kidnap gangs from India, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia were also operating in the country, preying on their own nationals due to business rivalry and plain ransom.

A news item published in The Tribune, Chandigarh, titled ‘Its Punjabis vs Punjabis in Philippines’ by Varinder Singh, ‘They give “suparis” to get each other eliminated by criminals’. In a report emanating from Jalandhar, appearing in The Tribune dated 19 November 2011: The over one-lakh strong Punjabi community in Philippines is in a state of shock after the recent spurt in brutal murders of Punjabi youths, most of whom are into the lucrative moneylending business in that country. While, 25-30 Punjabi youths have been murdered in

Sikhs in Philippines


Philippines this year alone, a whopping number of 150 Punjabis have lost their lives there since 2005. After 1994-5, inter-gang rivalries and murders of Punjabis witnessed a spurt from 2005 onwards, with 25-30 youths losing their lives to violence every year. The Punjabis in Philippines are worried by the fact that it is mostly Punjabis who are behind the high incidence of violence and that young and neorich Punjabis have even started foraying into ‘supari’ killings of each other with the help of local criminal gangs. Philippinos too are getting impatient over the increasing involvement of Punjabis in crime.‘Earlier, it was mainly drug addicts who killed Punjabis to loot them. Now it is Punjabis who are after lives of Punjabis. Jealousy due to rising prosperity is fuelling murders and kidnappings. Neo-rich Punjabis don’t like the prosperity of other Punjabis and when the rivalries take a turn for the worst they hire contract killers to kill those they want to target,’ said Mandip Singh Happy, the president of the NRI Sabha, Punjab’s Philippines wing. He said that after committing crimes, Punjabis head to India in search of a safe haven. Some Punjabi youths killed had settled there after their marriage to Philippino girls. After their second marriages in Punjab, they were eliminated by relatives of their Philippino wives,’ said Mandip Singh. Generally, Indians whose friends and relatives are killed are harassed by kidnappers and extortionists. They avoid lodging a complaint with the authorities.






‘Another Moga Youth, Fourth in a Month, Killed in Philippines’ Kulwinder Sandhu, Tribune News Service, Moga, 10 August 2013. ‘Moga Man Running Finance Company in Philippines Shot Dead’ Kulwinder Sandhu, Tribune News Service, Moga, 6 October 2011. ‘Indian Shot dead in Manila’ Wednesday, 19 December 2007. ‘Another Kapurthala Youth Killed in Manila’, Dharmendra Joshi Tribune News Service, Kapurthala, 7 July 2006. ‘11 Punjabis Killed in Philippines since 2005’ Tribune News Service Jalandhar, 22 January 2006. ‘Manila Murder Spree Continues: 38-year-old from Aulakh Village Gunned Down’, Anuradha Shukla, Tribune News Service, Jalandhar, 10 January 2006.


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‘Murderous Manila Connection’, Arun Sharma, Tribune News Service, Kala Sanghian (Kapurthala), 8 November 2005. ‘Filipino Indians Live in Fear’, M.K. Tayal, 6 November 2005. GURDWARAS

There are Gurdwaras spread all over the country. The largest and oldest Indian organization is the Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple in the United Nations Avenue in Manila, which was established in 1929. Sindhis used to attend too, before separating later on. An interesting photo of 1937-8 Committee is hanging in Gurdwara Office: Executive Committee 1937-8. Caption: Sitting – Gajjar Singh, Chanan Singh, Awtar Singh Bihla (Secretary), Ram Singh (President), Jeet Singh, Pala Singh, Indar Singh Pakhowal, Bakshish Singh, Banta Singh Padda (Treasurer), Ujagar Singh, Tirlok Singh, Ratan Singh, Partap Singh. (All above were Keshadhari turbaned Sikhs). Present Committee – All non-turbaned Sikhs. President – Balwant Rai Bansal Vice-President – Gurmit Singh Secretary – Hem Raj Langar is served almost all the time as and when a person comes; tea and ‘lassi’ are also available. A Sikh (nicknamed Prince) has set up a small shop on the premises – he also has a printing press (Punjabi) at home. Collections at the Gurdwara can run into 3-4 lakhs per month and more on special occasions. Expenses are also high. On the Sunday of my visit, there were two sittings with very good kirtan, 7-8 a.m. and 1-2 p.m., the latter a Bhog for the death of a Sikh resident. About 100 people attended each session with some 10-20 common attendees – all well organized. The Prayer Hall is upstairs, carpeted and air conditioned; downstairs are the langar and offices, etc., which could be cleaner and better organized. A local paid employee Shiele is very efficiently maintaining the accounts. The Committee is made up of the younger generation, very casual in their general attitude, talking frivolously at times but very keen to have shabad kirtan, granthi and paath, etc., which keeps them together.

Sikhs in Philippines


Two factions of Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple are fighting over the control of the vast funds and property which the Gurdwara has acquired from offerings and through protection of the 5-6 overstayers. According to Ms Darlene Machell de Leon Espeña, Lecturer, Department of History, Ateneo de Manila University, To date, more than twenty Sikh temples are scattered all around the Philippines, which further attests to the growing number of Sikh migrants in the country. There are about 12 comparatively well known Gurdwaras covering many islands and probably 10-12 more on which information was somewhat scanty. In addition there are 9 new Gurdwaras.

A list of Gurdwaras is given in Appendix 18. PUNJABI SCHOOL

The following news item is noteworthy. Indian Express, 30 November 2014.


1. Bhagwant of Khalsa Diwan says that Indians normally enjoy a good relationship with Filipinos. He and his family have been here since the 1970s. But he is now contemplating if it is still worth staying, in light of the increasing attacks against Indians. Yet an Indian who declines to be named asserts that many Indian migrants are staying put in the Philippines. ‘Indians in the Philippines have a better income than in India,’ he says.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

‘They’re taking a big risk by coming here, (but) they say never mind, if it has to be, it has to be. If we’re going to die, we’re going to die anyway.’ The reason why the business has spread like jungle fire is because every transaction is without any paperwork. ‘It is built on total trust’. Most Sikhs have either smuggled themselves in through almost inaccessible islands, or have mastered the art of the fake visa. The role of the Philippine embassy in New Delhi is helpful – visas are given by fair means or foul. For this, the ingenuity of the Indians has found a way out. They find Filipino girls who are willing to ‘marry’ them for a price, and a cheap one at that – 10,000 pesos or so. Once the marriage certificate is registered, the ‘wife’ takes her money and becomes scarce, while the Indian continues to stay on with a permanent resident visa. If they cannot manage that, they disappear among the crowd as illegal immigrants. Mostly such Punjabi Indians marry women from their own land or the daughters of local Punjabi families. The illegal Punjabis sometimes stay at the local Gurdwaras and eat at the langar if they are too poor. But the lure of making easy money is bringing more and more such youngsters from Punjab. 2. In an interesting observation by Aswini Kumar Nanda and Jacques Veron, in their paper ‘In Search of Distant Shores: Exploring Contemporary Emigration from the Indian Punjab, says: Such is the power of the foreign soil that in recent times a system of barter has crept into the solemnization of marriage in Punjab. There are reports of Punjabi men seeking immigrant status in the Philippines marrying Filipino women who readily agree for the sake of money. As females outnumber males in the Philippines and male outnumber females in the Punjab, this turns out to be a ‘marriage of convenience’ for both parties. After marriage, these women are brought back to the Punjab where they stay to look after the family of the emigrant while the men leave for the Philippines to carry on businesses such as moneylending.

3. Lorraine Carlos Salazar, ‘The Indian Community in Metro Manila: Continuities, Changes and the Effects, of Rising India’,

Sikhs in Philippines


in Rising India and Indian Communities in East Asia,3 describes as follows: (a) Punjabis currently dominate the financing business as well as the retail of consumer goods on instalment basis. Today, the Punjabis control a large portion of the informal financing or micro-credit. In contrast to the Sindhis who work from the comforts of an air-conditioned office, the Punjabis roam the streets of Manila walking or on a motorcycle, lending or collecting from their clients who form the country’s underground economy. The Table provides the most recent estimate of the size of the Indian communities in the Philippines. The total number of Indians residing in the country is a topic of much speculation, as there are no official government statistics. The conservative approximation from the Indian High Commission in Manila estimates the community to be about 30,000 people. Of these, an estimated 3,000 have taken up Philippine citizenship, while the rest are on resident or long-term visa. Unofficial estimates from various sources during my field research put the size at between 50,000 to 150,000, the bulk of which is composed of Punjabis who illegally enter or stay in the country. Members of the Sindhi community point out that the only reliable statistics in the above table are those pertaining to the Sindhi portion. (b) Indian Associations: For Punjabis and Sikhs, the Khalsa Diwan (Sikh temple) is the centre of their religious and social lives. The Khalsa Diwan was constructed in 1932 with contributions from both the Punjabi and Sindhi communities. Up until 1962, it was the centre TABLE: INDIANS IN METRO MANILA Country

Metro Manila





Sindhis Punjabis Students MNCS and their families ADB/IRRI and others

7,000 40,000 200

300 5,000 50

300 4,000 NA

200 2,000 NA

7,800 51,000 250


















Sikhs in Asia Pacific

of worship for both communities. However, a misunderstanding led to the Sindhis withdrawal from the Gurdwara and the move into a private residence in Paco for Sunday gatherings. Today, about 2,000 Punjabis worship at the Khalsa Diwan every Sunday. The Gurdwara has an all-day langar every day of the week and provides a place of refuge to many Punjabis. During Sundays, small stalls selling Indian vegetables, medicines, music and movies are erected. Also, located near the Khalsa Diwan is Manila’s little India, where the number of Indian groceries and restaurants is growing. Meanwhile, about eleven other Gurdwaras have been built nationwide, with many others currently under construction. (c) Increasing presence of Sikhs and 5-6 Business: In the past five years, the number of Punjabis in the country has increased, and their reach has spread. However, it seems that implementation of the law is different from its spirit as the Police and the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation (BID) have rarely arrested or deported Bumbays. They claim to face difficulties in finding Bumbays engaged in 5-6 activities as the lending activities are undertaken in a very discreet manner. Yet, a cursory survey of Metro Manila streets shows how Bumbays openly ply Metro Manila streets on motorbikes and collect payments from street vendors. Nevertheless, one escape clause for the Bumbays is that they have married Filipino women or have taken on common law wives and because of this; they have acquired temporary residence visas. Thus, they are technically not aliens. While the official Government position is that 5-6 lending is illegal, many Filipinos borrow from them because of the ease of access to small amounts of credit. In fact, some poor Filipinos call them ‘last best hope’, or ‘life-savers’, especially those in dire need in case for emergencies or to start a small business. Street vendors, sari-sari store owners, newspaper vendors, street-food carts and other small businesses actually rely on the Bumbay for credit and capital. Some see the Bombay as a partner, not a threat, as he provides seed capital for many small entrepreneurs who need start-up capital but could never borrow officially from a bank who asks for collaterals or excessive paper work. However, others see the Bumbay as a bogeyman. Looking at the practice from the perspective of the Bumbay, while 5-6 has a high turnover or potential for profit, the practice also comes with high risks, mostly shouldered by the lender. Given that he is a foreigner engaged in an illegal activity, people could take advantage of him, borrow money, and run away. There have been stories of borrowers running away from their obligation and moving

Sikhs in Philippines


residences. Furthermore, there are the risks of street robbery as the Bumbay is carrying a lot of cash. Finally, there are cases when the borrower has gone bankrupt or is unable to pay. This is particularly prevalent in the provinces in cases of crop failure. In these situations, the Bumbay just considers them losses or the costs of doing business. In addition, one can only imagine the amount that Bumbay has to pay to the local police as well as the immigration official in order to be allowed to stay in the country. Given all these risks, the life of a 5-6 lender is not at all easy. Add to this the increasing competition from Indian nationals as well as from Filipino, Korean, and Chinese moneylenders who have copied the Indian scheme, finding out that it is a good business. The two part series of the Inquirer raised varying comments. Ajeet Panemanglor, a Filipino-Indian wrote to decry the stereotyping and racial discrimination that the article stirred. He argued that not all Indians are involved in 5-6. He condemned how the article reinforced racist stereotypes and attitudes against Indians in the country. Yet another letter writer to the editor commended the Inquirer for covering and exposing something that has been going on for a long time, with the Philippine government turning a blind eye to the situation. The Indian High Commission in Manila is not unaware of these developments. In an interview, Charge d’Affairs at the Indian embassy Tsengwal Nyawal, talked about the fact that for the common Filipino, the persistent perception of Indians is their experience with 5-6 – not the ‘rising Indian’, the big Sindhi businessmen, or profesional expatriates and chief executive officers (CEOs). He argues that 5-6 has become the lifeline of many poor Filipinos who have no access to the formal banking process. The only solution to the problem is formalizing an official micro-credit system to allow the poor to have access to loans and credit. On their part, the Indian High Commission in Manila is working towards curbing the inflow of people, mostly from the Punjab by writing to the Punjab Government to create awareness and discourage entry to the Philippines, though the results are yet to be seen. Normally, Punjabis come to the Philippines because they hear about the available opportunities from their own relatives. Through the family or village network, Punjabis bring their relatives from rural Punjab and start them off in the 5-6 job as a collector. The Punjabi new arrival is thrown in a foreign context without the knowledge of the language. He is then made to collect debts and must learn the local language fast. When the newcomer learns the language, his


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

relative usually starts him off in his own business by lending him a small amount of capital to rollover. Since they entered on a tourist visa, most of them either stay illegally or marry a local woman to legalize their stay.

4. Ajit Singh Rye,4 in his essay describing the early twentieth century scene, says: The Punjabi Sikh, particularly, found out to his dismay that he was looked upon as a ‘freak’. His ethnic distinctiveness was heightened by his countenance, his beard, and turban. Filipino mothers still threaten their naughty children to behave or else the Bumbay, the Punjabi, and the Sindhi would get them and take them away. Such traumatic experiences accentuated the Punjabi Sikh’s feelings of selfpity and cultural isolation. He began to think more and more of his ‘pind’ (village) and considered his stay in the Philippines temporary and transient. A recurring notion nagged him no end that, sooner or later, he should return to his ‘desh’ (homeland) for good. The regular remittance of his savings to India to support his family and kin severely restricted the Punjabi’s capacity to expand his business. Because of this constraint, he remained tied to low-paying employment, such as being a security guard or conducting a smallscale business – door-to-door peddling of dry goods. His individualistic style of business demanded constant personal attention and hard work. The day he got sick or did not attend to it, it suffered. Thus, in the early years, he was nagged by self-doubt and economic insecurity. And he was not eager to encourage his kin in India to uproot them to join him in Manila. It was the Punjabi’s procrastination and hesitation that kept the pace of immigration low. By 1930, there were only about 100 Punjabis, mostly males, out of an estimated 500 Indian residents in the country. The rest were Sindhis. The Khalsa Diwan was the first community organization set up to look after the social and religious needs of the Punjabi settlers. A fund campaign was launched to solicit financial contributions for the purchase of land and the building of the gurdwara. It may be noted that Punjabi settlers numbered only about 100 at that time. However, they contributed enthusiastically and pressured for an early completion of the Gurdwara. On 6 March 1930, a 650 square metre plot was purchased, in Paco district, along Isaac Peral road at the cost of £9,741. When the contributions for the construction of the building fell short of the estimated cost of £13,000, the board of trustees solicited interest-free loans from members, which were later

Sikhs in Philippines


repaid from the income of the Gurdwara. The foundation of the building was laid on 5 January 1932, and the building was completed in record time, on 30 April 1932. The Religious Standard of the Sikhs – was unfurled on 23 July 1933, thus completing the necessary physical requirements of a Sikh shrine. The establishment of the Gurdwara was a turning point in the evolution of the Indian community in the Philippines. It unleashed the latent spiritual and social energy of the community and transformed its attitude and character. It’s more important and socially significant impact was the coming together of the Punjabis and the Sindhis as a socio-religious congregation, which strengthened not only the communal base but also their ethnic identity. Although the Khalsa Diwan was a Punjabi initiative, the Sindhis were drawn into the fold because of the religious affinity. The Sindhis contributed generously towards the construction of the building and upkeep of the Gurdwara. The selection of the location for the temple in Paco district, easily accessible to both the Sindhis and the Punjabis, was significant. It assured maximum community participation in the affairs at the Gurdwara. As a religious sanctuary the Gurdwara from its very inception, offers shelter to the jobless and destitute in the community. Besides free board and lodging at the guest rooms, it often arranges financial assistance for the needy and the sick. The langar (free kitchen) has been a regular feature of the Gurdwara from the day it was inaugurated. Sunday langar has been interrupted only rarely since. To the transient, it provides free food and lodging up to three months and at a minimal cost for a longer period. Before the establishment of the Khalsa Diwan, disputes among the Punjabi settlers were seldom brought outside the communal circle for settlement. They were resolved through mediation, social pressure, and moral persuasion by the elders. The establishment of the Khalsa Diwan formalized it. Its executive committee assumed the role of the Panchayat – the council of elders. The disputes that could not be resolved were brought before the congregation for final disposition. The Gurdwara helped strengthen the spiritual bonds within the community, and it served as a bulwark against exogenous pressures on the faith. Many Sikhs cut their hair short, but hardly anyone converted to any other faith. This is because the Gurdwara is a constant reminder to the faithful to hold on to their faith under exogenous pressures.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

5. Joefe Santarita’s5 write up is about a Province of Philippines which describes well the situation across the country. The Indian pedlars sold their merchandise to retail stores in the villages. It is a common practice of these Indians not to offer their merchandise to those who did not have any business. By doing so, they have the guarantee that the customer will pay his/her due on time. The commodities being merchandised range from tumblers, glass wares and umbrellas and ready to wear garments like shirts, jeans, blouses, and bed covers and pillows and anything requested by the customers. These are promptly delivered on the agreed time. Community Connections The Punjabis in both Iloilo and Bacolod try to establish good relationship with locals but have been impeded by concerns to their property and life. There have been cases where Indian businessmen were victimized, robbed and occasionally killed. Furthermore, that limitation is also contributed by their decision to self-confinement. Being preoccupied by day, Indians only find time for relaxation at night, in the company of their countrymen. Indian women have no chance also to interact with the Ilonggos since they are left in the house. The only locals that Indian women know are the household helpers and the assistants of their husbands. There are cases, however, of Indian women working together with their husbands. There are instances of Indian males finding their partners in the Philippines. With that bond, the Indians are introduced to the nucleus family connections and Filipino practices. However, they are encouraged if possible to look for their wives from India. Such special ties usually develop when their wives become their assistants and interpreters. Others find their partner in life from those acquaintances whom they meet on their way to business or just simply in the malls. The new generations of Indians in the region are young and attractive and they can easily get the attention of potential local admirers. Through time, the pejorative image of Indians has recently improved through the newly projected image of this generation and the exposure to Bollywood films. The presence of a Gurdwara at 113 Mapa St, Mandurriao in Iloilo city and in 11th Lacson St in Bacolod City, has become a concrete mirror of Indian identity in the area. Respect and admiration are duly given by the Ilonggos for the religiosity among the Indians. This is supplemented by the generosity provided by the Indians in their langar that allows opportunity for interaction and cultural appreciation.

Sikhs in Philippines


At the same time, the Gurdwaras also strengthened social interaction among Indians in Western Visays. Almost every day, Indians go to the Gurdwara to pray. Often times, they would gather together to discuss things about the news back home, the current conditions of their business and families. Every Sunday they gather in the Gurdwara to pray and render a religious service to serve as de facto council in case there are personal and business problems encountered which require immediate solutions. Difficulties Encountered and Adjustments The first concern of an Indian migrant in Western Visayas is selfpreservation. Obviously, a first timer will find it difficult to settle in a place new to him as he attempts simultaneously to adjust to his new environ, dietary requirements, and local’s language proficiency. Moreover, the limited means of survival and seed capital are the basic needs of the early migrants once in Western Visayas, particularly the need for safe accommodation and security. Hence, despite the higher rental rates of apartments owned by Chinese mestizos in economically strategic areas, the poor migrant will have to bite the bullet just to make a living. This mistreatment is based on the assumption that Indians have lots of money from their micro-financing business. Their landlords and the public in general have no clear dividing line in distinguishing a new Indian migrant from the earlier ones. In selecting a good accommodation, the migrants also consider the unit’s proximity to the Gurdwara and their relatives. Some of them even opt to share a place with their kin just to save money as well as secure themselves from being harassed by their neighbours and nearby clients. Prospects In totality, these Indians have succeeded spectacularly in their chosen professions by dint of their single-minded dedication and hard work while faithfully retaining their emotional, cultural and spiritual links with the homeland. This symbolic umbilical connection has been predominant among the majority of migrants who at the end of the day want to go to their country of origin when given the opportunity. For those who are born in the Philippines, a special attachment has been developed. The Philippines is no longer considered as the other country to them. All want to settle permanently in this place but hope that in the future there will be an opportunity for them


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

to visit their ancestor’s place of origin. The parents make sure that their children imbibe their traditional ethos and educational aptitude and qualifications. By doing so, they will develop the capacity to harmonize and adapt with the local population while preserving their traditions and maintain their links with their or their parents’ homelands. Punjabis, as the most prominent strand of Indian migrants in the region, also want to expand their business. Expansion for them, however, does not mean diversifying to other business venture, but simply widening the areas covered for peddling and moneylending activities. They are also optimistic that in the near future they will be given the opportunity to sell their wares in more established and permanent stalls, rather than peddle them on their motorcycles. CASE STUDIES

RAMON BAGATSING He was the Mayor of Manila for fourteen years, from 1972 to 1986. Bagatsing’s father Bhaga Singh came to Philippines around 1898 and died in Manila in 1938. Ramon’s son, Reynaldo Bagatsing (interviewed by me in Manila) was born in 1946, and is a lawyer by profession. He is the Legal Advisor to the Manila Police. Reynaldo has 9 brothers and 4 sisters. Ramón Delaraga Bagatsing (1916-2006) He was the longest-serving Mayor of Manila. He is the only Indian Filipino to serve as Mayor of the City of Manila from 1971 to 1986. Before occupying the city’s highest office, Bagatsing also served as a Representative to Congress for Manila, member of Cabinet, lawyer, and policeman. He earned the moniker ‘The Incorruptible’ for his clean record in public service and for his unwavering anti-graft and corruption stance. Bagatsing was born to a Punjabi Sikh immigrant and Dionisia Delaraga, a native Filipina. The young Ramón worked as a bus conductor, night watchman, and security guard to augment his basic and school expenses. To escape the hardships of poverty, he left his home province for the city of Manila and began his stint as a patrolman with the Manila Police Department from 1939 to 1941. When the World War II broke out, he enlisted with the US Army where he

Sikhs in Philippines


rose from a First Sergeant to a Major. For his military service, Bagatsing was awarded several medals and honours by the US Army and Government of Philippines. With the war over, he continued his law studies while working as the driver of the company bus of Elizalde & Co. Within ten years, he climbed the corporate ladder to become the company’s Public Relations and Personnel Manager, and during the same period, passed the bar examination thus becoming a lawyer. Bagatsing first entered public service in 1957 when he was elected Congressman. He was re-elected in 1961. After his second term, he joined the Cabinet, becoming the country’s chief graft-buster as Head of the Presidential Agency on Reforms and Government Operations (PARGO) from 1967 to 1969. During his stint at PARGO, he was dubbed as ‘The Incorruptible’ for his prosecution of several high profile corruption cases. In 1969, he was again elected to a third term. Bagatsing was one of the survivors of the Plaza Miranda bombing in 1971. In that year’s local elections, Bagatsing defeated the incumbent Mayor and had a long stint of fifteen years as the mayor.

ISHAR SINGH AND DALIP SINGH (BROTHERS) Amarjit Chandan, in his book Gopal Singh Chandan: A Short Biography and Memoirs,6 narrates the following: Ishar Singh was employed as a factory watchman in Hong Kong earning a princely sum of $40 per month. As he felt settled, he called other members of the family. His cousins Narain Singh, Nand Singh and Dalip Singh sailed to join him. Ishar Singh then moved to the Philippines accompanied by another Sikh, Mohan Singh from Bilga. Ishar Singh who had married Tej Kaur had their first son, Niranjan Singh born there in April 1912. Like many other Sikhs in the Far East, Ishar Singh and Narain Singh looked to ‘Mirkan’ [America] as too enticing. After a brief stay in Manila, they emigrated further to Stockton in 1913, stayed there for some time but were probably disappointed by immigration restrictions and racial discrimination, and returned to Manila. Indeed, Dalip Singh, a brother of Nand Singh returned with just 6 annas in his pocket. But their sojourn to Pacific States had created political awareness, they returned as sympathisers of the Ghadar Party in its struggle against imperial rule in India. Gopal Singh’s uncles sailed for the Philippines in 1920 where they opened a grocery shop in Bayombong calling it ‘Messrs NE Daleep Singh’. Following others, they also became moneylenders. Gopal


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Singh’s two uncles almost constantly travelled from Manila to Nakodar and back in the 1920 and 1930s while their wives remained behind looking after their young children. These men, one after the other, eventually returned to die in their hometown Nakodar during 1939-42. However, while abroad, Ishar Singh, and all other members of the family took special care to preserve the 5Ks as strict Sikhs. It was much later when Mohan Singh, a cousin of Gopal Singh, became clean-shaven when he left for Manila in 1952. Gopal Singh never recovered from the shock from his cousin’s blasphemous act. It was no compensation that Mohan Singh was soon re-baptised and indeed became the granthi of the Gurdwara in Manila. He eventually returned to Nakodar after twenty years in 1971 and died soon afterwards. The exposure to foreign influence on the family showed itself in several ways. Narain Singh had asked his second wife Basant Kaur to study at Sikh Kanya Mahavidyalaya, Ferozepur. Similarly Dalip Singh enrolled his daughter Dhan Kaur at this school at a time when women’s education was frowned upon. Gopal Singh’s family in Nakodar was the first one to have open nationalist sympathies. Ishar Singh and Dalip Singh also started a shop of firewood and built a brickhouse. As the only house built with ceramic bricks, this became the centre where all weddings in the local community were celebrated.

LATE DEVENDER SINGH The tragic story of his murder appeared in the Indian newspapers. According to his parents in India: ‘We have resigned to the belief that extortion and threats are a way of life for (prosperous) Indians in the Philippines. Our son was abducted and shot dead by five locals as he refused to give in to their extortion demands.’ They feel it is the price Indians are being made to pay to fulfil their ‘foreign’ dream. ‘These problems always haunted my son. He dealt in the sale and purchase of electronics. He had made a house there and back in Punjab and owned many cars. These things keep happening there’. D. Singh had been abducted four years ago as well, but was let off after paying a ransom amount of Rs. 50 lakh. He had gone to the Philippines in 1991 after finishing school in India. He got married a year later and set up a business with relatives already settled there. His two sons, twelve and nine years old, lived

Sikhs in Philippines


with his parents in India so that they could go to good schools. D. Singh’s five-years-old daughter was with him in Manila. One Sunday, Devender was going to the Gurdwara with his wife, Akwinder Kaur, on his bike, when five persons forced them into their car. There was a scuffle during which Akwinder was reportedly thrown off, while the goons sped away with her husband. His mother has now applied for a visa to go to Manila with her grandsons, who have citizenship in Philippines. D. Singh’s youngest brother also lives in Manila with his family. The family there says they cannot afford to abandon their flourishing business to come back to India. ‘We have to work in an atmosphere of insecurity there. Goons do not even spare the locals and we Indians are always at a risk. If we lodge a complaint, the goons are arrested but let off soon enough. There is so much corruption. The embassy just asks us to go back,’ said P. Singh, a distant relative of the family, who also runs a business in Manila. D. Singh’s parents recall how they had spent their savings to send him to Manila. According to a comment by a Punjab Police officer: It is almost impossible to get a case registered over there. Common crimes against Punjabis or NRIs go unreported. Another aspect to this is that Punjabis also do not have good relations with each other and in some cases they were also suspected to be behind such killings, which, were used to avenge some old enmity. INTERVIEWS CONDUCTED IN PUNJAB

In order to get a feel of migration from the Punjab perspective, a few people who had returned from the Philippines were interviewed by my colleague in their villages. LATE TARA SINGH His son-in-law Resham Singh provided some useful information. Tara Singh (vill. Lidhaike near Bhaga Purana in Moga dist.), came to the Philippines in 1936 via Karachi Port. His uncle, Bhoga Singh had come to the Philippines 10-15 years earlier in


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

the early 1920s. Bhoga got his nephew Pritam Singh first, followed by Tara, and finally another nephew, Darbara Singh who died at a young age. Both Bhoga Singh and Tara Singh were security guards but did small retailing activity with credit as a side business. They kept turban and full beard. The real Bumbay 5-6 business (moneylending combined with pheri retailing) bloomed later on. Tara’s wife and daughter remained in India. Later on daughter Sarabjit Kaur’s marriage was arranged in 1982 with Resham (the interviewee) who was a truck driver with exposure to Calcutta and even south India. Resham was invited to the Philippines, arriving in Manila by Air France via Hong Kong in 1983. He shared the house with Tara and brother-in-law Raj Singh. They were living in a rented accommodation and had a maid for cooking, cleaning, and washing. Resham got his permanent residency in January 1984 but not citizenship. Noncitizens cannot own land but only flats (something like what we have in Himachal Pradesh in India). According to Resham, citizenship is not offered even to children born in the Philippines if neither of the parents is a citizen (small amendment learnt later from Ramesh). Resham started on retail selling/money lending straight away post his immigration status first by accompanying a relative and soon thereafter on his own. NARENDER SINGH MALHI Malhi from village Pandori Khas, near Nakodar, is a cook who used to do catering for marriages and other functions. He was in Kuwait from 1992-4 working with a restaurant. His relatives in the Philippines encouraged him to join them, which he did on tourist visa which was extended and later regularized to a 3-year visa. He has been working at a Gurdwara for the past two years. The Gurdwara keeps several employees on small wages but they get accommodation and free food. Almost the entire village of Pandori Khas has migrated to the West. In the Philippines about 10 per cent or less keep turbans. The reason given is climate – rainy, hot and humid, but one suspects it is ‘not to attract attention and difficulty in day to day dealings by accentuating their alien origin’.

Sikhs in Philippines


PARKASH PANDIT Parkash Pandit, ex Sarpanch, village Beehla’s father Balwant Rai went to Singapore in 1927 when he was five years old. He served there in the Police Force and returned to India in 1928 due to eye problems. After getting his treatment done, he went to Shanghai with Hari Singh of Beehla and Kartar Singh of another village. In those days civil war was going on between Chiang-Kai-Shek and the communist forces. They returned to India after fourteen years and served in an American Press Company. Balwant Rai was a matriculate. In 1946 he went to Baroda state. From there he went to Silchar on the border of Burma. In 1949 he returned to his village and then went to Philippines with Mr Avtar Singh, Head Master. They sold clothes on instalment basis. Balwant Rai returned to India in 1957 and died in 1965. DAVINDER SINGH Davinder Singh, son of Parkash Pandit, was a matriculate when he went to Manila in 1978. Now he is fifty-four years old. His four nephews went to Manila between 1980 to 1988. One of the nephews was murdered there in 1988. Mr Parkash Pandit suspects that some Punjabi youth are also involved in killing members of their community. AVTAR SINGH, HEADMASTER Avtar Singh of Beelha village joined the Indian Navy in 1932. In World War II, he was arrested and became a prisoner of war by the Japanese in the Philippines from where he was released later on. An advocate advised Avtar Singh to do business in Manila. He agreed and started to sell small items. Despite already having a family in India (wife and two sons), Avtar married a Filipina named Phelli. In 1949 Avtar Singh returned to India with his new wife. He was clean-shaven whereas when he joined Navy he was Puran Gursikh. They returned to Manila in 1951 from where they finally returned to India in 1959. They brought sufficient money


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

to be able to purchase 80 acres of land. They also built a large house known as the White House. They generously contributed to the development of their village. In 1962, Avtar Singh left for America with his two wives, Phelli and Dalip Kaur, and two sons. Their servants are now looking after the White House. His sons visit the village every couple of years. PURAN SINGH Puran Singh of Nihal Singh Wala, was born in 1915 and went to Manila in 1951, along with another person of Beehla Village. He was a ‘kirtinia’ Sikh married to a Philipina lady. They had four sons and four daughters. One of their sons is still in Manila while the rest of them have moved to the USA. He had visited Punjab in 1982 along with his wife when he gave all his landed property to his brother Kartar Singh and his sons living in the village. Puran Singh sponsored several others to migrate to Manila. Puran Singh died in America in 2000. Puran Singh took Harbans Singh (born in 1948) and Buta Singh of village Punjgraian to Manila in 1972. Harbans Singh was married to Manjit Kaur in 1969. His wife and children (two sons and a daughter) joined him in 1978. Harbans Singh visited India in 1974, 1976 and 1978. Manjit Kaur visited India in 1984 to attend a wedding and returned within few days. The whole family returned to India in 1988 and married their daughter to an America based boy of village Gholian. They visited India in 1992 and 1995. One of their sons is married to an America based girl. Another girl is married to a Canada based Indian boy of Malik village near Jagroan. Now only Harbans Singh and his wife reside in Manila. N.B. My colleague also interviewed Sarabjit Singh s/o Charanjit Singh. He is thirty-six years old and is an undermatriculate. He went to Manila in 1998 and now he is on a visit to India. I also talked to many people of Chahapa, Bhotna and Sasaunda Singh Wala villages. All these people narrated me the same story. Some of them refused to tell their names and addresses. Some of them even refused to entertain my query.

Sikhs in Philippines


NOTES 1. Darlene Machell de Leon Espena, ‘Transplanting India within Manila: The Saga of Sikh Migrants in the Philippines 1947-2000’, . Ph.D. thesis, Ateneo de University. 2. Mary Kondo, ‘Indian Financiers: The Unwelcome People in the Philippines’, Kyoto Review of South East Asia, Issue 4 (October 2003), Regional Economic Integration. 3. K. Kesawapany, A. Mani and P. Ramasami, Rising India and Indian Communities in East Asia, Singapore: ISEAS, 2008. 4. Ajit Singh Rye, ‘Indian Community in the Philippines’, in K.S. Sandhu and A. Mani, Indian Communities in Southeast Asia, Singapore: ISEAS, 1992. 5. Joefe Santarita, ‘Contemporary Indian Communities in Western Visayas’, in Kesawapany, Mani and Ramasamy (eds.), Rising India and Indian Communities, 2008. 6. Amarjit Chandan, Gopal Singh Chandan, Jalandhar: Punjab Centre for Migration Studies, 2004.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific CHAPTER 8

Sikhs in Hong Kong: Possibly the Earliest Sikh Migration

Hong Kong was one of the earliest Sikh settlements. According to the book, Sikhs in Hong Kong edited by Gulbir Singh Batra1 and published by the Sri Guru Gobind Singh Educational Trust, Hong Kong and Khalsa Diwan (Sikh Temple), Hong Kong, the first Indian troops came to Hong Kong in 1841. Some sources, such as James Joseph Keezhangatte, claim that 2,700 soldiers, including Sikhs, were seen at the flag raising ceremony during Captain Elliot’s declaration of Hong Kong as a British occupation in 1841. DID THE SIKHS FIRST ARRIVE IN 1841 OR 1867?

Ka Kin Chiuk, a researcher from Hong Kong, has different views as expressed in his email to me: Yes – even many senior Sikh members told me that the first Sikhs came to Hong Kong in 1841. But there is no reliable records proving so. Even if it is the case, the Sikh soldiers were certainly not living in Hong Kong but were sent to other parts of China as a part of British Army Force. In this sense, the Sikh soldiers, at the very beginning of the British colonial periods, had not much to do with Hong Kong except staying in Hong Kong for a short time. I don’t think they were able to set up Gurdwara given that these Sikh soldiers were always on the move in East Asia. It was only in 1867 when Sikhs were recruited to work as expatriate policemen in Hong Kong and thereafter a substantial number of Sikhs were stationed in Hong Kong. The data shows that the Sikh policemen were allowed to setup a

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small private Gurdwara in the Central Police Station, and I believe it was the first Gurdwara ever set up in Hong Kong. Post Boxer rebellion in China, the Sikh soldiers of the Hong Kong Regiment were disbanded in 1902 and sent to live in Hong Kong. These soldiers played a crucial role in setting up the first public Gurdwara in Wan Chai, which was located exactly at the same place as the current Gurdwara in Hong Kong. That’s what I know about the history of Hong Kong Gurdwara. SINGHVI REPORT (2001)

India’s links with Hong Kong are over 150 years old. Four Indian traders and 2,700 defence personnel were with the British when they raised the Union Jack over Hong Kong in 1841. There was some confusion about the status of Indians in the pre-1997 days. This has, however, been sorted out as most Indians have stayed on in Hong Kong. The controversy about acquisition of British Nationals Overseas (BNO) passports and fears about statelessness have also been put to rest. The Indian community in Hong Kong is basically a trading community. They have professionally been trade-intermediaries between China and the Middle East/African countries. Some Indians from Hong Kong have also set up manufacturing units in Shenzhen in China. Sindhis and Gujaratis, with smaller numbers of Rajasthanis, Punjabis and Tamils, dominate the community. Tall, burly and handsome Sikhs working as doorkeepers in several commercial establishments are a common sight in Hong Kong. Increasingly, a large number of professionals are going to Hong Kong, giving rise to a new generation of Hong Kong Indians. Of the Indian community in Hong Kong, the richest are the businessmen and traders who have been in Hong Kong for a long time. At the top level, Indians own hotels, restaurants and other businesses dealing in jewellery and precious stones like diamonds, and carry on trading activities within Asia as also with Europe, Africa, the Middle-East, South America and the United States. Below them are the professionals and middle level businessmen. These people are quite well-to-do. The next level comprises of people involved in various occupations (semi-skilled and un-skilled)


Sikhs in Asia Pacific SIKH MIGRATION

According to Madhavi Thampi,2 it was not surprising that the class system of recruitment and the promotion of the ‘martial races’ theory resulted in ‘Punjabisation’ of the Indian Army. British military authorities were virtually unanimous in their praise for the bravery, reliability, and physique of Punjabi soldiers. Similar considerations prevailed when the British were faced with the problem of policing the newly-acquired territory of Hong Kong after the first Opium War and the Malay States. For a number of years, the British experimented with a variety of options, including recruiting Malays and West Indians. A few British personnel were also inducted into the Police Force, but on the whole were judged as easily dissatisfied and hard to control. Chinese were recruited too, but in both Hong Kong and the Malay States, the main law and order problem was the local Chinese population itself, and hence Chinese recruits were considered easily corruptible and untrustworthy. Indians were an obvious choice, but here again; it was found that south Indians, like the Malays, did not strike sufficient terror into the Chinese. Finally, in 1865-6, a Deputy Superintendent of the Hong Kong Police, C.V. Creagh, who had had first-hand experience of India, recommended that Sikhs be recruited. The first batch of 100 Sikh policemen, personally selected by Creagh, arrived in June 1867 on a five-year contract. Apart from their physical qualities, Creagh selected his recruits on the basis of their clean record and lack of exposure to undesirable influences. These new policemen did indeed so successfully strike fear into the hearts of the local population that the British began to send them to the Straits Settlements. To balance the Sikhs in the Hong Kong police force, the British authorities also recruited Muslim Punjabis. A few thousand Sikhs moved to Hong Kong during the years 1867 to 1930 as members of the British Indian Army, or came to serve as policemen, civil servants, security personnel and other posts. By 1930 there were over 7,000 Indians, most of them Sikhs, in Hong Kong. Passports were not required before the 1930s to British subjects. Some arrived from the mainland to Hong Kong after the communist takeover of China. In 1960 the estimated number had increased to around 20,000. In 2000 the

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estimated number of Indians was 30,000 and about 10,000 of them were Sikhs. Up to 1960, migration from India was relatively easy as any resident could sponsor friends or relatives. This led to the increase of the Sikh population. Some Sikhs joined Government Departments such as Post Office, Radio, Correctional Services, education, cable and wireless, courts, Auxiliary Police, etc., but most of them were employed in security jobs. A few of them started moneylending to the Chinese, of course at high interest rates. SIKH POLICEMEN

BELT NO. 1 It is believed that Police Serial No.1 was assigned to a Sikh; therefore, Sikhs were affectionately called ‘Number One’. According to the book by Batra, a police report mentions the appointment of Sikh prison guards in 1855. However, all do agree that the first contingent of Sikhs arrived in 1867. In 1869, training schools were formed to teach them Cantonese. In 1870, many Sikh constables were transferred to prison guards. Many Sikhs moved to work in the Police Force from the Hong Kong Regiment, which was disbanded in 1902 after they had completed their services in quelling the Boxer Rebellion from 1899-1901 in northern China. In 1897, there were 226 Sikhs and after World War I there were 477 Sikhs in Hong Kong. The last record of World War II lists 774 Indians, mostly Sikhs, in Hong Kong, compared to a total force of 2,220. There were no Chinese nationals in the force initially. Sikhs continued to play an active and important role in the Hong Kong Police Force up to 1950. However the police profile has undergone a major shift since then. In 2006 the police strength was 27,000, 99 per cent Chinese, 275 Europeans and a handful of Indians and non-Chinese. The Sikhs have indeed made valuable contributions towards the security of Hong Kong, enabling it to develop and prosper. Sikh policemen were to be found throughout Hong Kong before World War II. Their original contract was for five years with eight months home leave at the end of the contract and a pension


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after ten years of service. Life for these Sikhs was not easy as they were not allowed to marry in Hong Kong or bring their wives from India, and had to live in cramped conditions. Presently, there are very few Sikhs in the Police service. Rajinder Singh Pannu, Chief Inspector, is a third generation in Police Force. His grandfather Sant Singh Pannu having joined the Police Force in 1893, retired in 1910. Sikhs were preferentially employed in Prisons forming part of the Correctional Services Department (CSD). Another popular avenue for recruitment of Sikhs was in Stonecutters Island (Army Depot). This was the storage place for the arms and ammunition. HONG KONG POLICE MUSEUM We visited the Police Museum which has a number of documents and photographs of Sikh Policemen. Some captions on photos are given below as these might be of interest to some readers: 1. Royal Hong Kong Police: 1844-1994 Indian police winter uniform in early twentieth century. The medal ribbon worn by Indian constable is that of the 3rd China War (the Boxer Rebellion). Many Indians predominantly Sikhs served with the Hong Kong regiment in this conflict and when this unit was disbanded in 1902 the soldiers took their discharge in Hong Kong and joined the Police Force. 2. Painting HK – ‘Shady Characters’ c. 1909. This was published by the South China Morning Post in 1909. In the picture, we see HK policeman, one European police officer, escorts and offender. Two Sikh policeman look on either side of the two offenders seated on the ground in stocks under the tree. The scene is surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. Painting by Lt. Col. Harold Duke-Morley. 3. Indian Police Constables in the Early twentieth century. Prefix ‘B’ which stood for Indian Police can be seen on the numeral badges affixed to their uniform collars (three Sikhs). 4. A group of Indian Policeman c. 1900s (5 Sikhs). At the centre is Sant Singh, who joined the force in 1893 and later promoted as Sergeant. He retired in 1910 and lived to an advanced age of 101.

Sikhs in Hong Kong


5. Photograph coloured: Troops of the British Empire Hong Kong constabulary. Sikhs and other Indians in red turbans, Chinese in white conical hats. 6. Photograph: This postcard by M. Entitlinger and Co. of London and New York, printed in Germany. From their ‘Royal Series’, shows Indian and Chinese NCOs and constables of the HK police force, and titled ‘HK Constabulary’. The Indians all wear their traditional turbans and at least two wear British Military campaign medals, most likely the Indian General Service medal, as many soldiers, when their military service had expired, continued their military traditions and joined various police forces from East Africa to Shanghai. Note: the Martini-Henry rifle, which looks incongruously short against the tall Sikhs. The Chinese police at this time did not generally carry firearms. 7. Photo. Another in the ‘Royal series’ of post cards by M. Entitlinger and Co. This card erroneously describes those on parade as ‘HK Constabulary’. Those depicted are in fact members of the HK Regiment, a British officered body of Indians, raised in 1891, which was disbanded in 1902. They fought with distinction in the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, and number of them afterwards joined the HK police. 8. Photo of one Indian Sergeant in winter uniform – 1900s. A Sikh. 9. January 1841, HK was first ceded to the British when Union Jack was hoisted in the Possesion street. 10. This photo depicts 3 HK police officers, a European police Sergeant, an Indian constable and a Cantonese constable of the antipeachy guard. This was taken in Singapore, depicts the summer working dress of the unit in the early 1930s. Sections of men usually 8 in number, were hired by the shipping trade on board passenger ships as affixed at Shanghai and Rangoon to deter pirates, then prevalent in the region. Whilst Indians and Cantonese provided the guards to the Southern ports, the Russia contingent comprised the guards for Northern sailings. 11. Photograph mid-1930s. It depicts very clearly the mix of the force in those days with Indian (all Sikhs in the photo), Cantonese and Europeans. Whilst the location is not known, it would appear to be one of the rural police stations. 12. Photo. The postcard shows three Indian (Sikhs) constables with two prisoners. Note, the constables turbans worn by all Sikhs, their heavy white uniforms and leather shoes and the snake belts, the original design of which, emanates from the American civil war (1860).


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

13. Three Sikh officers in the 1941 graduation class of constabulary. 14. The early HK police force was composed of members of different nationalities. They were identified by their collar badges. This photo shows a medal presentation ceremony at the Dental Police Station in 1934, with members of the European, Indian, and Chinese contingents participating. The badges on their collars indicate their nationalities: A represents Europeans, B represents Indians, C represents Chinese. Later the Force formed the Shandong contingent, represented by the badge D and the white Russian represented by badge E. 15. Photo: Central Police Station c. 1930. All British officers but several Sikh policemen. SIKHS IN THE BRITISH ARMY STATIONED IN HONG KONG

Hong Kong was a transit point for the Indian troops deployed in China. Sikhs from the British Indian Army had been stationed there since the colony was founded in 1841, and continued to do so for over a century. 2,700 Indian troops were stationed in Hong Kong in 1841. There were various Sikh Regiments in Hong Kong and treaty ports in China. Many stayed on and settled permanently after leaving the Army, particularly at the end of the World War II. A number of Sikhs were employed as Military Police to guard the Ammunition Depot at Stonecutters Island. Some details of the Hong Kong Garrison are given in Appendix 10. SIKH MILITARY POLICE IN STONECUTTERS BRITISH FORCES

The British Forces in Hong Kong maintained their main ammunition depot at Stonecutters Island, along with sensitive military installations and army personnel. Sikhs were trusted as Military Police to safeguard the base for many years. Their history, loyalty and undoubtedly their religious prohibition on smoking justified their employment as guardians of the ammunition stored on the island. Post 1 July 1997, on the handing over of the Government to the Chinese, it was decided to shift the Depot out of Hong Kong. All the Sikh soldiers were given a golden handshake.

Sikhs in Hong Kong



During World War II, Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese in 1941. The Sikh Regiment was in the forefront when the Japanese crossed the Lo Wu border connecting China and Hong Kong. More than 100 Sikh soldiers died and the remaining were captured and imprisoned. Many Sikh policemen, civil servants and civilians were interned as prisoners of war, tortured and died. Other Sikhs died defending Hong Kong, especially during the famous Wongneichung offensive. There is a number of graves of Sikh soldiers at the British Military Cemetery in Stanley, Hong Kong. Some Sikh policemen and their families, on hearing about the atrocities by the Japanese, merged into the civilian population. Times were particularly hard. Many of the Sikhs who steadfastly remained at their posts performing police duties were killed by the Japanese. Others were forced to continue their duties under the Japanese rule. Some had no option but to seek employment with the Japanese at subsistence level in guard duties. GURDWARA

In the late nineteenth century, the Sikhs had been allocated rooms at Hollywood Road Police Station where SGGS was installed, and celebrations of ‘Gurpurbs’ and other important festivals could take place. Space at this location was rather restricted. The present Gurdwara site at 371 Queen’s Road East, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, was purchased in 1901. For acquiring this property, almost all constables donated one month’s salary which was supplemented by others, including some donations from the Sikhs in Shanghai. The Hong Kong Telegraph of 12 May 1902 describes the devotion and pageantry of the procession leading up to the installation of SGGS at the present site. Several renovations, additions and installation of modern equipment and facilities have since been carried out. The present structure comprises of a large main prayer hall, a langar hall with modern facilities, senior citizens’ rooms, kindergarten school, staying facility for tourists, library, education (including teaching of Punjabi, music and even Chinese) and a health care centre. The management encourages students from schools and universities to visit the Gurdwara in groups when


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

presentations are made to introduce concepts of Sikhism. Gurmel Singh, Manager-cum-Religious Teacher, is spearheading this useful public relations effort. The Chinese University of Hong Kong now runs a course on Sikhism. On 12 December 1942 a bomb was dropped on the Khalsa Diwan Gurdwara, damaging most of the building. Bhai Nand Singh, Head Priest, was killed along with several others. A large number of Indians and other nationalities had taken refuge in the Gurdwara where food and water was available. The Gurdwara offers the following services: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.


9. 10. 11.

Langar (free meal): Medical Consultation : Every Saturday from 3-5 p.m. Kindergarten: Facilities are available on nominal payment. Computer Classes: This service is for all ages. Tuition Classes (Academic): This service is for the primary and secondary school students. Punjabi Classes (Language): This service is for all ages but mainly for the kids. Gurbani Classes (Religious): This service is mainly for the grown-ups who want to learn how to read and understand the meanings of Shri Guru Granth Sahib Ji. Music Classes (Traditional Music): This service is for all ages who want to learn how to play the traditional musical instruments such as harmonium, tabla, etc. Gatka Classes (Sikh Martial Arts): This service is for all ages. Library: There is a variety of books, journals, periodicals and multimedia material on Sikh religion and other subjects. Temporary Stay: This service is for tourists who have nowhere to stay in Hong Kong, for a limited period. 300TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE KHALSA

This was celebrated on a large scale. A number of ‘kirtni jathas’, ‘dhadis’ and ‘parcharaks’ came to Hong Kong. There was ‘Amrit Parchaar’, a nagar kirtan on a scale so far unknown to the residents of Hong Kong, in which an English band, followed by ‘Panj Pyaras’, ‘gatka parties’ and Guru Granth Sahib Ji mounted on a

Sikhs in Hong Kong


raised platform of a truck, led the procession. This was the first time in the history of Hong Kong that such a procession was taken out in the busiest streets of the city. A number of artists were invited from India (tickets sponsored by Air India) to perform bhangra and Indian folk dance. They, along with the local youth, after limited rehearsals, gave the most unforgettable performance at the Queen Elizabeth Stadium. A record number of 3,000 Punjabis sat in one stadium to watch such a great and glittering event. ‘Kabaddi’ and tug of war, besides races of different age groups and a hockey tournament, were the major attractions in which all age groups participated. TRAVEL

BLOG – Sikhs in Hong Kong. Email: [email protected] Most of the Sikhs lived in their towns or villages in Punjab before moving to Hong Kong. Those who had Government job offers were transferred by the Army and others. Others came to Hong Kong on their own to seek employment. It takes about 20 days to a month to reach Hong Kong. The journey to Hong Kong was by train from the home village to Howrah in Calcutta, and then by steamer from Calcutta to Hong Kong, usually via Singapore. The fare was about US$30 which was equivalent to about a month’s pay. The trip left deep impressions on the minds of the Sikhs, especially for those who travelled for the first time. Many lived inland at villages and never saw city life, oceans, boats and the endless new sights. ONWARD MIGRATION OF SIKHS FROM HONG KONG

Hong Kong’s strategic location made it the hub for onward migration to several other countries. Most Sikhs had been here for considerable time, or were born here. Some emigrated further, most of them migrated to Canada and the UK. Elderly Sikhs who had land in India usually retired to Punjab with their savings. Some have since gone to the USA directly or via Canada. The reasons for further migration are usually for long term security and stability.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Historically, a group of Sikhs migrated to Canada in 1903-4 to work at the lumber yards. They invited other Hong Kong Sikhs to join them and a community was formed. Some moved down to the USA. In 1914, an affluent Hong Kong Sikh, Gurdit Singh, chartered the Komagata Maru for 376 Sikhs and Indians, mostly Hong Kong retired service personnel, to travel to Vancouver, where they exercised their legitimate immigration rights to settle in Canada. Unfortunately, they were met with unlawful resistance – the subsequent tragic events are well known. SIKHS IN GOVERNMENT AND OTHER PROFESSIONS

The British were great administrators and the Sikhs great soldiers and servicemen. This was a good fit. The role of Sikhs in the Police and Prisons Department for over a century have been described earlier on. The Water Works, Public Works and other departments also employed Sikhs in clerical and other posts. In the 1990s there were still Sikhs in Government service such as Judiciary, Courts of Law, Government Secretariat, Medical and Health Department, etc. Till the 1970s, those Sikhs who did not make it into Government service, found employment as guards for various establishments and houses of the rich. Having a tall burly Sikh guard was the equivalent of having a private policeman. There was virtually no unemployment among Sikhs. However, their jobs required them to be at times tough with intruders and criminals. As a result, they were often unreasonably subjected to verbal abuse, which they had to bear as they were an ethnic minority. A number of them worked as private drivers or at the dockyards as guards. The younger generation seldom work as guards. In 2000, they diversified into being managers in trading companies, clerks, transportation, driving, restaurant employees, etc. SOCIAL CONDITIONS

Conditions were fine especially before the 1960s. There was a large, significant, colourful and vibrant community of Sikhs residing permanently in Hong Kong, with a large Gurdwara which

Sikhs in Hong Kong


was well attended. Most of them had satisfactory long term employment, earning reasonable income, with housing and free medical care. Some even had housemaids and modern amenities. The situation of many Sikhs was better than the local Chinese before the 1960s. They also had influence among the locals because many were policemen and civil servants. They were happy, enjoying mutual care and support within their community. They were able to travel to Punjab regularly to visit relatives and friends. Sikhs mingled with the British socially at a general level and competed in sports. Those in senior levels occasionally joined the British in social functions, parties and hockey matches. The Indian Recreation Club, India Club, Cricket Club, had regular sports and social events. Some Sikhs had side businesses like moneylending which was licenced and usually targeted shopkeepers or small businesses which were struggling to survive. Most of the old timers reside in self-owned private properties or flats, and have substantial savings. They were settled into various districts all over Hong Kong, especially Wan Chai and Causeway Bay on the island. Civil servants had their own quarters. The Police used to live at Central Police Station for years, and at the Fanling quarters. Prison officers were quartered at Stanley. Now in 2000, working class Sikhs are living in Tokwawan and Tinshuiwai. Quite a few are living in public housing, like Tung Yat Lau in Aberdeen. Quality of life declined gradually after the war, when the Police Force reduced the recruitment of Sikhs, but those who were already in the force continued to serve up to the 1970s and even 1980s. Thereafter, the situation worsened with indigenization, and by 1997, there were only a handful of Sikhs in Government services. Private employment was also affected. The changes in modern social culture and family relationships hit the Sikhs hard. The generation of old Hong Kong Sikhs have gradually passed or emigrated. The younger generation as a minority under new leadership would have to find a new future. RELATIONS OF THE SIKHS WITH LOCAL CHINESE RESIDENTS

The Punjabi Sikhs have co-existed peacefully and harmoniously with the local Chinese community for over a century. There were


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Figure 8.1: Hong Kong – Dinner with some Prominent Sikhs. Courtesy Harry Banga

no significant conflicts, despite cultural differences. The two interacted and cooperated successfully and up to 1960s, there were close social relationships. However, the interaction with the local people became somewhat indifferent from the 1970s due to intense competition for jobs and the new nationalism of the Chinese. The relationships worsened after 1997. The latest developments are realistically explained in a letter translated from Punjabi published in The Sikh Review of May 1994. The Sikh resident Gurdev Singh writes: The local population which is overwhelmingly of Chinese origin. For reasons of distinctive identity, and police background, people are rather unfriendly to the Sikhs and regard them with arrogance, often unwilling to share the same seat in a bus. This has been irksome for us. We are naturally apprehensive about 1997 when Hong Kong would revert to mainland China.

Sikhs in Hong Kong


SIKHS AFTER THE 1997 REVERSION OF H ONG KONG TO CHINA Not only did the Sikhs managed to survive 1997, but are still making a living for themselves and are even employers, owning restaurants, import export companies, and some manufacturing units. Others are employed by foreign owned companies like security, airlines, trading, insurance, banks, etc. It is noteworthy that Sikhs, despite being a small minority, managed to contribute so much to Hong Kong’s past and present, surviving many changes and upheavals. It would seem Sikhs down the line are more affected. But the profile of the community has also undergone a change and more and more Sikhs are becoming upwardly mobile. CASE STUDIES

HARRY BANGA ‘This Coffee King from Chandigarh is on a High’ by Prabhjot Singh, Tribune News Service, New Delhi, 19 January 2010. When Chandigarh’s Harinderpal Singh Banga, Harry to his friends, decided to quit established corporate life to quench his entrepreneurial thirst, no one could imagine that 21 years later, his new company would be among the world’s elite companies – it is listed at 242 on the Fortune 500 list in 2010 with an annual revenue of US $35 billion. Now his company, Noble Group, has over 11,000 employees with 150 offices in 38 countries, including nine in India. ‘If you take a cup of coffee, say at Barista or Coffee Café Day or any worldwide chain, it must have come with ingredients from our company. We cultivate 25 million hectares all over the world and grow coffee, coco, sugarcane and soybean. We have a capacity to crush 22 million tonnes of sugarcane,’ says Banga, who is here to receive a special award from the President of India as a prominent PIO. An alumnus of DAV Senior Secondary School of Chandigarh, he has strong roots in the city. ‘I grew up in Chandigarh and had been visiting the city four to five times a year to look up my father there. Unfortunately, my father met with an accident and now lives with my brother in Delhi,’ said he, maintaining that his association


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with Chandigarh, the Sector 8 Gurdwara, the PGI and several other NGOs engaged in social work continues unabated. He had joined the England-based Gulf International in early 1980s. The company posted him to Hong Kong from where he was transferred to Zurich in Switzerland. ‘I did not like it in Zurich. I teamed up with my colleague, Richard S. Elman, and decided to quit and form our own company. What started out as a small commodities trading firm with 10 people in a small office in Hong Kong, we are now market leaders in managing the global supply of agricultural, energy, metals and mining resources. It is our company that controls electric supply in California,’ he says. While building Noble into a company like no other and despite living outside India for most of his life, Harinderpal Singh has never forgotten his roots. As Vice Chairman and a substantial shareholder of Noble Group, he has utilised his position to promote India on the world stage, help advance the economic and social development back home, and even enhance cross cultural ties between India and other nations globally. ‘The success mantra of our company, he says, is that everyone believes that he is a part of the family. It is difficult to get in and even more difficult to get out of the Noble group,’ he says maintaining that the company prides itself in looking after everyone as an equal participant. He has since sold out his shareholding in Nobel and set up on his own one billion Dollar Caravel Group, which Harry and his two sons, Guneet and Angad, are spearheading successfully. (Incidentally he is quick to credit his wife Indra for his achievements.) The name Caravel comes from the type of light sailing ship that the Portuguese used to explore unknown places. The firm was started two years ago as a way to bring Banga’s sons – one working at Citigroup, the other at the private equity shop KKR – and him into a family business. It seems so many years ago when the man born Harindarpal Singh Banga was growing up in Chandigarh in northern India. He moved to Mumbai aged 16 to study. He then went to sea, ending up in Hong Kong, he says, more by destiny than design. After working in London, Hong Kong and Geneva for Gulf International, a huge trading and shipping conglomerate, he met Elman, and together they co-founded Noble. Prior to founding The Caravel Group in 2013, Mr Banga was the Vice Chairman of Noble Group, a leading global supply chain manager of commodity products, which he helped establish in 1989.

Sikhs in Hong Kong


Mr Banga, a Master Mariner, is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Ship Brokers. He is on the Advisory committee of the Centre for Transport, Trade and Financial Studies at City University, Hong Kong. In 2011, Mr Banga was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award by Sea Trade. In the same year, he was also named ‘Personality of the Year’ by The International Bulk Journal. Mr Banga is currently the President of the Forum of Indian Professionals in Hong Kong, and is also involved in other Indian and Hong Kong organizations. He is also a devoted patron of several philanthropic and charitable efforts both in India and abroad. He has been donating generously for the upgradation of the Gurdwara.

N.B. We know Harry, starting with our fathers being colleagues in Food and Civil Supplies Department in Punjab. We have been family friends since. Harry followed my younger brother by joining Dufferin in Bombay to become a Merchant Marine Officer. Thereon he took on ‘rocket propelled’ progression. He was our host when we visited Hong Kong in 2013. AMARJEET SINGH Amarjeet’s father came to Hong Kong at the age of 22 in 1952, as his ‘maasi’ was living there. He continued to maintain contact with Punjab through regular visits and even got married to a girl from there, which was a common practice. Amarjeet Singh, now 49 years old, was born in 1964 in Hong Kong. His two brothers and one sister were also born there, but all of them were brought up in India. When he was three years old he went back with his mother and elder brother to live at his grandparents’ village in Bathinda. His mother stayed for one year before returning to Hong Kong. Amarjeet studied in village Government school from 1968 to 1976. He stayed in India for eight years. His father and mother used to visit frequently, but Amarjeet only returned to Hong Kong in 1976 to study at a private school (not very expensive then). His two brothers remained in the ancestral village and his sister moved to Chandigarh with her ‘maasi’ who almost adopted her as they had no child of their own. Since the village school was not English medium, Amarjeet


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had to further study the language in Hong Kong, which was tough on him. He studied for only three years, leaving school when he was 16, to take up a job at an Indian garment shop from 19804. Thereafter, he worked with an Indian electronics shop for three years. During this period, he learnt driving informally in a valet parking place. After getting his driving license, he worked as a driver in a British company for 19 years, till 2006. In addition to this, he had another part time job to make more money. To add to the family income, his wife also worked, as children were back in Punjab. In 2006, Amarjeet switched jobs again and worked for a watch company till 2011. Since then, he is working with Harry Banga as a driver. He got married in 1984 to a local Sikh girl whose father was an old immigrant. His father-in-law (factory worker) and his brother (Prison Department employee) are both old immigrants in Hong Kong. Amarjeet has three children. His son studied in the UK completing his Masters in Auditing from Leicester University. He is now gaining post-degree work experience. Amarjeet’s twin daughters did their early schooling in India. One of them is now studying banking in the UK and the other has just returned to Hong Kong after completing her degree from the UK. She is soon going to be married. Amarjeet’s children are very familiar with their village as they visit India annually. Amarjeet wants to retire in India (he owns farmland) as soon as his children get settled. He has a Hong Kong identity card and a UK passport (British Overseas Territory). Amarjeet’s sister is married in India to an advocate, and lives in Mohali. His two brothers live in Hong Kong. Talking of citizenship status, Amarjeet said that his father got his British passport in 1959. Because his children had been sent to India, he could not get them British citizenship. In 1997, with the imminent Chinese takeover of Hong Kong, Amarjeet’s entire family was able to get British Overseas Territory Passports. Both of Amarjeet’s daughters were sent to Boarding School – Shivalik Public School in Mohali. After class 8, they became day students, staying with their mother in a house which they bought in Mohali. They used to spend their vacations in the ancestral village. Post 1997, the children went to study in the

Sikhs in Hong Kong


UK with their mother accompanying them. University education was expensive, but as citizens they had to pay only £3,000 as opposed to other overseas students whose fees were £8,000. After one year in the UK, the children started working part time to pay for their own tuition. Amarjeet and his entire family have UK documents, e.g. driving licenses, insurance cards, etc. For the past 6-7 years, they have been shuttling between the UK, India and Hong Kong. One of Amarjeet’s daughter is soon to be married to a boy from Punjab who has done some studies in UK (education abroad for Indian citizens is expensive – up to Rs. 10 lakhs per annum. It is to be commended that such large sums are organized by parents). Post marriage, they will consider settling down in the UK. According to Amarjeet, the majority of working class Sikhs in Hong Kong are still connected with Punjab and invest there in property, unlike Sikh immigrants to the UK or even Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Their’s is not an untypical story of partly educating children, especially up to high school in India, and also getting them married in India. So at present immigration from India is mostly through marriage or family for other than expatriate professionals. The present immigration laws in Hong Kong allow a spouse to become citizen after seven years. In fact, parents of spouses and their non-adult children can also immigrate, post a period of residence of seven years. Jobs are available commensurate with qualifications. Parents of spouses in some cases migrate to Hong Kong, where they work for a few years sometimes in jobs such as watchmen, which require no skills. They thus get entitled to old age benefits at sixty-five years of age. Unemployment benefit of HK$ 2,000 is given to all unemployed young persons or retirees. With an average monthly wage of HK$ 10,000, and providing for home rental of say HK$ 2,500, there is scope for savings. Government housing facilities, though small in size, are attractive. Sharing accommodation with children makes living all the more economic. Hong Kong seems to be a reasonably good welfare country. N.B. The following three case studies have been extracted from the book Turbans and Traders by Barbara-Sue White3 published by Oxford University Press, New York.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

TUSSAR AMAR SINGH Tussar’s grandfather, Fateh Singh, settled in Hong Kong at the beginning of the century and served in the Hong Kong Police until 1923, rising to become one of three sergeant-majors, then the highest rank which an Indian or Chinese could attain. Originally recruited by the British, he was sent back to his home village in district Ropar, to induce more Sikhs to serve in Hong Kong. Tussar’s father was born in Hong Kong in 1919 but was sent back to Punjab at age four to study. At eighteen, after a good education, Tussar’s father returned to Hong Kong to join the police force but was frustrated by police corruption. Tussar arrived in Hong Kong in 1956 to work in the Oriental Store after completing his higher education in India. Tussar’s first position in the Orient was as a shop assistant. He then worked for a clothing store, but soon decided there was little future in sundries. Tussar then joined the Civil Service, where he worked as a clerk in the Treasury Department before becoming a teacher at the Kadoorie School. After retirement, he would like to migrate to Canada where he has two married children. He is active in almost every Sikh organization in Hong Kong. He has been Hon. Secretary Khalsa Diwan, Nav Bharat Club (79-80), The Indian Association (81-3) and President, Khalsa Diwan (Sikh Temple) (84-5), Hong Kong Schools Hockey Convenor, and Schools’ representative on Hong Kong Hockey Association.

JYOT AND PAMELA KAPOOR The Kapoors run a firm, the Orin Corporation on Wyndham Street. An import-export house, it deals in a diverse range of products including Chinese goods, textiles, and car and motorcycle spare parts. Jyot has also an office in Shanghai. Jyot was born in Sumatra in 1941 into a business family. He graduated from New Delhi with a degree in economics. After a stint with the family business in Indonesia, Jyot arrived in Hong Kong in 1967 and initially dabbled with import and export of steel-pipes and other products besides dyes and chemicals sourcing from India. As a part of geographical diversification, he expanded into China and Africa and even USA. Jyot has bought a house and set up office in USA where he wants to pursue business. The Kapoors were married in Delhi in 1969. Before marriage, Pamela worked with Ford Foundation and her Hong Kong activities

Sikhs in Hong Kong


have included writing for the Harilelas Bharat Ratna magazine, opening Memsahib Restaurant, working as an officer of the Indian Women’s Club and being at the core of Indian charitable fundraisers. The Kapoors consider themselves very religious and Jyot proudly wears the turban and keep Shri Guru Granth Sahib at home. Jyot feels that the turban is an asset, as he feels no one ever forgets him. He is very committed and wants to prove that one can succeed in business in Hong Kong wearing turban. The question mark over post-1997 trade in Hong Kong has led Jyot to strengthen his interests outside Hong Kong as a backup.

ISH BHAGAT Ish Bhagat is a devout Sikh, although his parents were Hindus. He was directly recruited from India in 1959 as a Commissioned Officer in the Correctional Services Department ending his career as Assistant Commissioner and an official Justice of the Peace. Their two sons have settled in Hong Kong. Rohit Bhagat is an inspector in the police force and Sandeep is a credit analyst. Ish retired in 1990.

NOTES 1. Gulbir Singh Batra, Sikhs in Hong Kong, Hong Kong: Siri Guru Gobind Singh Educational Trust & Khalsa Diwan, n.d. 2. Madhavi Thampi, Indians in China, 1800-1949, New Delhi: Manohar, 2005. 3. Barbara-Sue White, Turbans and Traders, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific CHAPTER 9

Sikhs in China: Sikh Migration of Great Historical Interest

By most accounts I have come across, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the most characteristic and well recognized figure among Indians in China in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, was the Sikh policeman wielding his baton and patrolling the streets of the foreign concessions in the treaty ports. Some of the earliest Sikh presence overseas was in China to start with, mostly as soldiers with the British Indian Army and then as Policemen in Shanghai and other international enclaves. Many more Sikhs came to China to do other jobs, especially as watchmen. Post the 1949 revolution they had to move out. Most of them went to Hong Kong and many returned to India. The famous ship voyage of Komagata Maru had several passengers from Shanghai wanting to migrate to Canada. It would seem the earlier Sikh settlers in China had noticed Chinese migrating to Canada. They alerted folks back home of the attractiveness of the country. Next only to Hong Kong, Shanghai was an important hub for Sikh migrants in earlier years. At present, the Sikh presence is minimal but gradually building up through business enterprises. In Shanghai, we visited the the Police Museum and the old Gurdwara building, now a residential complex. Meena Vathyam1 has a very comprehensive website on ‘Shanghai Sikhs’ titled https// I have drawn heavily from her website for this chapter.

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Maharaja Jagatjit Singh of Kapurthala2 visited China, Japan and Java (Indonesia) from 18 October 1903 to 1 February 1904. He describes the scene in Shanghai and other cities rather interestingly as follows: China – Shanghai Shanghai is a large commercial city, with a population of 700,000 most of which is Chinese. Of Europeans and Americans there are about 8,000. Although Europeans of all nationalities lived there, it was noticeable that Anglo-Saxons predominated. As regards its Government, Shanghai is probably the most curious in the world. At first a stranger is at a loss to know in whose country and under whose laws he is living. While Shanghai is on Chinese soil, its municipality is international, and the people of different nationalities who reside there are tried and judged by their own court. The proceedings of mixed tribunals affect that portion of Shanghai which is known as the Foreign Settlement only. A Court Scene: The culprits were brought into the court, where they remained in charge of a Sikh policeman; the counsel or pleaders were English and Chinese, and each pleaded the cause of his client in the language of his own country’. The police are mainly English, Sikhs and Chinese. The French have their own municipality under French Laws and it goes by the name of French Concession (only about 400 French people). Several newspapers are published in Shanghai daily. Shanghai rejoices in no less than seven Post Offices, viz. English, French, Russian, German, American, Chinese and Japanese – each deal with matters of their own country only. Tien Tsin (North of Shanghai) has the largest settlement of foreigners in China with the exception of Shanghai. There are eight foreign settlements there, viz., English, Russian, German, French, Austrian, Italian, American and Japanese. Of these nations, six maintain troops numbering from 500 to 2,000 in the place. We also saw Sikhs (of which there were three or four Companies) walking about as if the place belonged to them. On return visit to Tien Tsin from Pekin, I was met by a deputation of Sikhs, who presented an address. These men had all gone to China in connection with the Indian Garrison there, in one capacity or another, and they were anxious to build a Sikh temple, as they had


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

no place of worship. I was asked for donation towards fulfilment of their desire, to which request I acceded. At Shanhaikwan there are some foreign troops; the Germans, French, Japanese, Russians have two companies each of soldiers and a portion of 30 Punjab Infantry from India. Some of the native officers of the later regiment came to see me; one of them turned out to be a subject of mine from the village of Dhilwan. SIKH ARMY PRESENCE

Sikh Soldiers joined the British Indian Army in various campaigns and contributed in a major way to the British success in the Second Opium War and the later Boxer rebellion. After China’s defeat at the hands of the British in the First Opium War (1839-42), the Treaty of Nanking, signed on 29 August 1842, formed the basis for the country’s relations with the West for almost a century. Sikh soldiers were also deployed in the Second Opium War of 1856-60. As imperial powers carved out the history of Shanghai after the Opium Wars of China in the 1850s, a sizeable part of that history was played out by the Sikh community there. SECOND OPIUM WAR

Sikhs soldiers took part through ‘15 Pioneers’. After China’s defeat at the hands of the British in the First Opium War, the Treaty of Nanking was signed, forming the basis for the country’s relations with the West. Treaties had invariably been ignored and by 1859, tensions reached a climax. Accordingly, it was decided to send in a force of 10,000 British and Indian troops from both India and the UK. The French, whose interests were also concerned, were also to send their forces in. In that era, there was reluctance on the part of Indian soldiers especially the Bengal Regiments, to take part in overseas assignments. Under the circumstances, the British were very pleased that the 15 Pioneers volunteered for service in China. The 1,000men unit consisting almost entirely of Mazhabi Sikhs, was stationed in Lucknow, and moved out on 11 February 1860, reaching Hong

Sikhs in China


Kong via Calcutta and Singapore. The expedition was the largest one that Indian troops had taken part in overseas. It sailed for Northern China on 1 June. Success was achieved when Peh-tang surrendered at the end of July. Taku Fort, composed almost entirely of Tartar cavalry, was then captured. The next target was Tientsin, 35 miles away from the Taku Forts and Peking, another 100 miles further. The Allies advanced by road and river (Peiho) to surround Tientsin by 5 September. They then started to march forward towards Peking which was captured and a treaty was signed on 13 October 1860 as per Lord Elgin’s terms. Looting of the palace was widespread. But the ‘Mazhbis’ were only doing what countless others were engaged in and the Pioneers were not the only unit to get back to India with illicit treasures. The Pioneers left Peking on 9 November, embarking at Tientsin for Hong Kong and further onto India. The regiment received the China Medal with clasps of ‘Taku Forts, 1860’, and ‘Peking, 1860’. TAIPING REBELLION

By 1851, another rebellion started, called the ‘Taiping Rebellion’ against the British and other Europeans. To quell this, the British brought in The Sikh Regiment. The Taiping rebellion was one of the world’s bloodiest civil wars. Lasting for 13 years from 1851 to 1864, it nearly toppled the Qing Dynasty and resulted in the death of 20 million people, more than the entire population of England at that time. BOXER REBELLION

The history of the Boxer Rebellion is well known. What isn’t is the crucial role played by troops from the Sikh Regiments. The Boxer Rebellion was a protest against foreign influence in religion, politics and commerce in China. The Boxers laid siege in the heart of Beijing for 55 days. On 4 August 1900, the soldiers of the Eight Nation Alliance left the city of Tianjin to march to Beijing to relieve the siege of the legations. A relief force of more than 3,000 soldiers from Sikh Regiments was dispatched to lift


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

the siege, which eventually paved the way for the occupation of Beijing by foreign troops. In the Battle of Yang Tsun, the key role was played by Sikhs (24th Punjab Regiment) and a regiment of Americans, who were exposed to a fierce hail of shell and rifle fire. The battle culminated in a brilliant bayonet charge by the Sikhs and American forces, which resulted in an immense slaughter of the Chinese, and the occupation of Yang Tsun by the foreign troops. The Chinese Government was forced to sign the ‘Boxer Protocol’, which ordered the execution of some Government officials who supported the Boxers, besides payment of compensation to the injured nations. By the spring of 1901, it was decided to reduce the British forces in China but the 14th Sikhs were amongst those regiments selected to remain in China and were transferred further north. The Sikhs were employed in patrolling the railway line and occasional expeditions after the bandits. The 14th Sikhs finally left China on 29 July 1902. WORLD WAR I

Sikh troops come to China during World War I as well. By early August, the Japanese had entered the War and sent a division to capture the German port of Tsingtao. The Twenty-fourth and half the 36th Sikhs were sent from Tientsin in September to represent the Allies and take part in the capture of Tsingtao on 7 November. SIKHS IN THE POLICE

Policemen played an important role in all localities of Shanghai. Since the colonial offices could not employ a big enough number of policemen from the West and they did not want to have too many Chinese in the police force, they imported policemen from the Indian subcontinent. The Shanghai police started recruiting Sikhs in 1884 and recruitment in Tianjin started in 1896. At the beginning, the recruitment seems to have been done directly by the British authorities in India. But as an increasing number of Sikhs with a

Sikhs in China


military background made their way to the Far East seeking employment, local recruitment was sanctioned. This was often called ‘The Shanghai International Police’. They were deployed in ports where the British trading companies had set up a large presence by the early twentieth century. The force was founded in 1854, and policed the International Settlement at Shanghai until 1943. The force was expanded to include a Sikh Branch (established 1884), comprising officers who had retired or left the Sikh military detachments in China. This force reached about 800 men, almost all of them Sikhs. SHANGHAI POLICE MUSEUM

We made a visit to Shanghai Police Museum which encapsulates the presence of Sikh Policemen of that era through photographs, statues and publications. A two-volume book on the Museum (in Chinese) was collected. Ka Kin Cheuk has translated the reference. The Sikh policemen in Shanghai were always referred as ‘Red-headed Ar San’ by the Shanghai people who are now in their 70s and 80s. It is because all Sikh policemen donned red turban (please note that most Sikh policemen worked in traffic police department and all traffic policemen wore red hat, no matter it was turban or not; perhaps it is the reason why most Sikhs were called ‘Red-Header’). Regarding ‘Ar San’, it literally means ‘three’ in Chinese. There are two unverified hypothesis explaining the origin of this name. First, in Shanghai people’s eyes the Indian policemen had lower social position than white and Chinese policemen, so Indians were called ‘three’ which ranked below white and Chinese in the larger society. Second, it was speculated that because the Indian policemen used to start conversation with local Chinese by ‘I say I say’ (which is similar to the pronunciation of three in Chinese), they were then referred as ‘three’ by the local Shanghai people.

Besides the above, another version states that most Shanghai people did not like the Indian policemen as they always used baton and their shoes to beat rickshaw drivers and hawkers without reason. The local people always regarded the Indian policemen as ‘dog of the British’ and ‘annoying red-hat flies’.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Others, mostly foreigners, have written extensively on Sikh Policemen and I quote here from a book by Claude Markovits:3 Sikh policemen were a standard feature of street life in the International Settlement. The Sikhs were very effective in keeping the generally lawless elements of the population under effective control. The Chinese had no respect for the rules and regulations of the administration, and would spit and urinate anywhere. The rickshaw riders would ride like wild mad riders and often cause unnecessary traffic chaos. Often a Sikh policeman would catch hold of two of unruly riders and lift them up to bang their heads together that was enough to put fear into the Chinese. When gangs of unruly Chinese gathered to create a nuisance with gambling or loud arguments, the appearance of a single majestic looking Sikh in his red turban, was enough to send the mobs fleeing. It was apparent the British had given their Sikh police a free hand in dealing with the Chinese. The Sikhs were also employed as traffic policemen not only to keep automobile traffic untangled, but to contend, with horse-drawn carriages, man-drawn rickshaws, sedan chairs, and people carrying huge burdens. The streets were narrow, and everybody wanted to take the centre of the road.

Figure 9.1: Shanghai Museum

Sikhs in China



Between 1925 and 1930 the Ward Road Gaol became a prison, mainly housing Chinese inmates, controlled and run by a predominantly British and Sikh staff. The majority of warders were Sikhs. Conditions inside Ward Road Gaol were considered to be some of the harshest in the world. Silence was enforced at all times, overcrowding was rife, and in 1934 there were only 2,925 cells between its 6,000 inmates. It was the largest prison in the world and earned a reputation as the ‘Alcatraz of the Orient’. SIKHS IN OTHER PROFESSIONS

An excerpt from Sin City, by Ralph Shaw,4 a British journalist in Shanghai from 1937 to 1949 states: The Sikhs had a very large community in Shanghai. Most of them were in the police. Others were watchmen. They were British subjects because India was part of the Empire. The ex-soldiers amongst them had been recruited for police service, on traffic duties, in the riot squad or the mounted section, and on retirement from the force they found their services in demand as bank guards, security men on the wharves, at the city’s warehouses and the big business hongs or as commissionaires at hotels, restaurants and night-clubs. The Sikhs loved money. They lent it but at such exorbitant rates of interest that their debtors, who were plentiful, were likely to remain insolvent for the remainder of their natural lives. Every other Sikh had a side-line, moneylending. SOCIAL LIFE

According to Claude Markovits: The majority of the people were young unmarried men who lived as bachelors, sharing quarters with colleagues in barrack lines or trading firms’ premises. Most of them who were married had left their wives back in India and lived the life of a bachelor. Obviously they had to find an outlet for their sexual and emotional needs: some probably found it with the Chinese prostitutes, the only ones they


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

could afford. But minority seems to have formed more lasting liaisons with Chinese women, sometimes resulting in marriage. Sikhs with their fine physique had generally no problem in finding female company wherever they went. Children must have been born of these unions, but they remained very much in the background, as such relationships were strongly frowned upon by members of the two communities involved.

Incidentally I heard similar comment from a recent illegal immigrant in Korea when asked about their relationships with local women. SHANGHAI GURDWARA

We visited the old Gurdwara in Shanghai which is now a residential building. Seeing my turban, an old Chinese lady came running to me. We could not understand much but an interpreter told us that she was saying that she used to visit the Gurdwara as a child. She remembered a lot of people with turbans used to come and brought a lot of milk. She lived next door and was very happy to see us. By 1890 there was a thriving community of a few thousand Sikhs in Shanghai. The first Gurdwara went up in the same year. According to the records of a building in Shanghai, this was at 326 Dong Bao Xing Road. It was known among the locals as Yindu Miao (Indian temple) and is protected as a cultural relic under the supervision of the Hongkou District Government. Fortunately it survived the bombing during China’s War of Resistance against the Japanese Aggression (1937-45) while all the neighbouring structures were destroyed. The Gurdwara is currently home to six or seven families who have lived there for over three decades, which makes its preservation and restoration difficult. In my search on the internet I came across this blog – ‘A lifeline for Sikhs in Shanghai’ by Bivash Mukherjee: The Gurdwara on Dong Bao Xing Road is a south-facing two-storey rectangular structure with red-brick walls. Old documents give an insight into the temple. There are 19 stairs leading to the entrance of the temple with each step 2 metres wide. An arched wooden door

Sikhs in China


Figure 9.2: Shanghai Gurdwara, 1908, Photo by Dennison & Sullivan

leads to the inside of the building. About 3 to 4 metres from the front door, there are two other arched doors. Inside the building, or Gurdwara, there is a big hall with the sacred rostrum in the centre at the back. There are small long windows at centre left and centre right. There are five big windows on either side of the sidewalls. Downstairs on the ground floor is the administrative office. The occupants are living in sub-standard conditions and the building itself is deteriorating.


By 1930s there were said to be two more Gurdwaras in Shanghai but I have not been able to authenticate this information. However Gurdwaras were, indeed, established in Tientsin and Hankou. SIKHS POST 1949

With the communist take-over, most foreigners, including Sikhs, left China. Dozens of Guru Granth Saroops were carried back by these families.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

One internet report says that by 1963, there were still about 1,200 Sikh families living in China. As Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai transmuted into Hindi-Chini Bye-Bye in 1962, mutual animosity led to the complete exodus of Indians. The Gurdwaras were closed and taken over by the Chinese. It was in late 1963, that the Straits Times carried an article about the last batch of Sikhs, about 260 of them, many with Chinese wives, that left Shanghai to go back to India via Hong Kong by air. It was reported they carried the last of Saroop of Guru Granth Sahib along with them, shutting the Sikh Gurdwara in Shanghai. THE PRESENT SIKH SCENE

There are two interesting papers: ‘Indians in the Chinese Textile City: Middleman Traders in Upgrading Economy’ and ‘Strangers in the Gurdwara: The Contested Indian Friendship in the Chinese Textile Economy’ both by Ka Kin Cheuk, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, St. Antony’s College, University of Oxford. Some of the observations are given below. (a) In the last decade or so Indians and Sikhs have started to move back and set up businesses and trading offices. In the lead are the Thakral Brothers of Singapore operating from Shanghai. Incidentally, their Head runs a Sunday Gurdwara from his residence in Shanghai. They have made a number of forays into China since 1960s, finally establishing an office there in 1984. Some of their establishments are: 1992 – Shanghai Thakral Electronics Industrial Corporation; 1993 – Chengdu Plant to manufacture TV sets and set up 1,000 stores across China; 1995 – Joins Chinese partners to establish electronics park in Wujiang. (b) In this present time there is already an appearance of Sikhs being noticed in China especially at major Hotels in Peking and Shanghai and Wenzhou, where they serve as doormen and concierge handlers and are asked to wear their turbans to give an authentic look of the 1930s era. One such Sikh working in Peking says, ‘Sometimes when really old, over 70-years age, Chinese walk by, they are very happy and tell me that they remember seeing Sikhs like me on the streets in their youth.’ In today’s China, Keqiao (Zhejiang Province) is the largest

Sikhs in China


fabrics export centre in which more than 5,000 Indian middleman traders can be found. Shaoxing, as the site of one of the largest textile wholesale markets in Asia, attracts more than 10,000 Indians. The following write up from Brill’s Encyclopaedia of Hinduism by Ka Kin Cheuk (2013) has a description on these two Gurdwaras. Brill’s Encyclopaedia of Hinduism5 China: Religious Practices among the Indian Traders in China: Due to the fact that Hinduism and Sikhism is not one of the China’s five recognised religions, Chinese law does not allow Indians to establish a public temple in China. That being said, China has recently begun to relax these regulations. In places where there is sizeable following, the local Chinese authorities give the Indians permission to set up temporary sites for collective worship in their domestic space. While three Sikh Gurdwaras have been organised in this way, no Hindu temple has been established in China. This is because in most cases Sikhs take more active roles in establishing public religious spaces, even though Sikhs are just a minority in China’s Indian population. A Sikh Gurdwara is being hosted in a condominium in Shanghai in which congregation is held every Sunday morning. There is also a Sikh Gurdwara in a second floor apartment in Yiwu, a city in which most prosperous small commodity wholesale markets are located and many Indian traders reside for their trade businesses. The third Sikh Gurdwara which is the most recent one was first unveiled in an apartment and has subsequently expanded in three floor office space in Shaoxing since November 2011. Shaoxing, as one of the sites of wholesale textile markets in Asia, attracts more than 10,000 Indians as live-in textile traders. While the Shanghai Gurdwara is run by a Sikh family, Yiwu and Shaoxing Gurdwaras recruit full time ‘granthis’ from India for day-to-day Gurdwara management and to hold Sikh religious events. In term of size of these Gurdwaras, the Shaoxing Gurdwara is the largest and has the most comprehensive facilities. It can accommodate about 150 devotees at full capacity. The Shaoxing Gurdwara has two room dining area on the second floor and a small kitchen on the third floor, which serves the langar function very well. Due to lack of resources and manpower, these Gurdwaras cannot remain open all day. Nonetheless the three Gurdwaras have been active in organising religious worship during Sikh festivals such as the birthdays of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind Singh, Baisakhi and Diwali.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

While these Gurdwaras are organised at the centre of Sikh faith and practices, the attendees include many Sindhis and Tamils who follow Hindu traditions. In fact on many occasions there are more Hindu devotees than Sikhs in these Gurdwaras. For example, the Shaoxing Gurdwara is mostly attended by Sindhis but not Sikhs, since Shaoxing has only a few Sikh families, while there are far more Sindhis. SOME INTERESTING PERSONALITIES AND EPISODES

1. One Dara Singh from Taiping, in Malaysia, went to China and joined the Kuomintang army to fight the communists and was promoted to the rank of a Colonel by Chiangkai Shek. He spoke Chinese fluently and married a Chinese lady. The chapter on ‘Sikhs in Malaysia’ has more details. 2. Atma Singh and the broken hangman’s noose. Meena Vathyam in her blog tells of an unusual incidence in Shanghai. A burly Shanghai Sikh policeman, Atma Singh had in 1937, killed a fellow policeman, another Sikh, after the latter allegedly insulted his wife. For this murder, he was sentenced to hang till dead. On the day of his hanging, the rope broke and Atma Singh fell through the trapdoor. There was no evidence of tampering and the hangman, who had arrived from Hong Kong also found no defects in the way the rope parted. However, Atma Singh was not released and his sentence was reduced to life imprisonment. He was sent to an Indian prison, most likely Andamans. Interestingly, his neck was stretched by two inches.

Figure 9.3: A newspaper clipping on the incident

Sikhs in China



1. SIKH GURDWARAS IN CHINA AND THE FAR EAST BY MAHINDER SINGH (EX-IFS, NEW DELHI), THE SIKH REVIEW, MARCH 2000 I had landed in Shanghai, China, in December 1946. Then there was a sizeable Sikh community comprising mainly of Sikh police employed in the four international settlements of the victorious powers of the World War II, and other Sikhs in the metropolis served as guards or watchmen of big foreign firms. I visited the one big Gurdwara in the city on a Sunday morning. In Nanking, the then Capital of the Nationalist Chinese Government, where I was working in the Indian Embassy, there was a Gurdwara situated in the barracks of Sikhs about one hundred in number employed by the American Military Police. Its leader was one Captain Narain Singh whose marriage to one run-away girl of a Sikh watchman from Shanghai was solemnised in this Gurdwara in March 1947. As Communists took over Nanking in April 1949, American Military police was disbanded and all Sikh employees were repatriated to India by Government of India in two especially chartered ships from Shanghai. The then Chinese Government made Peking (now Beijing), a northern city as it’s Capital, so I along with India’s Charge de Affairs moved from Nanking to Peking in February 1950. In Peking then there was no other Sikh, but in the port city of Tienstin I saw one Sikh, Mit Singh managing a Gurdwara there. He had come from Irkutsk in Siberia and his wife was a white Russian and a staunch Christian. I saw she had her own church in the compound of the same building in Tienstin. After a few months, as the new Chinese Government closed the Gurdwara, Mit Singh with his wife had to go to Hong Kong, where till some years ago he had been working. Mit Singh came to my house in Peking a few times, I found him a devoted Sikh and he could speak Russian fluently. On my transfer to the Headquarters of the Ministry of External Affairs, New Delhi, I left Peking, boarding a ship from Tienstin, for Hong Kong in 1952. At Hong Kong, of course, then there was a huge Gurdwara near Queens Road in Hong Kong side which I was pleased to visit. Even then there was a sizeable Sikh community in Hong Kong and most of them had settled down there from the Komagata Maru episode.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

2. DHYAN CHAND, THE HOCKEY WIZARD’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY, GOAL AND OTHERS, CHENNAI: SPORT AND PASTIME, 1962 1932 Account: After a harrowing trip, with a strong wind blowing, we reached the great international port of Shanghai on 12 June. Since we had no hockey engagement, our members again split into batches to see the city. The atmosphere in the city was quite tense due to the Sino-Jap clash over Manchuria. We were told to keep within bounds and avoid any trouble spots. We visited a small Sikh temple on the outskirts of the city. The temple had suffered much damage in clashes between the Chinese and Japanese soldiers. As we came out of the temple, Japanese soldiers eyed us with suspicion. We had lunch on board our ship and sailed for Kobe at about 4 pm.

3. OBSERVATIONS BY WESTERNERS There are several references in books on China of that era about Sikh presence. The comic book Le Lotus Blue, Fifth Volume of ‘The Adventures of Tin Tin’ by Herge, serialized in 1934-5, has

Figure 9.4: From The Rattle (1896), p. 43.

Sikhs in China

Figure 9.5: Friedrich Schiff: The Shanghai Cartoonist

Figure 9.6: Photos from book Sin City , by Ralph Shaw, a British journalist in the Shanghai from 1937 to 1949



Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Figure 9.6: China – A Sikh Policeman Escorting Convicts

Sikh characters in its narrative. Many of the novels, plays, caricatures, cartoons of the era have the Sikhs featured in their works to give the authentic feel and flavour of a very multicultural place. Be it fiction or non-fiction, the Shanghai Sikh policeman makes a guest appearance – either as a stolid yet imposing cop or a bumbling one. His giant frame, bushy beard and fiery nature have certainly merited a cursory sentence or two. In Shanghai’s British history, the Sikh will remain synonymous with imperialism and its unfairness and is, thus generally, poorly caricatured.

NOTES 1. Meena Vathyam, https// 2. Jagatjit Singh, My Travels in China, Japan and Java, London: Kegan Paul, 1903. 3. Claude Markovits, New Frontiers: Imperialism’s New Communities in East Asia, 1842-1953, Manchaster: Manchaster University Press, 2012. 4. Ralph Shaw, Sin City, Time Warner Paperbacks, 1992. 5. Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, 2013.

Sikhs in South Korea



Sikhs in South Korea: The Tourist Visa Overstayers


Migration to South Korea is different to the pattern in other Asian countries, being more recent and quasi-legal in many, if not most cases. It is similar to the Sikh migration to Tokyo area which will be covered in the next chapter. Migration to Korea is not widely known and is not on the horizon of migration agents in India as a prime target. It was by coincidence that I got to know about it, while interviewing Har Rattan Singh in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2005. He mentioned that prior to his migration to Argentina, he had been working in Korea for a few years. The interview is detailed under Case Studies later on. THE COUNTRY

South Korea, officially the Republic of Korea, constitutes the southern part of the Korean Peninsula. It’s a predominantly mountainous terrain. Roughly half of the country’s 50 million people reside in the metropolitan area surrounding its capital, Seoul, which is the second largest in the world with over 25 million residents. Between 1962 and 1994, South Korea’s tiger economy grew at an average of 10 per cent annually, fuelled by annual export growth of 20 per cent. Today, South Korea is the seventh largest in international trade. Civilian government replaced military rule in 1987 and the country has since evolved into Asia’s most advanced democracy as rated by The Economist. With the communist invasion of South Korea in 1950, the UN sent out a call to the free world for assistance. India decided


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

not to get involved militarily but contributed a medical unit which served in Korea for a total of three and a half years (19503). Towards the end of the Korean war in 1953, a force of almost a divisional strength, known as the Custodian Force of India, was deployed for the repatriation of prisoners of war for almost two years. SINGHVI REPORT (2001)

The Koreans claim linkage with India going back two thousand years, when a princess from Ayodhya is believed to have arrived in Korea to marry a Korean king. The Indian business community, mostly Sindhis went to Seoul about twenty years ago and have been staying with their families. Most of the Indians are concentrated in Seoul. Their business relations with India are minimal. The exports are largely destined to Dubai and other parts of the Middle East. Some members also operate in the neighbouring ASEAN region. There are also some Indian professionals in Korean companies and with MNCs (author’s note: A Sikh is a Professor at the University in Seoul). SIKH MIGRATION

Since there is a general shortage of labour in the country, Sikhs went to Korea looking for jobs in mid 1980s. Another good oportunity for potential migrants to get tourist visas was the Seoul Asian Games of 1986 and Olympics of 1988. Most migrants are on what is termed as ‘O/S’ viz ‘Overstay’ category: They go on short duration tourist visa and stay on till they get deported or are ready to return. Some get married locally which helps regularize their ‘Residence’ status. There is a Gurdwara at Pocheon, a suburb of Seoul. There is another smaller Gurdwara nearby which I could not visit. There is an interesting story as to how I ultimately managed to locate the Gurdwara on a late Sunday afternoon while having failed to do so a day earlier. It was unfortunate that I missed the Sunday gathering for which I had planned and organized my itinerary over the weekend. I had the address and directions

Sikhs in South Korea


from a website. When I took a local bus from the Seoul subway terminus, as directed, neither the bus driver nor the bus company’s office that were contacted by the driver on my request, could locate the Gurdwara address. Even the bus passengers could not decipher the location. I perforce had to get down after travelling some distance to a nearby Police Station. Due to the sensitive status of immigrants, I was hesitant to approach the police but had no other option. It was quite an experience with the Police Officer and his staff trying to locate the Gurdwara by telephoning various people and through internet searches but without any success. They then commandeered a Police car to take me to the nearby hills, as they got a lead that some Indians were employed there. The lead proved futile and I had to return to my Seoul downtown hotel disappointed on a Saturday evening. The next day I sought the help of a Sikh Professor who had been teaching at the University in Seoul. Unfortunately we could manage to go rather late for the Sunday service, as the Professor was having difficulty in getting the coordinates of the Indian food retail store in Pocheon, which we were hoping will guide us to the Gurdwara. Fortuitously the next day, being a Sunday and a holiday, we saw some South Asian faces at the Seoul subway terminus and in the bus (the same bus I had taken the previous day). We met two men, one from Sri Lanka and the other from Bangladesh. They helped us locate the Indian store rather easily. And wow, who do we see but the turbaned Sikh owner! This episode should highlight the difficulty faced by a researcher in some destinations just even to get started. The Gurdwara is a registered society with a bank account and the land ownership on which Gurdwara stands is in its name. On the day I visited, I was told 70-80 people had attended, about 40-50 of them locally married. After preliminary greetings, the store owner took us in his car to the Gurdwara which was nearby. It turned out to be a rather large two-storey building. How the police couldn’t locate the place, indicates laxity in their vigilance and explains how immigrants can remain in Korea as ‘O/S’ without being deported! The local industries and farms are happy to employ immigrants. Most employers provide accommodation, health care and other


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Figure 10.1: Korea – Police Trying to Locate the Gurdwara for me

Figure 10.2: Korea – Police Taking me around to Locate Gurdwara

Sikhs in South Korea


Figure 10.3: Korea – Gurdwara that Police could not Locate

facilities. It is a mutually convenient arrangement as there is a general shortage of labour. Some of the immigrants even have local driving licenses and almost all have bank accounts with ATM facilities. A unique system of transferring money to their folks back home in Punjab is by providing them an ATM card which they then use to withdraw the money in rupees from the local village or town ATM. We were fortunate to meet a couple of immigrants despite our arrival in the late afternoon. We learnt that most of them had been living in Korea for just a few years. Because of their illegal status, they cannot leave. They return only once they have made a reasonable amount of money. It has to be a permanent return as Korean immigration would not allow them re-entry. The ‘granthi’ at the Gurdwara (an Indian Army retiree) has been there for several years. Because of the devotees’ uncertain immigrant status, the Gurdwara provides a much needed gathering place and Sundays are looked forward to. ‘Gurpurbs’ are celebrated with gusto and Sikhs from various regions of Punjab take on the ‘sewa’ in rotation during the year. Running of the Gurdwara is supported by contribution of 10 per


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

cent earnings (‘daswand’) by every Sikh immigrant. Langar is available to anyone at any time as are also staying facilities in emergency situations. I met an immigrant, who had an accident and was not insured. He was recuperating at the Gurdwara. Hardly any Punjabi women are present, except where the immigrant has a proper visa, like the Indian store owner. Some immigrants get married locally, which enables them to get ‘Residence Permit’. Earlier, I had met a Sikh in a village near Rajpura in Punjab where he had come with his Korean wife and kids. Wages are reasonably satisfactory but the illegal status has always a threat of deportation and exploitation by the employer. I was told the police tend to show some understanding on Sundays, being the ‘church day’. But many a times they lie in wait near the Gurdwara to catch a few of them. Life can be tough, uncertain and tense. Although most of the immigrants are located in outlying areas of Seoul, there are some Sikhs in the south of the country too. They are more isolated and local churches offer them help in order to attract them to convert to Christianity, with some success. As in most cases, it is difficult to estimate the number of immigrants in the country but a figure of between 2,000-5,000 is bandied around. In local language those people who are without visa are called ‘Full Pop’. They can live only in the fields and farm houses away from the prying eyes of police. Besides Indians, there are illegal aliens from other Asian countries such as China, Indonesia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Bangladesh and Pakistan. In fact we were told that the Indians are comparatively less in numbers. GURDWARAS

There are two Gurdwaras in the suburbs of Seoul. The main one’s coordinates are given below: Name: Address: Established:

Gurdwara Shri Singh Sabha Kyungki-Do, Pocheon-Si, Soheul-Eup-I (2), Dongkyori 202-1 21 November 2004.

Sikhs in South Korea


We were told that the first Gurdwara was started in 1998 in Sungri, at rented premises. Unfortunately after one and a half years, the Gurdwara caught fire. Thereafter, it was shifted to a nearby building, again on rent. The ‘sangat’ collected money and bought the present premises in 2000, and formally inaugurated it on 21 November 2004. The gathering at that time was of about 400. It is a large two storey building and displays the ‘Nishan Sahib’ prominently. There is another Gurdwara nearby in Thungnan which I could not visit due to paucity of time. PROFESSOR (DR.) LAKHVINDER SINGH’S WRITE-UP Dr. Lakhvinder, a long-time resident of Seoul has very kindly given the following details to a questionnaire sent by me. (Generally people are not that helpful.) Q1: When and how did the Sikhs first come to Korea – History of immigration? Besides suburbs of Seoul where else are they present? Profile of immigrants before arriving in Korea and subsequently? A: Sikhs started coming to Korea in the late 1970s when Korea’s economic growth was picking up. The oldest Sikh living in Korea claims his arrival around forty years ago. It is said (no proof to confirm) Sindhis, who started coming in late 1960s brought Shri Guru Granth Sahib with them for personal worship for the first time in Korea. Apart from Seoul, Sikhs are present in different parts of Korea. They are working under some companies or illegally in fields. Koreans like Punjabi Sikh farmers for their hard work and loyalty. Recently a Punjabi farmer sold his land in Punjab and bought land in Korea. He became the first Sikh to own a farm land in Korea. Sikhs from Busan (name of city), Suwon (name of town) often come to Gurdwara on occasions like Diwali or Gurpurb of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Q2: Numbers at present – are they increasing/decreasing? Was there any peak period? A: I think, it is not easy to tell the exact number of Sikhs in Korea. Sikhs are not getting special attention here. Secondly very few illegal Sikhs are in full Sikhi swaroop. So it is difficult to know. In 2014 around 300 people gathered in the Gurdwara on Guru Nanak’s Birthday. Around 30 of them sported turbans.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Q3: Ways (methods of) of immigration? A: Most of them come as tourists, businessmen and students and staff of big Korean conglomerates. Sikhs from other parts of the world like USA, Canada and Singapore also come to Korea and stay here on short terms basis. Sikhs are not especially crazy for Korean immigration like Europe or USA. Q4: What is Korea’s special attraction for Sikhs, if any? A: Nothing special attraction. Farming jobs is only attraction. Special attraction for Sikhs is the only one Gurdwara here. But that is not as big and famous as the Gurdwaras of America or Canada. I would like to mention here that about three months ago, there was a meeting of religious heads in Seoul. The leader of SGPC did not even visit the Gurdwara. So even delegates of Sikhs who visit Seoul for other reasons, do not visit Gurdwara. For local families, Gurdwara get-together is also a socializing opportunity. Q5: General period of stay – how many years? A: Average period of stay is 7-9 years. An average Sikh working in Koreans farms can save around US $250,000 in 7-9 years. Many of the young Sikhs who come here think this is enough to live a life. They go home and marry. Most of the boys who come here are unmarried. Q6: Type of jobs (Sikhs do in Korea) – Work conditions? A: Farming, business, trading, company jobs, restaurants. Working conditions are good. Salary is good. Saving is good. Living expenses are not so high. Average person can live within US $500 a month. A regular person can save around US $1,500 a month. Q7: Living conditions, social life, food, contact with locals, dating (marrying) local girls? A: Living conditions are good. Food is liked by Sikhs especially the Korean meat products. Korean girls do date Sikh boys. After coming here some Sikhs prefer to cut hair or beard according to their comfort as many Koreans show an indifferent attitude towards them. Sikhi fervour is low among Korean Sikhs. Q8: Local marriages, how common: problems and prospects. How many end in divorces and resultant marriages in Punjab? A: Some Sikhs have married local Korean girls. Sikh divorce rate is low. Korean girls like Punjabi boys for their hard work. But Korean language is the main hindrance. Q9: Contact with Punjab – how and frequency? Indian movies, music, other entertainment? A: They have a good contact with Punjab through the modern electronic devices. Also air ticket is not expensive.

Sikhs in South Korea


Q10: Gurdwara – visits, how many keeping turban? A: Most of the Sikhs do visit Gurdawara on Sundays. Around 30 of them sport turbans. Q11: Remittances back home? How do they handle being away from home and possible loneliness? A: Remittances is easy. Loneliness is not a problem as most of them are very supportive of each other. Q12: Deportation – How avoided? How frequent? A: Deportations are few here and there. Korean farmers because of the hard work of Sikh boys intervene on their behalf and prepare their legal papers. Once a Sikh boy is in Korea, it is a 90 per cent chance that he will stay for 7-9 years. Getting job in farms is very easy. Job is found within a week of arrival. Q13: How do Koreans treat Sikh immigrants as against immigrants from other countries? Are Sikh immigrants comparatively a minority against immigrants from other countries – which countries? A: Sikhs are treated well. But Koreans do not show any respect for Indians. They think Indians are poor and lazy. But Sikhs have good image. They have earned a place for themselves. Q14: Attitude of Indian Embassy towards immigrants? A: Indian Embassy is helpful but not very active. In other words, if someone approaches them, then it works. Few years ago, Embassy helped a lot in case of a Sikh Indian Captain of Navy. No Sikh has come as an ambassador in last 15 years or so. Embassy people do not come to Gurdwara – even embassy Sikhs. Q15: Most Important: A few case studies including your own (some questions are common as above)? A: I came here as a researchers after my PhD. Liked here very much. Staying here for last fifteen years with my family. One son and one daughter. My mother comes and goes from time to time. I may stay here a little longer. But no plan to become Korean citizen. Have been offered Korean citizenship but declined. But my wife may become Korean citizen next year. CASE STUDIES

HAR RATTAN SINGH Interviewed on 18 August 2005 in Buenos Aires at 6:45 p.m. in his chambers. He wears a turban. He stated ‘I was born in Jagraon. We had land in Haryana that is


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

why we were living there. I was educated in a Haryana, Jind city. Then I came to Punjab in 1986’. Q. Where did you live and study? A. I am under-matric. I took training in SGGS. I took part in twelve akhand paths. I was very attached and fond of Gurbani. I was always dreaming for Guru Nanak’s darshan. Once I was taking a walk in my fields when suddenly an idea struck my mind – Where is the Guru? People say that Guru is always with you. But I could not find him within me nor is he visible? Q. When were you born? A. In 1957. Q. Did you start agriculture after school? A. I joined an ITI (Industrial Training Institute) in Jind but could not find any job on completion of the course. I got an offer from Haryana Roadways which I refused. Guru Nanak came into my dream. I joined kar-sewa in Patiala. We (brothers) bought two taxis and started a business. After some time, we got in touch with an agent for migration. On landing in Hong Kong, we got help from the local Gurdwara. We were advised to purchase a ticket via Korea and Japan to Hong Kong as visitors. I had asked for a two-days stay in Korea and got the entry for two weeks but I returned after two years. I had a five-day visa for Hong Kong so I left within the stipulated period. I went alone. I went to Korea where I had a friend from Jagroan. I rang him and he sent a Punjabi speaking local (interesting information!) to pick me up from the airport. I asked one of my friends in the UK to help. He responded with a thousand dollars (note the generosity and helpfulness). Before leaving for Korea, I had suggested to my brother to visit China for a week and thereby get his visa extended for another week. On my brother’s return from China, he flew to Korea. In those days visa was not required for travel between Hong Kong and Korea. We earned 80,000 to 100,000 (INR) per month and sent money home. We were working in a factory manufacturing swim suits. They did not inquire about the visa. Even when we planned to return after two years, they were requesting us to stay. I was working as inspector and had sixteen people working under me. My brother was working as an operator. We were in Seoul and there were many Sikhs. My friend Jiwan Singh was staying there for last five years. We were 16 Sikhs in a house – three of us used to wear turban. We reached Korea on 22nd of October and returned on the same date after two years. It was Diwali day. Q. Does it mean I have to go to Korea too to study the Sikh immigrants?

Sikhs in South Korea


A. You can get the exact information about Sikhs from Jagraon. Q. Tell me the village? A. There is a Raikot stop in Jagroan. There is a Gurdwara called Ajitsar. Jiwan Singh’s father was president of this Gurdwara. You will get to know the exact whereabouts from there only. Radai Agwad is an area in Jagroan. They know about many boys in Korea. I took my parents to Hazoor Sahib for pilgrimage. I got married in 1987 and had two daughters and a son. We were in India from 1995 to 1998 trying to go abroad. Talking of immigration to Argentina, Har Rattan told that he got to know about the country in Korea. When we tried for visa to Argentina, the Malta Boat tragedy happened because of which the visa procedure became strict. American Embassy refused us visa thrice. Our agent got us the visa to Argentina on payment of Rs. 3 lakhs. My brother went in advance. I followed him three months later.

TILWINDER SINGH I came here in 1993. Earlier I had worked in Abu Dhabi for seven years with an oil company (Bechtel). I got married in 1983. My maternal uncles (‘mammas’) had moved to Singapore where they had opened an office in 1982. During the Olympics held in Seoul in 1988, the travel agents used the opportunity to get visas for their prospective migration clients. Sikhs came illegally after Olympics. According to Tilwinder there are about 2,000 Punjabis in Korea. Gurdwara is a registered body in Korea. Tilwinder is married to a Korean lady.

BITTU (HARDARSHAN SINGH BITTU) In 1996 I did a diploma course in Sarsawan. Then an agent told me about Korea and I came here after 5-6 months along with the agent. We first came to Thailand with some other persons. I could get visa for Korea after 2 weeks in Thailand. I came to Korea (Seoul) alone and met a nice taxi man who helped me to settle with two Pakistani boys. I stayed with them for 4-5 days when the agent’s brother helped me reach the agricultural fields where on arrival, I found 7-8 Punjabi in a drunken condition. They welcomed me. I stayed with them for 2-4 days and learnt how to make ‘chapattis’. I did not know how to cook. I worked in the fields with them for 5-6 months. I then changed the job where they employed me on trial basis but I ultimately ended up working for two years. I then went to another farm on permanent basis and worked there two and a half years.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

I met one Rajesh Kumar (Raju) from Punjab, Kharar, who helped me open a bank account. Thereafter I rented a shop and named it Khalsa Store in 2000 with a monthly rent of 400 dollars. I used to purchase the material (spices) like daals, tea, turmeric, etc., from Korea. There were 1,500-2,000 Indians residing mostly from Punjab. I first returned to India in 2003 after six years. I called for my brother and brother-in-law (from village Bhambol) to join me in Korea. I have two brothers and five sisters. In 1999, we started collecting money for Gurdwara. Immigrants from Shehedkheri had collected the maximum amount of about 1.5 crores. I could collect another 1 crore. In 2003 we located the land for Gurdwara. Pappu was appointed as the President – he is married to a Korean. The land was purchased. There is another Gurdwara in Thungnan. There are a total of 5,000 Punjabis out of which 500 are legal and 50 are married to the locals.

DR. LAKHVINDER SINGH He is the Chairman of the Indo-Korea Business and Policy Forum and senior consultant at the Asia-Pacific Business and Technology Report. Dr. Singh is actively involved in Korea-India relations and an advocate for a peaceful, integrated Asia. He holds two doctorates, one in Korean studies from Sungkyunwhan University in Korea, and the other in International Politics from Jawahar Lal Nehru University. He completed a senior executive fellowship at Harvard University in the field of trade policy. Dr. Singh is also senior fellow at the Institute of Far Eastern Studies and has more than fifteen years’ experience living in the region. His journal, the Asia-Pacific Business and Technology Report, is an important source of information about contemporary business. AN INTERESTING WRITE-UP FROM THE INTERNET BY MICHAEL SOLIS, 25 APRIL 2010 When I was living in Korea, a Korean police officer pulled a SikhCanadian friend of mine and demanded to see his documentation. My friend Joh, who was teaching English legally in Seoul, had the necessary visa to prove it. However, it was only after the incident

Sikhs in South Korea


Joh understood why the officer wanted to see his documentation: the officer thought that Joh was an undocumented migrant worker. The Korean police officer’s targeting of Joh was part of a greater immigration strategy to deport people who looked like Joh from Korea. Korean immigration has carried out this strategy for years in Pocheon, where many undocumented migrant workers from the Sikh community live. Though most Sikh members are undocumented, many are living in Korea legally. A few community members have received F2 visas through marriages, some of which are contract marriages, and some have business visas. The Gurdwara, or the Sikh Temple, in Pocheon was built ten years ago and serves as the locus for the Sikh community. The temple welcomes all people and provides many on-site services unavailable to undocumented migrant workers, including banking and money transfers, health care, legal counselling, refuge for the jobless, home-made Indian food, and fundraising to cover transportation costs for those facing deportation. While the Gurdwara serves as a type of asylum for the Sikh community, especially on Sikh holidays when it attracts over 500 visitors, it is also an easy target for Korean immigration officials. Korean immigration agents do not raid the Gurdwara directly, as it is a known religious centre, but they do hide in plain clothes and vans outside the temple as they wait for Sikh community members to exit. Upon confrontation, the immigration agents demand documentation, which many of the workers do not have. An estimated 10 to 30 Sikh people from Pocheon are ‘captured’ each weekend and deported. Consequently, many Sikh community members fear going outside during the day. To avoid immigration raids, they work late night hours, and some live in tiny, industrial crates to reduce their chances of being captured. Immigrants come to Korea in search of opportunity and higher paying jobs. A clear need for cheap labour exists in Korean factories, and undocumented migrant workers are willing to provide that labour in order to sustain themselves and their families. Sikhs with legitimate businesses are suffering because of their customers’ limited freedom of movement during the day. The practices also pose a threat to the Sikh family unit, even breaking up families with children who were born in Korea.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific CHAPTER 11

Sikhs in Japan: Kobe’s Old and Tokyo’s New Immigrants

There are two distinct communities of Sikhs in Japan. The older, well established one is in the Kobe area, almost exclusively involved in family businesses and fairly affluent. The more recent immigrants prefer Greater Tokyo. The majority of them are ‘overstayers’ with short term tourist visas and hence vulnerable to being deported. A few of them are locally married, hence with a regularized residence status. The Kobe Sikhs keep their identity while it’s just the opposite for Tokyo Sikhs who shed their turban so as not to stand out and thereby increase their chances of being deported. Unlike Sikhs in other countries, most of those in Japan have not come from Punjab, especially the ones in Tokyo. Many Sikhs in Kobe have come from third countries and continue to maintain linkages with them. Although Kobe Sikhs have lived in Japan for decades, for them India is not homeland but only the place of origin. A large number of Sikhs in Tokyo are from outside Punjab, viz., Uttrakhand, Jammu and Delhi. THE COUNTRY

Japan is an archipelago of 6,852 islands with the four largest islands being Honshu, Hokkaido, Kyushu, and Shikoku. Japan has the world’s tenth largest population with over 126 million people. Greater Tokyo Area is the largest metropolitan area of the world with over 30 million residents. Japan entered into a long period of isolation in the early

Sikhs in Japan


seventeenth century, which was only ended in 1853. Meiji Emperor was restored as head of state in 1868 and the Empire of Japan was proclaimed, with the Emperor as a divine symbol of the nation. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, victories in the First Sino-Japanese War, the Russo-Japanese War and World War I allowed Japan to expand its Empire during a period of increasing militarism. The Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937 expanded into becoming part of the World War II in 1941, which came to an end in 1945 following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A major economic great power, Japan has the world’s third largest economy with world’s fourth largest exports and imports. Although Japan has officially renounced its right to declare war, it maintains a modern military with the world’s eighth largest military budget. Japan is also substantially prone to earthquakes and tsunamis, having the world’s highest natural disaster risk in the developed world. Author’s views: ‘Japanese are a great people and I have always admired how they combine tradition with modernity. Despite their isolationist policy, I am in awe of how the Industrial revolution jumped from the West across a large tract of Asia into Japan. I have never come across a single shoddy or broken item in Japan during my few visits there.’ THE JAPANESE ACCEPT YOU BUT YOU CANNOT BE A PART OF THEM I met a Sikh immigrant in Tokyo – in fact my namesake. He is a professional and living in Asia for a number of years. He was earlier married to a Filipina which ended in divorce and now he lives in Tokyo with his Japanese wife. He is happy with his work but is now ready to retire – not in Japan but in New Delhi. He said, ‘The Japanese accept you and are very polite, but you can never be a part of them’. All the immigrant stories have to be viewed with this reality in mind. This is further corroborated by Pico Iyer,1 author of several books. In his book The Global Soul he describes his stay in Japan where he lived for some years with his Japanese wife. He says:


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

I live on a distant island (Japan) where I can’t read any of the signs and will never be accepted as even a partial native. Japan will never be entirely my home, of course, and Japan would never really want me to come any closer than I am right now. It assigns me a role when I enter, and asks me to go about my business, and let it go about its own. It offers politeness and punctuality without fail, and requests in exchange that I accept my fixed role in the bright, cheerful pageant that is official life here. Coming from quicksand California, where newcomers are warmly welcomed to a vacuum, I find a comfort in the culture’s lack of ambiguity.

This must make Sikh immigrants’ stay both acceptable in a way, politely of course, but never giving a feeling of belonging. There is one exception, though, which can be read under ‘Case Studies’ later on in this chapter, where the Japanese wife lives with her in-laws in Jalandhar and the Sikh husband lives with his in-laws in Tokyo. What a story! Japan has been facing labour shortages over the last few decades and hence the opportunity for immigrants. THE ACCEPTANCE OF SIKHS IN JAPAN

In an interview appearing on the website of ‘United Sikhs’, Bharpoor Singh says: Immigration laws in Japan are strict, and children born in Japan to non-Japanese parents are not automatically naturalized. If a person wishes to apply for naturalization, one is also required to change their name to a Japanese name. Many Sikh residents of Kobe, Japan, where there is the largest population of Sikhs (approximately 40-50 families), have refused to apply for naturalization because they do not want to give up their Sikh names. While it is mandatory for most children in Japan to wear a uniform which includes short-cut hair, Sikh children have not reported any problems going to their schools with their ‘dastaars’. The wearing of the ‘kirpan’, as an article of faith, is also treated with respect once it is understood by officials. At the World Assembly of Religions for Peace in Kyoto, Japan in 2006, Sikh representatives were allowed to wear ‘kirpans’ to the opening ceremony where the Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi was speaking.

Sikhs in Japan


The Japanese Government generally respects the free practice of religion, and has exhibited good faith efforts to accommodate and understand Sikhs. The population of Sikhs in Japan is very small and most Japanese people do not know who Sikhs are. Therefore, when Sikhs apply for jobs, they are often asked to shave. However, upon explanation that the hair is an article of faith and is religious in nature, employers understand and do not force the issue. SINGHVI REPORT (2001)

A few families of Indian businessmen, mainly Sindhis and Parsis, migrated to Japan and settled in the Yokohama area around 1872-3. The number of Indians gradually grew to 1,000 by the beginning of World War II. During the war, the majority of them left the country but returned soon after the war was over. Most of the Indians at present are concentrated in the TokyoYokohama and in Osaka-Kobe regions and work mainly in export business. Additionally, there is a community of students, engineers, scholars, yoga practitioners, academics and translators. Over the years, the number of Indian engineers (particularly computer software engineers) has substantially increased. Over 870 Indian cooks work in Indian restaurants, which are extremely popular. Most of these restaurants are owned and managed by the Japanese. There is a Gurdwara in the premises of the Namaskar Indian Restaurant where Sikh devotees meet twice a month. Japanese rules and regulations for acquisition of citizenship are very tight, but these are in no way discriminatory against Indians. SIKH MIGRATION

There were odd Sikhs who came to Japan for studies at various periods of time. As an example one (Professor) Puran Singh, poet and scientist (born 1881), got a scholarship to study industrial chemistry in Japan in 1900 from where he completed his studies in 1903. He, thereafter, returned to India. One can safely presume that some Sikhs would have transited through Japan when travelling by ships to Canada and the USA from Hong Kong and Shanghai in the late nineteenth century or early


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

twentieth century. In this context, it is intriguing to note that the famous ship Komagata Maru had picked up 100 passengers in Japan. When the ship sailed from Hong Kong on 4 April 1914, it had 165 passengers with another 111 passengers joining at Shanghai on 8 April. Interestingly, another 86 passengers came aboard on the 14 April at Moji and finally 14 passengers joined the ship in Yokohama from where it sailed on 3 May with its cargo of 376 passengers. Who were these mostly Sikh passengers and why were they in Japan is not clear – presumably they were in transit, but for how long? Perusing the history of the Ghadar movement, one comes across evidence of setting up of an office in Tokyo in the second decade of the twentieth century. But whether there was a permanent settlement of Sikhs or they were mostly in transit or for temporary stay is not clear. The earliest Sikh business immigrant’s arrival in Japan is uncertain. The well-known Sikh (Trading) firm of Thakral Brothers of Singapore which originated as Punjab Stores in Bangkok, established their first overseas branch in 1936 in Japan. Another case study by Azuma Masako2 would indicate the migration of a Sikh also in 1936 to join his uncle who had come to Japan four years earlier in 1932. Were they the first or were there some other Sikhs before them? The earlier Indian (possibly Sikhs too) traders had started business in Yokohama, one of the three ports authorized to carry out international trade. But post the earthquake of 1923, most of them relocated to Kobe. Interviews with Sikhs indicate that many came in the beginning of 1950s, thus completing six decades of presence in Japan. There has been a new migration of a totally different kind in the Greater Tokyo area beginning 1990s. These were almost entirely undocumented immigrants who came on tourist visas and simply ‘overstayed’. They would entirely fall under the labour category. Some of them in due course got married locally, thereby regularizing their ‘Residence’ status. This channel of immigration is drying up as of now. They may be termed as the poor cousins of Sikhs of Kobe. The profile of the Sikh community in these two areas is very different.

Sikhs in Japan


Many of my following observations are based on my visit to Kobe and Tokyo and are heavily influenced by discussions with Dr. Masako Azuma and the study of her Ph.D. thesis, ‘Sikh Diaspora in Japan: A Study of Social and Cultural Practices’. KOBE SIKHS: THE OLD, ESTABLISHED COMMUNITY

They are all into business, mainly family business with many of them having branches or associates in other countries, especially in South East Asia. As against the normal pattern of migration from India many of the Sikhs in Kobe have migrated from other countries, especially of South East Asia. Like in the case of Thailand, the immigrants from India are mostly from pre-partition Indian territories which are now in Pakistan. As mentioned earlier, Sikhs migrated before World War II along with other Indians to Yokohama, the port city. Post the earthquake in 1923 which badly impacted Yokohama, they moved to Kobe. During the War they had to temporarily move out. Sikh presence in the Kobe area is rather small, at around 100-50 including the children. Though Sikh merchants were staying in Kobe before World War II, it seems that their number was small. Their ranks seem to have increased somewhat post World War II to justify the setting up of a Gurdwara in 1952. According to Dr. Masako: ‘Since the 1980s, the Indian population in Kobe has remained around one thousand. In a research held in 1989 (Tominaga, 1994) it was estimated that out of the 285 Indian families, there were around 25 Sikh families, i.e. about 10 per cent.’ Like other Indians, most Sikhs in Kobe are merchants dealing with electronics, automobile parts, textiles, sundries, etc. Sikh merchants have been in Kobe since the 1950s. They came to run their own trading companies or promote a business already built by them, based upon their family network and existing clients. Sikhs in Kobe are quite affluent. Most of them have their own houses (in some cases, even a number of buildings in expensive areas), drive the best of cars and send their children to expensive


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

international schools. Although a few had to face some economic troubles due to problems in the management of their firms, their daily life was not affected in any significant way. Business is get passed on and there are some third generation businessmen. In Kobe the immigrants retain full Sikh identity, and their connection with India is sustained by satellite television programmes, internet and magazines. They live in cosmopolitan style, but with Japanese garnishing. Many homes have SGGS. There is a Gurdwara which is well attended both by Sikhs and Sindhis. Langar is prepared using the help of hired Japanese staff and served on tables and chairs. Langars could occasionally even have international dishes. An interesting feature of the community is its close links with Sikhs in Southeast Asia, Punjab and India. Marriages are commonly arranged with partners from Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore rather than India, UK or North America, because of the belief that women from these countries are more traditionally attuned to Sikhi and are willing to settle in Japan. In case of Sikh girls from Kobe, many of them get married to grooms who are settled in Southeast Asia or North America. There are a few marriages to Japanese in which case the spouse is required to follow the Sikh way of life. Weddings are celebrated in traditional Sikh/Punjabi fashion involving ‘Anand Karaj’ at the Gurdwara, followed by a reception at an expensive hotel. Many weddings are carried out in Southeast Asian countries, which probably is less expensive and more convenient logistically for guests who would mostly be from these countries and India. Sikh children go to international schools where the medium of instruction is English. Special effort is made to learn Japanese. Second and third generations are fluent in English, have knowledge of Japanese and can understand Punjabi but some are unable to read and write in Gurmukhi. Children who have exposure of stay with grandparents or relatives in India are better at the Punjabi language. Being in international trade, business is mostly conducted in English. However, for interaction with local customers or suppliers, knowledge of Japanese is an advantage. Over a period the usage of Punjabi is fading out, except to keep up one’s Sikh identity.

Sikhs in Japan



New immigrants have come to the Greater Tokyo area since the early 1990s. They are invariably young, born post-Independence. Most of them are undocumented and are working as labour in various industries, especially on construction sites. Some of them have married locally, acquiring official ‘Residence’ status. There are no traditional marriage ceremonies, the registration taking place at the Immigration Office. Because most immigrants are from village backgrounds in India, where male dominance is the norm, it is a huge challenge for these marriages to succeed. There are several instances of divorces and in some cases the man gets remarried to a wife from back home. Children have to go to Japanese schools, as English medium schools are expensive. Many immigrants tend to be better at Japanese than English. Most of the migration is chain migration from a few areas in India from towns outside Punjab, e.g. Uttarakhand, Jammu and New Delhi. In Uttarakhand and Jammu, migrants are from only a couple of villages. The real epicentre are these 2-3 villages and people related to or known to them from Delhi and Punjab. Outmigration was triggered in some cases by the climate of uncertainty for the Sikhs in the 1980s in India. In view of ease of communications through telephone and internet, immigrants are well-connected with their families back home. Their social and cultural connection with the Japanese arises more from necessity than choice. The visa uncertainty adds to their discomfort almost on a daily basis. They cannot go out much due to fear of being caught by the Police and subsequent deportation. Life is tough and lonely especially as Punjabis by nature tend to be extroverts, fond of fun, loud talk, music, dance and general chatter. Indian movie DVDs and satellite TV is expensive and hence has limited access. Instead of celebrating Indian festivals, immigrants are getting more attuned to celebrating Christmas and New Year. They have to perforce adapt to the local dress code, food and other social customs, e.g. eating out though they would prefer home cooked Indian meals. Knowledge of Japanese becomes a necessity from day one on arrival.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Most immigrants in Tokyo, as mentioned earlier, have cut their hair and shaved their beards. This is particularly hurtful for immigrants from Pratap Pur and Simbal Camp villages of Uttarakhand and Jammu respectively as almost the entire Sikh population there keeps Sikh identity (as against the dismal scene in Punjab). According to Dr. Azuma Masako, they take pains to explain that this was only a pragmatic step and in the religious sense, they remain very close to their roots and beliefs. This aberration is traumatic for them and they would like to go back to keeping long hair upon their return to India. Apart from some IT engineers, restaurant owners and entrepreneurs, most are employed in factories as labourers, welders, electricians, etc. Others find work in construction companies. Some immigrants work as cooks. Being illegal, employers exploit the situation by paying lower wages and sometimes even not paying or delaying payment. Jobs might be changed once or twice due to this reason. Almost all immigrants are first generation and only a few have children who are still very young. The stay duration is less than ten years for the illegals but more likely five years or so. The Tokyo Gurdwara is in a basement which is part of an apartment building and the Sikhs cannot put any sign board and Nishan Sahib. So instead they have put up posters and photos to create a Gurdwara ambience. Gurpurbs are celebrated on Sundays. Satsang is held once a month, the Gurdwara being closed otherwise. MS AZUMA MASAKO, RESEARCH SCHOLAR (INTERVIEWED 5 SEPTEMBER 2010) A student at Panjab University, she has completed her Ph.D., studying Sikh immigrants in Japan. According to her, towards the end of the 1990s, there were 20,000-30,000 Sikhs in the Tokyo area. Most of the immigrant workers have returned. At present there would be only about 500 of them, out of which 50 or so would be married to Japanese. Most of the others are overstaying on their tourist visa. Many of the immigrants are from Simbal Camp in Jammu and Pratap Pur in Uttarakhand. One of the Sikhs

Sikhs in Japan


with a Japanese wife is S. Singh from near Amritsar. He obtained his ‘Permanent Resident’ status and later divorced his wife. He is now living in Tokyo with his wife from Punjab, whom he married a year post his divorce. A Sikh from Phagwara is married to a Japanese lady, Ms K, and both are living in Japan. S.P. Singh from Delhi got to know about migration to Japan through his wife who is from Uttarakhand. He was in Japan for seven years from 1998-2005 but has since migrated to the UK. In another case L. Singh married a girl from the Philippines who is a divorcee from her Japanese husband. He, however, could not get Residence status in Japan and had to return to India. In another interesting case, a Sikh went to Japan in the 1990s for five years and returned to get married. He managed to go back after three years and was there for another five years when he was caught and deported. There is also the most interesting case of Ms M, covered separately. According to Dr. Azuma Masako, there are many cases of Sikhs migrating to Tokyo for a period of 5-7 years. On return, most of them try to do some business. Wages in Japan are understandably on the higher side at around Yen 200,000. Being illegal sometimes they have to accept lower wages at Yen 100,000 or less at small factories or farms. A careful immigrant can save half of the wages at higher scale. Immigrants keep sending money home on a regular basis. It is not easy to get jobs now. Some of them had bad experiences at lower wages where they could not save any money. Most of them had to learn Japanese fairly quickly. Those who could not learn the language had greater difficulty in getting a good job. Most of them stay indoors, maintaining a low profile. COMPARISON BETWEEN KOBE AND TOKYO

Sikh communities of Tokyo and Kobe are vastly different in almost all aspects, Tokyo immigrants having the serious disadvantage of being illegal. They suffer from fear and a curtailed freedom of movement. These factors have a profound effect on day to day living, in one case being an affluent life style and in the other with focus on survival.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

In the book, Rising India and Indian Community in East Asia edited by K. Kesavapany, A. Mani and P. Ramasamy, in the chapter, ‘Indians in Tokyo and its Vicinity’, Masako Azuma, the author has the following to say: Sikhs who work in medium and small sized companies as unskilled workers tend to have their hair cut short when they begin working in Japan. On the other hand, Sikhs who are IT engineers tend to keep their hair long and wear a turban. The companies employing Sikhs as unskilled workers are unfamiliar with their custom of having a beard and turban. However, IT companies generally let the Sikhs have discretion in choosing their mode of dressing. The change of appearance, however, is not a sign of release from being a Sikh in India. The change in their appearance is a strategy to facilitate their life in Japan. They regard their short hair as temporary and limited to Japan so that they can live in Japanese society.

The Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara in Tokyo was rented in 1999 at the time of the 300th anniversary of Khalsa which was celebrated by Sikh communities all over the world. To commemorate the anniversary, Sikhs around Tokyo gathered at a Sikhrun restaurant and had a service there. With this as turning point, they began to prepare to have a temple. Within a short period they were able to purchase a room in a building for use as the Gurdwara. The Tokyo Gurdwara is in the basement of an office building. It is unlike a typical Gurdwara like the one in Kobe, which is housed in a remodelled private house at a residential area and open 24 hours every day. The Tokyo Gurdwara is open only once a month, when service is held. The Nishan Sahib is displayed in front of the entrance of the office block only during service. When the Gurdwara is closed after the worship, the Nishan Sahib is stored inside. The Tokyo Gurdwara has no committee or director. From the same volume, in the chapter titled: ‘The Indian Community in Kobe: Diaspora Identity and Network’, Yuki Tsubakitani and Masakazu Tanaka, the authors say: There are no comprehensive statistics detailing the ethnic composition of the Indian community in Kobe. Tominaga’s research conducted in 1989 found that the largest ethnic group in the Kobe-Osaka area is

Sikhs in Japan


most likely made up of Sindhi-Hindus (about 130 households), followed by Hindus from Punjab (100), Jains from Gujarat (40), Punjabi Sikhs (25), and small numbers of other groups (Tominaga 1995). CASE STUDIES 2

Masako Azuma, Panjab University, Chandigarh, Department of Sociology, in her Ph.D. thesis (2012) has interviewed many immigrants. I am covering just a few – some of these are overlapping with my interviews. SIKHS IN KOBE Case Study 1: Mr Sethi (Interviewed in Kobe, 15 August 2010) Post Indian Independence, Mr Sethi’s family moved from an area controlled by Pakistan, to India, finally settling in Pune. He gained some experience in the imported auto parts trade through working in a shop. He got married in Pune, after which he ventured on his own by opening an auto parts shop in Mumbai. He obtained an import license but was unsure about the reliability of import transactions. He therefore decided to move to Japan (some introductions were possible) in 1959, where his main suppliers were located. This was a brave step replete with risks. He soon settled down in Kobe and after one year invited his wife and two children to join him. Initial settling down both as a single person and as a family was difficult, especially as income was limited. He and his family had to adapt to Japanese food and lifestyle. As the business succeeded and they had a reasonable income, they could afford to hire household help, which made learning Japanese and local customs easier. Children learnt the language while playing with local kids. The necessity of communicating in Japanese with the mothers of their playmates made it easier to pick up the local language. The presence of other Indian and American families in the area was a relief. As their income grew, they had more options in choosing food and clothing of their liking. Business could be conducted in


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Figure 11.1: Japan – Kobe, A Second and Third Generation Sikh Family

English, but Sethi learnt Japanese in due course. Although the children went to an English medium school, they also became fluent in Japanese, which in turn benefited the parents. I had the opportunity to meet their son Kiranjeet Singh, who is heading the business from the ground floor and basement of their house. He is a well-known propagator of India-Japan business cooperation. He is married to a Japanese and they have two children who retain Sikh identity. Their family portrait is a delight to observe. Case Study 2: Mr T (Interview by Azuma Masako) T was born and grew up in Thailand. While he was studying for his medical degree, he was pulled out to help with the family business by setting up a branch in Japan. T married in Bangkok, where his wife had immigrated from western Punjab, part of India which became Pakistan. Mrs T joined her husband in Japan

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after some time in 1962. They are now leading a retired life as their son has taken over the business. Earlier years were tough, especially as accommodation was small, but they could count on the support of other Indians. Life became easier when they moved into their own house. Language remained a problem for quite some time. Although they hired a Japanese household help, both had a tough time communicating. For childbirth, Mrs T’s sister came over from Thailand. But these were tough times as even the doctor could not speak English. Over the years, life became comfortable and bringing up the children surrounded by Japanese neighbours was no problem. Case Study 3: Mr P (Interview by Azuma Masako) Born in Sialkot, Pakistan, he came to Japan in 1936 to work with his uncle who had immigrated in 1932. During the war they left Japan and moved to Bangkok in 1940. P came back to Japan in 1951 but could not re-establish his business and returned to Bangkok the next year. After rebuilding his economic base in Bangkok, he moved to Kobe once again in 1953 and was more successful. He has five children, all born in Japan. Interestingly, all except one have moved to other countries: one son is looking after the Bangkok branch. Mr P is in his eighties and feels lonely being away from the children. Another son lives in Kobe, but separately. (Old people in India, whose children have migrated, face a similar problem.) SIKHS IN TOKYO Azuma’s thesis has 11 case studies. Three of the respondents had married locally and have settled down in Japan. One respondent has business which entitles him to a Residency Permit, while another is an asylum seeker. The other six are vulnerable. Most of them have taken up jobs through relatives or contacts. While six of the interviewees have returned (they cannot come back), two have been deported. One of the deportees was married to a Philipino-Japanese, but this status was not acceptable for permanent stay.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Case Study 1: Ms M (Interviewed at 505 Sector 18B, Chandigarh) This is a unique case because the wife (M) with her two children lives in Jalandhar with her in-laws. Her husband (MT) lives in Tokyo with his Japanese in-laws. There cannot be a better example of adapting to each other’s culture. We had invited M to visit and stay with us in Chandigarh, courtesy Azuma, which she kindly agreed to. We had a very pleasant and informative stay with M and her two beautiful children, daughter HK (6 years) and son HS (4 years). M (38 years), is married to MT, of Jalandhar city. She is living with her in-laws in a joint family. MT’s younger brother along with his wife and daughter (4 years) also live in the same house. M and MT (38 years) were married 8 years ago in Tokyo. They had known each other for about three years before getting married. MT is presently living and working in Tokyo as a driver with a Japanese company. Prior to this, he was working as an air-conditioning service mechanic. MT is presently living with M’s parents in their house in Tokyo. M has an elder brother who is married and living independently in Greater Tokyo. When asked about the motivation for her to live in Punjab, she mentioned that they wanted to provide English medium education for the children – similar facilities were far too expensive in Japan. It is truly an example of international family living which would have very few parallels. M and the children seem to be well adjusted to living in a joint family and in India. M speaks little English and Punjabi but the children are better at these languages. Communication between mother and children is in Japanese, Punjabi and sometimes English. It would be interesting to know how language usage would evolve over the years. MT comes to India once a year while M and the children visit Japan in the summer holidays. Initially, as expected, it was a hard adjustment in India. One of the aspects which is different is that in Japan, she and the children would go out almost daily as an outing to either the market or just for a change of scene. This is not possible in Jalandhar but in deference to local sensitivities she accepts this. M was working in a company in Japan dealing with textile design and garments. MT went to Japan at the end of the 1990s courtesy his younger

Sikhs in Japan


brother who had already been there for ten years. MT’s relatives were running a bar and restaurant in Hong Kong and his brother had first migrated to Hong Kong to work with them. From there he moved on to Japan. MT was born and raised in Jalandhar but on hearing stories from his brother, he also decided to leave India. He went to Japan in 1998 via Hong Kong. He began to work along with his brother – both had no work visas. Since the beginning of 2000, many overstayers and their friends have been deported, but MT and his brother were fortunate enough not to have been detected. However MT’s brother decided to return to India. MT, in the meantime, got married in 2004, which enabled him to get residence status. He and his wife set up a restaurant in Japan but without success. They decided to return to India in 2009 to set up some business but were again not successful. Soon thereafter MT decided to go back to Japan while his family stayed back. Case Study 2: Manmohan Singh Sahni (Interviewed in Moti Restaurant, Tokyo on 16 August 2010) Manmohan is from Delhi. He visited Japan in 1980 as a student and a trainee under Association of Technical Scholarship (AOTS). It involved two months of learning the language. Upon his return to India, he worked as a tourist guide for the Japanese for five years. Manmohan moved to Japan in 1986 but could not settle down due to visa problems. After about three years, he was able to get a long-term visa. During the interim period, he kept shuttling between the two countries. He runs the Vaishali Travel Agency in Tokyo and has an office in Delhi as well. He is a Sampuran Sikh and has no major adjustment problems. However, his son had some issues at school. He faced a few comments by other students because of his long hair and patka. He went to the school authorities to explain the background of being a Sikh and its teachings and obligations. It did ease the situation somewhat but the teasing never fully stopped. The young boy has, however, learnt to accept the situation and ignore the same. Sahni was very active, as a turbaned Sikh, in extending help during the devastating tsunami.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Case Study 3: Balbir Singh (Interviewed in Moti Restaurant, Tokyo, on 16 August 2010) He hails from Phagwara and came to Japan ten years ago. He was born and educated in India and has a technical diploma. While the family owned farm land, he took up a job as an electrician with a company which had offices in Malaysia and Singapore. From Malaysia, he tried to get visas to different countries. Getting a visa was difficult as the Embassies were not sure if he would return to India. Fortunately, he could get a visa for Japan as he was invited to participate in a business event. On coming to Japan, he decided to stay back. He said ‘as if his future wife was waiting just for him!’ He met his future Japanese wife in Rupangi, and after a few meetings, they decided to get married. This happened within six months of his arrival. Talking about meeting his wife, he described how he used to visit a grocery store and a lady approached him to get to know him. After a couple of casual meetings, the Japanese girl invited him to join her and her friend for lunch. He frankly told her that he had no money. She invited him to join her nevertheless. At this meeting he honestly told her about his illegal status and the difficulties he was facing in getting a good job. She asked him if it would help if she were to marry him! His wife is a pharmacist. He cited several instances of how various ordinary Japanese men and women helped him out in some critical situations. In the beginning, he got a job of polishing stones for graves and other such part-time jobs. He learnt Japanese through his own efforts. But once his residence status got regularized, he could get a permanent job. According to Balbir, thousands (30,000) of Punjabis have overstayed in Japan. After 2005, they have become very strict. In the Gurdwara, it is common to meet about 150 Sikhs. The Gurdwara is being run with the support and contribution of these people. Case Study 4: Paul Waraich (Interviewed in Moti Restaurant, Tokyo) FATHER AND BROTHER STORY: Uncle (mama ji), who was in the British

Army, brought his father when he was young, to Malaya around

Sikhs in Japan


1932-3. During the Japanese occupation, his father had to learn Japanese. Although his father had given up his studies in India to come to Malaya, he took the opportunity to graduate from Ipoh University. In 1944 his father returned from Penang to Madras, later joining an ITI in Delhi around 1947. His father got a job in Dehradun where he came in touch with some Japanese. Since he spoke Japanese, he got selected to work in the Japanese Embassy in Delhi. He later became an interpreter with the Hitachi Toyota Company. He got married, and Paul was born. When Paul was about eighteen years old, the Japanese offered to help them. His elder brother went to Japan first for training in a local company. His brother was unfortunately not too committed to work under the Japanese discipline and kept going in and out. He finally gave up working. His father asked him not to come back to India. He got a job in Hong Kong out of respect for his father. Once again, he returned to Japan and it so happened that a Japanese lady helped him open Moti Restaurant in 1978 in Hakasaka. His brother got married to a Japanese, and lives with his family in Yokohama. PAUL’S STORY:

Paul came to Japan in 1980 as his brother needed him to help him out. He has been incharge of the Moti Restaurant since 1995. Along with assisting his brother, he additionally worked in the field of refrigeration and car ACs to earn money. The Japanese economy was then booming, and so did their business. The turban became difficult to keep. Paul has three brothers and two sisters. Paul married his sister’s friend. His wife was very cautious, and kept a low profile. She had no company as Paul’s brother’s wife was Japanese. Paul got his wife’s brother, Sander over to Japan. They kept him for three years which made his wife happy. Sander now runs the Ghunghroo restaurant. Case Study 5: BHS (Interviewed in Moti Restaurant, Tokyo) His was a cloak and dagger arrival. He arrived eight years ago when he was nineteen from Hoshiarpur. He had always wanted to go abroad, and paid Rs. 5 lakhs to an agent to help him get


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

entry. The visa was for Fiji with transit in Japan. The deal was that Rs. 3 lakhs will be paid in advance in India and Rs. 2 lakhs when he earned some money in Japan. The air ticket cost him an additional Rs. 1 lakh. He had a booking at the Washington Hotel at Narita Airport. He was advised to tell anyone asking him as to where he was going, to say Fiji. And only Fiji, never Japan! He gave $500 in travellers cheques to the lady immigration officer at Delhi Airport. She was still not allowing him to go as she insisted that his real destination was Japan. Another guy advised him to put $500 in currency in the passport which worked. The lady stamped his passport. The journey was tense because of several uncertainties. He filled in two landing forms, one with the name of the hotel he was booked in at Tokyo Airport and one without the hotel name. A Japanese air steward collected their passports to hand over to immigration in Narita. He gave him the form with no hotel name. At the immigration counter, the lady Immigration Officer asked him as to where were his hotel details? Since he could not speak English, the Immigration Officer called another Indian to help with the language. He answered, ‘Bhai, zaroor jayenge vapas; paanch baje ki flight hai’. The lady laughed and stamped. He presented the voucher at the hotel and started to walk out. The hotel staff ran after him as he had not signed the check-in card. He thought they were chasing him as an illegal! From the airport, he got into the recommended bus. From the bus he tried to call his contacts but without success. He had to go to Ueno, pronounced Venu. He kept saying Yunu. A lady came and helped by telling him to take the green train to Ueno at Narita Station. On arrival at his destination, he wanted to get in touch with his contacts. Yet again a local lady, to his pleasant surprise, helped put him through to his friends, offering her own phone. Till his friends arrived, this lady kept him company. When the friends saw him with a lady, they hesitated to meet up as they themselves were illegal. Later they told him that they were rather impressed that he had made a lady friend already. Citing another helpful gesture by the Japanese, he told how in a hospital away from Tokyo, he was really well looked after by nurses and other staff even though he had no health insurance.

Sikhs in Japan


He was worried that Immigration authorities would get to know about him and thereby deport him. He shared his concerns with the nurses who told him that before visiting the hospital, the Immigration office would have to give them notice. They further assured him that they will warn him in advance so that he can escape before their arrival. The immigration people never came. To his pleasant surprise when he was discharged, the nurses and others pooled in money for him to survive after leaving the hospital! Either he was a charmer or the Japanese were very generous, I don’t know. Case Study 6: Mr B (Interview by Azuma Masako) Both Mr and Mrs B are Amritdhari Sikhs from Hoshiarpur. He had studied up to ‘Gyani’ diploma and is a devout Sikh. During the militancy in Punjab, he faced harassment from the police. He along with his wife left India in 1999 as political refugees. The Japanese immigration law allows people to enter Japan as political refugees but does not permit them to work, nor does it provide any social aid. They have been living in Kanto for twelve years with their three children who were born in Japan, earning their living in an illegal manner. Mr B’s employers did not have any knowledge about the rules for refugee visa holders and came to know about the illegal status of his work after many years. During his earlier years, he had to change jobs frequently. Each time he switched jobs, he had to explain to the new employers his religious beliefs and customs as he kept his turban. They faced some difficulties earlier on due non-familiarity with the Japanese language. Another problem was in regard to the children’s school. Their children are vegetarian, so school food was not acceptable to them and they had to carry their own tiffin. Gurmit Singh An IT professional, now settled in Japan. I had got in touch with him while I was surfing the internet. Gurmit, who has a Chandigarh connection, came to Japan in 1992 as an AIESEC


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

trainee with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. He has an MA in Economics from Delhi University. He is married to Amrita, a journalist. First based in Nagasaki, Gurmit was later transferred to Kobe where he was living when the Great Hanslin Earthquake struck in 1995. Although he lost everything in the earthquake, Gurmit rose from the devastation. He launched his own business, Five K International, specializing in the export of used vehicles, engines and motorcycles from the city of Fukuoka, in Kyushu. The name Five K has a special significance. The reference is to five Japanese words that begin with the letter K (Romanized version): Kachi means adding value; Kokoro means heart, but also speaks of honesty; Kyaku is customer; Kaizen means constant improvement, a reminder that there is always a better way; and Kekka is being results-oriented. There are also five Ks of Sikh religion that symbolize the basis on how one should lead one’s life. Instead of being defensive, Gurmit feels that with his turban he does look different but also stands out, a big advantage in business. In reply to one of my messages, he wrote saying; “Just for your information, I have two companies. You can get some details on This has some photographs etc. also. My company’s name is Five K International Ltd., Japan’. No other information could be obtained. JAPANESE SIKHS AS OTHERS SEE THEM

Jogishwer Singh of Switzerland writes his impressions of Japan after a brief visit. I had briefed him about my earlier visit and given him some introductions. Japan trip was exquisite. Now that I have begun speaking Japanese, the quality of the contact is totally different. I met Lali Kahlon, Paul Warraich, Sahni and the Sethi family. I was absolutely enchanted by the Japanese wife and children of Kiranjeet Sethi. Extremely warm hearted and hospitable people. Both his sons look perfectly Japanese, but with big ‘joodas’ and patkas. I accompanied the family to the small Gurdwara in Kobe and had a wonderful experience – much more devotion than in the huge marble palace like Gurdwaras in

Sikhs in Japan


Punjab. The langar was a family affair with everybody meeting everybody. Gave me a taste of how Sikhism must have been in its early days with small communities scattered all over the place. Paul Warraich invited me for supper to his restaurant where I met his family – charming people. PROF. NORIO OKAGUCHI

(The Tribune, 12 April 2009). He is mesmerised by the literature and culture of Punjab. Dr Okaguchi, Professor and Head of the Research Institute for Languages and Culture for Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, a scholar of Hindi, swears by Punjabi. He has already translated Bhai Vir Singh’s Punjabi novel Sundari as well as Prof Harbans Singh’s articles on Sikh faith and philosophy of Guru Nanak Dev into Japanese. Punjabi literature, he feels, is more emotive and more expressive in content than Japanese literature. He finds the spirit of openness of Punjabi culture endearing. He admits that readership for Indian writing is minimal and mainly confined to Buddhism. He intends to study Punjabi literature in depth and detail. He is also toying with the idea of translating another of Bhai Vir Singh’s novels, Satwant Kaur. He plans to bring out a 30,000-word Punjabi-Japanese dictionary. WHERE THE TURBAN MEETS THE KIMONO

SARBJIT SINGH CHADHA (Times of India, 17 March 2013) This smiling sixty-year-old man, who can effortlessly pair his turban with a kimono, is the first non-Japanese singer of Enka – a genre of Japanese songs that can be compared to ghazals for their slow, meaningful melody. On stage, you’ll never see him without his turban. He owes a lot to the turban. It is the reason why the Land of the Rising Sun warmed up to him, why every Sardar in Japan is known as Chadha and why he is now known in the country as the Dancing Maha Chadha.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Chadha, who first set foot in Japan in 1968 to learn how to cultivate oranges, felt alienated. He recalls women waking up their children to point out the boy with the turban. Chadha decided to study the language and learnt to express himself through Enka – the perfect outlet for his bottled feelings. This entailed various sessions with his shisho (mentor) that were marked by ‘lots of hard work and lots of drinking Sake’. Like ghazals, Enka too bears the melancholy of romance, pain, separation, sadness and, at times, mischief. After returning to India, Chadha found no future in orange cultivation and began working as an interpreter in the hope of going back to Japan. A generous client, who owned a snake farm in Japan, asked him to accompany him along with a few snake charmers and a dancer. There, with help from a friend, Chadha set up his own business that would allow him a longer visa period and the chance to hone his musical skills. His vocal scale even impressed a music producer enough to dub his style ‘Himalaya Enka’. However, the brand of a turbaned man who sang Enka even better than some of the Japanese wasn’t easy to sell. Chadha had to become a spectacle first via the role of a television comedian. Soon, his records started to sell, requests for concerts poured in and many more TV appearances followed. ‘I even met my wife Kyoko there’, says Chadha, who then stopped singing for over twenty-five years to concentrate on his business. Japan does not respect those who juggle two jobs. In 2008, Chadha got a call from Japan, asking him to lift the spirits of a nation drowning in the economic effects of recession. He did so through a pop version of Enka, the video of which shows him dressed in a floral shirt and white blazer. Soon his exotic appeal opened many doors. ‘I became an ambassador for India and Japan’, says Chadha, who took Indian curry for the tsunami victims in Tokamachi in Japan and even sang heartrending songs. He even raised Rs. 15 lakh for tsunami victims by performing Enka at the Hilton in Delhi and Chennai.

Sikhs in Japan


NOTES 1. Pico Iyer, The Global Soul, Vintage Books, 2001. 2. Azuma Masako, ‘Sikh Diaspora in Japan: A Study of Social and Cultural Practices’, Ph.D thesis, Panjab University, Chandigarh, 2012.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific CHAPTER 12

Sikh Participation in Ghadar and Indian National Army (INA)

In the book, Indian Diaspora in Asia and Pacific Regions: Culture, People, Interactions, Lipi Ghosh and Ramkrisna Chatterjee,1 the authors say: The first political movement that influenced the Indian community was the Ghadar Party. Although the party aimed to overthrow the British Raj in India and had its base in North America, it was popular among Sikh and other Punjabi groups in Southeast and East Asia. The outbreak of World War II and the subsequent Japanese occupation between 1942-5 brought the fragile roots of the Indian community in Southeast Asia to the fore. A significant feature of the Japanese Occupation for the Indian community was the convergence of the ‘homeland’ nationalist aspirations of local Indians with the Japanese wartime ambition of removing the British presence in the East. This brought about a remarkable event in the history of Indians in Malaya, as this became the focus of political and military activities for overseas Indians aiming to free their homeland from British rule. PART A: GHADAR MOVEMENT

Since the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, local revolutionary protests were beginning to surface. There was disenchantment with the British rule in India. The British regime was repressive and many of the dissenters had to leave the country. As the Sikhs learnt of opportunities for better economic prospects in North America, especially as they saw the Chinese heading in that direction, they too started migrating.

Sikh Participation in Ghadar and INA


When obstacles were placed in their migration, they felt disenchanted as citizens of British Empire. While white subjects of Commonwealth countries had free access to Canada and the USA, Indians felt humiliated in being denied equal treatment. A feeling grew, that if we were an independent country, we will get better recognition and treatment. This disenchantment culminated in setting up of the Ghadar Party in San Francisco in 1913. It was a grass roots movement (mainly of Sikhs and Punjabis to start with) with some intellectuals providing the leadership. The aim was to make India free and the means had to be violent, if necessary. The British were well entrenched in India and only an armed broad based movement could oust them. The followers of the party were called ‘Ghadarites’ or ‘Ghadri Babas’(revolutionaries). It was felt that resources, both manpower and financial, had to come from Indians settled abroad. At that time a vast number of Indians were settled in Mauritius, South Africa, Fiji, and the Caribbeans. They were mostly south Indians and people from eastern UP and Bihar, but most of them were indentured or post-indenture settlers. There were also free immigrants, though in smaller numbers, in several Southeast and East Asian countries, and some in Latin America. There were hardly any Indian immigrants at that time in UK and Europe. It was envisaged that the role of Indians settled in Southeast Asian countries was crucial to the success of ‘Ghadar’ movement in India. The majority of the settlers in Fiji, Malaya and Burma were south Indians, Biharis or UPites. Not much enthusiasm could be generated from them. The Sikhs and Punjabis, being used to Army and Police background, ambitious and willing to sacrifice for a cause, came forward to help. Some Muslims from south India and north-west of India, despite their small numbers, were also ready to join in. When the Ghadar emissaries arrived in Southeast Asia to bolster support from Indian residents, it was the north Indians, mostly Punjabi Sikhs, Pathans and Indian Muslims, who showed an eagerness to join the movement. Most of them not only supported the movement but also played an active part as revolutionaries. Ghadar leaders visited the Southeast Asian countries from


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North America to set up branches and to energize them. Branches were set up in Tokyo, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, Malaya, Siam (Thailand) and Burma and in Panama in Central America. Ghadri literature was sent from San Francisco. Some success was achieved in fomenting minor rebellions in Punjabi and Sikh regiments posted in Singapore. These countries provided a number of volunteers, leaders and material help. CIRCULATION OF REVOLUTIONARY LITERATURE From its headquarters at San Francisco, the Ghadar Party began publishing a newspaper, Ghadar (rebellion), which was circulated in the Indian expatriate communities all over the world. The first editorial of the Ghadar paper declared: Today there begins in foreign lands, but in our own country’s language, a war against the British Raj. What is our name? Ghadar. What is our work? Ghadar. Where will ghadar break out? In India. The time will soon come when the rifles and blood will take the place of pen and ink.

The revolutionary literature came via mail from San Francisco to Hong Kong and Tokyo. It was further distributed through the Ghadar branches in Manila, Batavia (Indonesia), Bangkok and Sumatra. Revolutionary literature was also being sent to India via Bangkok till the Siamese Government prohibited it in 1916. THE SOUTHEAST AND EAST ASIAN CONNECTION

Some of the actions in various countries is summarized below using Case Studies. This provides an interesting picture of their participation. Quotes from a very useful book The Ghadar Movement in Southeast Asia 1914-18, by Azharuddin Mohamad,2 have been used. In 1915, as a result of propaganda by the revolutionary Ghadar Party in California, the Indian troops stationed in Singapore mutinied against the British. Articles and poems on revolution were widely circulated in secret. The British managed to quell the mutiny, but there were desertions from the regiments. Soldiers

Sikh Participation in Ghadar and INA


fled by crossing to Johor. They received a lot of help from railway construction workers along the way, and others who provided food, clothing and cash for them to return home. CASE STUDY: BHAGWAN SINGH GYANEE He was from Taran Taran and was employed as a teacher. He delivered anti-government speeches during the agrarian unrest of 1907-8, and to escape prosecution, left India sailing to Penang where he became a ‘granthi’ in the Gurdwara. His services were soon terminated owing to his radical views. Bhagwan Singh next worked as a ‘granthi’ at the Central Gurdwara in Hong Kong. Here he was twice prosecuted in 1911-12 and, though he was acquitted on both occasions, he had to leave the colony. He reached Canada in April 1913 but was deported. He was put on a Japanese ship going to Hong Kong, but he managed to escape en route in Japan where a unit of the Ghadar Party had already been established. He made another attempt and succeeded in reaching the United States. After the departure of Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna for India in July 1914, Bhagwan Singh was elected president of the Ghadar Party. Besides guiding the work at party headquarters, he toured the Philippines, Japan, China and Panama to enlist volunteers, establish branches and collect funds. In April 1917, the US Government took Bhagwan Singh and 18 others into custody and was brought to trial at San Francisco. Bhagwan Singh was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment which he spent in a United States penitentiary. After his release, he and his comrades, who were in danger of being deported to India, applied for and were granted political asylum in the United States. He edited the Punjabi monthly Navan Jug (New Age) which was in a way continuation of the Ghadar movement. Bhagwan Singh Gyanee was finally returned to India in 1958 on the invitation of Partap Singh Kairon. He died in 1962 in Punjab. CHINA AND SHANGHAI

The Boxer Rebellion of the Chinese in early 1900s was suppressed by the British with the help of Sikh soldiers. Simultaneously the


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Sikhs felt empathy for the Chinese cause against the foreign British power. The Shanghai Gurdwara became the focal point of Ghadari sympathizers’ meetings in the afternoon on Sundays, post the religious ceremonies. There was even a small rebellion in 1907 by Sikh Policemen for higher wages which the British conceded to. Some Sikh leaders were arrested and sent back to India. Shanghai was important enough for the President of Ghadar Party, Sohan Singh Bhakna, to come himself to exhort the Sikhs to join the Ghadar movement. There was an enthusiastic response for travel to Vancouver on the Komagata Maru ship. In fact out of a total of 376 passengers, 111 boarded the ship in Shanghai. On the return of the failed voyage, some Sikhs came back to Shanghai while others went to Manila, Bangkok and some other cities to start the Ghadar parties. The internet blog ‘sikhsinshanghai’ of Meena Vathyam of 25 February 2014 has the following to say about the Ghadar movement in China: The Indian freedom movement in early twentieth century that originated in San Francisco touched all nooks and crannies of British colonies where Indians served in several capacities; Shanghai too played a key role in the Ghadar development. It was a convenient port, a layover for ‘Ghadaris’ coming from USA/elsewhere to India who brought with them literature that was distributed in the local Sikh Gurdwara. Sikhs formed a large proportion of the Ghadar movement.

In Shanghai and other British enclaves in China, Ghadar did not vanish after collapsing in its initial foray. The spirit of Ghadar was revived and sustained through publications and editorials. The anti-British message and sentiment was crystal clear. But, yet again it was defeated with pro-British employees and agents. CASE STUDY: GUJJAR SINGH He was a prominent Ghadar leader (1879-1975) who had served in the Army, the 4th Cavalry, for six years. In 1909, he migrated to Shanghai and got himself enlisted in the Police Force. The Ghadar movement awakened in him the urge to serve the mother-

Sikh Participation in Ghadar and INA


Figure 12.1: China – Ghadar Movement Poster

land. He collected 100 dollars and sent them to the Yugantar Ashram in San Francisco as his contribution. He arranged to receive the Ghadar publication in a package through a Japanese merchant and distributed copies among fellow Indians by night. He started addressing weekly meetings of Indians at the Shanghai Gurdwara. The Ghadar paper was read to the audience and they were exhorted to help India get rid of the foreign yoke. Because of his work for the Ghadar movement, Gujjar Singh was removed from the police. He bought some pistols in Shanghai and concealed them under false bottoms of buckets and boxes, and succeeded in smuggling these into India via Hong Kong and Penang. He returned to India in October 1914 in the first group which reached Calcutta after the Komagata Maru incident. For his antiBritish activities, he was tried in the first Lahore Conspiracy case, but was acquitted. He was re-arrested soon after and again tried in the Lahore Conspiracy case II (1916). This time he was convicted and sentenced to transportation for life, with forefeiture of property. He was released in 1930 on completion of his sentence. He returned to his village, Bhakna, and continued to take part in social and political activities. Gujjar Singh died in 1975.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

Figure 12.2: China – Ghadar Movement Poster


It was a hub for transit to China, Canada, USA and other countries. The Indian immigrants, who came by ship mainly from Calcutta, had at times to wait long periods before they could continue their onward journey. When difficulties arose in entering North America, the immigrants became frustrated and were ripe to join the Ghadar movement. As in Shanghai, there was a minor rebellion by the police for higher wages which was quickly put down. Some seniors were deported to India.

Sikh Participation in Ghadar and INA



A branch was set up in Manila. As Philippines was a protectorate of USA, Sikhs started to go to the USA from Philippines after a stay of 6 months (requirement to establish residence in Philippines). When the Americans put a stop to this in due course of time, the Sikhs felt humiliated and assigned this to their state of slavery. SIAM – THAILAND

The involvement of the Bangkok Sikhs in the activities of the Ghadar party and the subsequent arrest and exile of Sardar Budha Singh to the Andaman Islands in 1916, had made all Sikhs suspect in the eyes of Bangkok society. Thailand was not a colony of any European power and was an independent country. However it had considerable British influence through commerce and even police. The Sikhs, who were mainly into textile business, were obliged to the British as they were controlling the Import Permits. Despite this, Bangkok became an important centre of the Ghadar movement. Since movement of men and materials by sea was getting exhausted due to British raids on ships, Ghadar officials felt that the only route to India was by road via Burma. Thailand, thus, became crucial from this viewpoint. Germans who were present in the country building a railroad, were sympathetic to Indians. From logistics viewpoint, it was convenient for a large number of ‘Ghadarites’ to assemble at Bangkok. It was more practical than proceeding home directly. Bangkok became the advance base of the Ghadar plan to attack India. The Consul-General of Britain in Siam had the following to say in his report: The Bangkok branch provided all the necessary information to the Ghadarites who arrived in Siam. Indar Singh provided food, Nihal Singh provided accommodation and Gopal Das and Surti were responsible for the transportation of provisions to a jungle plantation near Muang Sang on the Siam-Burma frontier, where the Ghadarites were to have established themselves before continuing their journey. There were several routes being used. The first was via train to the north-west Siamese frontier, via Sobbouri and then proceed into Burma,


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

from where they were to head into India. The second route was through the Siamese peninsula; from Bangkok the Ghadarites either chose to proceed to Paknampho by train before proceeding on foot, via Rahang, to Myawadi in Burma. There were other routes also. Apart from being a temporary shelter, the Siamese branches also played an important role as a training ground for the revolutionaries. The Ghadarites were also manufacturing explosives and bombs in Siam.

The British approached the Siamese Government with the request for the arrest of several Indian revolutionaries. Several arrests were, in fact, made and some of them were even deported to Singapore. Arising from the British objections, the Siamese Government introduced a passport system for Indians in 1915 for those who intended to enter the Siamese interior and more particularly the north-west provinces. This was done with a view to exercise surveillance over the Indian revolutionary movement. INDONESIA

CASE STUDY: BABA HARI SINGH An Article written by Prem Singh Bajaj, The Tribune, Chandigarh After serving in the British Indian Army for a short spell, Hari Singh, then twenty-seven years old, went to the USA in 1907. On arriving, he found the atmosphere to be unbearably choking because the slave Indian coolies were an object of contempt and ridicule in a free society. He became active in the Ghadar movement which was planning an armed uprising in India. Baba Hari Singh was entrusted with the delicate but dangerous task of accompanying a shipload of arms and ammunition, procured with German assistance, to centres of rebellion in India. The British Naval Intelligence got scent of the adventure, and after hot pursuit forced Babaji and his compatriots to consign the ill-fated cargo to the sea and take refuge in Java (Indonesia). He retired deep into the jungle and mountainous territory of Java. With the active assistance of an Indian settler, he assumed the name and acquired the passport of a Pathan servant, Usman Khan, who had recently died. He was obliged to settle down

Sikh Participation in Ghadar and INA


in Indonesia, till opportune time. He married a local lady of Sandanish race and Muslim faith. During the Second World War, he offered his services to the Japanese. He started working among the Indian forces in Southeast Asia to arouse their patriotic feelings against the British imperialism. After the 1945 surrender of the Japanese, Baba Hari Singh Usman had to go back to Indonesia. Post war, he got involved in the Indonesian struggle for Independence. He was imprisoned by the ruling Dutch along with other Indonesian patriots. He was released in October 1948, when he returned to free India, after an absence of forty-one years, to spend the rest of his days in his ancestral village, Baddowal, near Ludhiana. Though without a formal higher education, he was a man of letters in his own right. In 1914, after Kartar Singh Sarabha left the USA for home, Baba Hari Singh took up the editorship of the Punjabi section of the party organ The Hindustan Ghadar for some time. Displayed on the walls of his living room in his native village were two cloth banners – one in English and another in Punjabi with the inscription: Free Thinker Hari Singh Usman Na Hindu Na Musalman For all the labours of a life-time, the grateful nation granted him a pension of Rupees Twenty-five per month, which he needs no more. PART B: INDIAN NATIONAL ARMY (Azad Hind Fauj)

The aim of the the Indian National Army (INA) was to overthrow the British Raj in colonial India, with Japanese (and German) assistance. Initially composed of Indian prisoners of war captured by Japan in the Malaya campaign and at Singapore, it later drew large number of volunteers, many of them Sikhs, from Indian expatriate population in Malaya and Burma. The idea of an armed force fighting its way to India to overthrow the British Raj originated during the First World War when the Ghadar Party and the Indian Independence League planned a rebellion


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

in the British Indian Army from Punjab through Bengal to Hong Kong. But this plan had failed. There were two parts to INA, one in Europe which was a minor operation and the other in Southeast Asia which became the mainstream INA with many Sikh soldiers as POWs joining in. It is because of the latter that this subject has been incorporated in the book. EUROPEAN THEATRE In January 1941, Subhas Chandra Bose went to Russia from Calcutta via Afghanistan. He tried to secure support for an armed insurrection in India but the Russians instead sent him to Berlin. With German support, an intensive recruiting campaign was mounted amongst Indian POWs. Consequently in January 1942, the propaganda ministry announced the formation of the Indian National Army in Berlin. At the end of July 1942, three hundred volunteers were issued with German Army uniforms bearing a badge on right arm showing a leaping tiger superimposed on Indian tricolour, surrounded by the legend ‘Freies Indien’. The men were then officially designated the ‘Free Indian Legion’. In May 1943, the Indian Legion was moved to garrison duties on the Dutch North Sea coast where they were mainly used for the construction of coastal defences. Following this, they were moved to France. Post the Allied landings at Normandy, and their rapid advance, the Indian Legion was moved back to Germany in August 1944. SOUTHEAST ASIA THEATRE It was at the formal surrender of Indian troops in Singapore in February 1942, that the first concrete step towards Indian National Army was taken. The victorious Japanese military command had separated the Indians from the white troops and officers. At Singapore’s Farrer Park, nearly 50,000 defeated and demoralized Indian troops, NCOs and officers had gathered for the formal surrender. After Col. Hunt’s formal capitulation, Fujiwara spoke of Indians as brothers, fellow-Asians, who had

Sikh Participation in Ghadar and INA


long suffered the white man’s subjugation and racial indignities. Thereafter, Capt. Mohan Singh electrified the defeated mob with a speech urging them to join a force for the liberation of their motherland. Instead of fighting as Britain’s mercenaries to keep other Asians in bondage, they should enlist in a nationalist army which would cooperate with Japan to end British rule over their own motherland, India. Thus began the formal effort to organize the Indian National Army. It can be said that the Indian National Army took birth in the minds of the Indian soldiers on the night of 17-18 February 1942 at Farrer Park in Singapore. It had become an option many Indian soldiers in Malaya-Singapore could accept with a clear conscience. The Japanese organized conferences in Bangkok and Tokyo in June and August that year, where Indian leaders from Southeast and East Asia met to devise a strategy for Indian liberation from British rule. The Indian Independence League (IIL), the political wing of the movement, was formed. Rash Behari Bose, a long-time Indian nationalist based in Japan, assumed leadership of the organization. At the time of his arrival in Singapore in late 1942, the organization had over 40 branches and 12,000 members. Alongside the league was the INA, a military outfit that sought to recruit and train soldiers for direct engagement with British forces in India. Led by Captain Mohan Singh, the core of the INA was made up of British Indian army prisoners of war (POWs) in Singapore. By late 1942, the total strength of the army exceeded 16,000. For many Indian POWs, joining the INA was preferable to life in a Japanese concentration camp. Likewise, the local Indian community’s cooperation in Japanese initiatives was also linked to the hope that it would be spared the brunt of Japanese persecution. Subhas Chandra Bose arrived in July 1943. His leadership of the movement marked the peak of pan-Indian nationalism in Singapore. Soon after his arrival, Bose established the Provisional Government of Azad Hind (Free India) that was recognized by nine countries, including Japan and Germany. He persuaded the Japanese to grant the IIL and the INA greater autonomy, unified Indians and gained mass support for the movement. By 1944, the league had some 35,000 members. The increase in volunteer


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

conscripts for the INA, which was renamed the Azad Hind Fauj resulted in its numbers swelling to over 40,000. With the slogan‘Dilli Chalo’, the INA began its military operations on the Burma front in early 1944. It launched the Imphal Operation between March and July, alongside three Japanese divisions, to capture the capital of Manipur in the hope of fomenting a general revolt against the British. The campaign proved disastrous. INA forces suffered from starvation and disease. By June 1944 most of the army had either surrendered to Allied forces or simply deserted the field. In August 1945, following the Japanese surrender, the INA was formally disbanded. THAILAND: CASE STUDIES AND NEWS ITEMS 1. A news item: ‘The Patriotic Namdhari Sikh: Host to Netaji Subhas’, by Vivek Shukla: Neither ripe age, nor a gap of more than six decades have been able to dull the memory of a great day in the life of Sardar Sewa Singh Namdhari. It was at his place in Bangkok in 1940 that Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose came to interact with the local Indian community. They came in hordes to meet the charismatic man. Namdhari’s father, Sardar Pratap Singh’s house was chosen to host the meeting with Netaji, as more than 1,000 people could be accommodated. He was also greatly respected in the local Indian community. As an 18year old, Namdhari worked hard with his father to ensure that everything went off well when Netaji came to their place. Recalls Namdhari: ‘Netaji came to the meeting place exactly on time. The crowd went wild on seeing their hero in flesh and blood for the first time. People lifted him on their shoulders and started chanting slogans like Netaji Zindabad and Bharatmata ki jai. ‘Many in the crowd started weeping in the wake of his brilliant oratory. They felt helpless sitting thousands of miles away from their motherland. ‘Netaji exhorted the Indian community to help so that he could fight the British. He spoke for over 30 minutes and the moment he completed his emotionally charged speech, the expatriate Indian community started giving everything they had with them. When almost everybody had contributed, he was taken aback that his main host Sardar Pratap Singh didn’t contribute anything. He asked his host the reason for not helping the cause of his motherland. Namdhari was present when Netaji asked this question. After a pause,

Sikh Participation in Ghadar and INA


Sardar Pratap Singh said that he was waiting to see how much money was collected. After that he would donate the same amount later. Netaji was overwhelmed with this gesture and embraced his host. Even after the passage of more than sixty-five years, Namdhari remembers every word Netaji spoke to his father: ‘Now, I am convinced that with sons like you, your motherland would be freed sooner than later,’ Netaji had said. Namdhari was born in Bangkok. He says that the Thailand’s strong Indian community regarded Netaji as no less than God. Even though the generation that saw and greatly admired him is almost negligible, it is a legacy they have left to their successors. Unlike in India, one can still find photos of Netaji in his khakhi dress placed at vantage points in Indian homes. Santokh Singh Chawla, Namdhari’s youngest son, says that even now his father, who is the grand patriarch of the Namdhari Sikh community of India and Thailand, asks his grand and great-grandchildren to adopt the patriotic ideals of Netaji. (Courtesy: The Hindustan Times, 24 January 2006)

2. Digging out the two pistols Netaji had handed over to him before leaving Bangkok for the last time, Trio Singh says, ‘His parting words were: “See you at the Red Fort”. Eight days later, he was reported dead.’ INA was first set up in Berlin – with 10,000-12,000 – POWs released by the Germans. On the persuasion of the Japanese, he moved from Berlin to the Far East to boost the struggling Indian Independence League under Rash Behari Bose. Netaji too wanted to reach Singapore to re-launch the INA with POWs released by the Japanese. At its peak, the INA had eighty thousand members. ‘When the surrender loomed, the INA had 80 lakh Bahts (Thai currency) in its account. All soldiers were given six months’ salary as we didn’t want the money to fall into the hands of the enemy.’ 3. MIGRANT D: INA CONNECTION (From the book, Sikhs in Thailand by Dr. Manjit Singh Sidhu). Migrant D is a Jat Sikh, was born in Ropar district in Punjab in 1910. His father had 12 acres of unirrigated land. At the age of sixteen he joined the British Indian Army; in order to get himself recruited, he


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falsely declared his age as eighteen. He served the army until 1934 post which he got married. The following year, he decided to migrate to Singapore despite protests from his family. He started off from home with about Rs. 100, in the company of a neighbouring villager, who was a policeman in Malaya. They took a ship from Calcutta to Penang and by train from Butterworth to Seremban, where he stayed with his travelling companion. He failed to find a job in Negeri Sembilan. Dejected, he moved to Singapore where, he stayed at the local Sikh Gurdwara in Queen Street. Soon he found employment with the Singapore police. He then worked for a private company as a security guard from 1938 to 1942. In 1943, he was recruited for the Indian National Army (INA). From Singapore he, together with a few hundred other Indians, mainly Sikhs, was taken to Thailand by a train that was provided by the Japanese. They were kept in Bangkok for some weeks and were given some training in the use of light arms. Later they were taken to Burma by railway from where they were taken to the northern Burma border to fight the British, with the aim of driving the British out of India. They were engaged in a few skirmishes with the British Indian Army. But soon they were driven back southwards towards Rangoon. While many INA soldiers were captured, Migrant D, together with a group of other Indian soldiers, escaped into the jungle and evaded capture. Then they struggled through forest routes and finally made it to Bangkok. While some returned to Malaya, this soldier decided to stay in Thailand. Back in Thailand, he found work as a security guard. After sometime he received news from home that his wife had married his younger brother during the war. With no news from him, his relatives had assumed that he was dead. This made him very bitter and he refused to visit India.

CHINA: MEENA VATHYAM During the World War II – Pacific War, ‘Azad Hind’ forces were more active in other countries than China. In Shanghai, the participation was at a lower level given that International Settlement was a quasicolony, with more punitive measures for anyone deemed anti-British. The pro-Japanese propaganda posters targeting Indians and Sikh soldiers stressed on India’s lack of freedom and British manipulation. Some of the posters point the apathy of the colonial masters, highlighting the plight of Indians pushed in the line of fire even as their ‘white’ officers enjoy a cushy life. The allied forces counter-attacked with their own posters and pamphlets addressing the axis forces’

Sikh Participation in Ghadar and INA


subterfuge, deception and depicting Japan as maniacal in its power and blood-thirsty quest. Some posters designed for British India depicted Subhas Chandra Bose as the villain who was accused of selling his motherland to the Japanese. Bose visited Shanghai and broadcast his 1940s radio speech through German controlled air waves in the area.

NOTES 1. Lipi Ghosh and Ramakrisna Chatterjee, Indian Diaspora in Asian and Pacific Regions: Culture, People, Interactions, Jaipur & Delhi: Rawat Publications, 2004. 2. Azharuddin Mohamad, The Ghadar Movement in Southeast Asia 1914-18, Delhi: Penguin Books, 1988.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific CHAPTER 13


The book has covered eleven countries from Burma to Japan. The majority of Sikh migration prior to 1947 (Indian Independence) was to these countries while it was less than a quarter of the total Sikh migration to the West. The situation has now totally reversed. Sikh immigrant numbers in absolute terms have increased in Asia Pacific in most countries, but mainly due to natural causes. Comparatively less new immigration inflows have taken place post 1950. This is not to deny a small spurt in migration of Sikhs past 1947 from that part of Punjab which became a part of Pakistan as a result of the Partition of India. There was again a small increase in the 1980s and 1990s arising from turmoil in Punjab. On the other hand there have been major Sikh exoduses from China, Burma (Myanmar), and Fiji due to political reasons. Sikhi is being practiced widely and the Sikhs are well organized, especially in Southeast Asia, less so in East Asia, to keep identity, language, cultural and social linkages with India. In many places, especially in Southeast Asia, there is now a large presence of third and fourth generations. There are pressures on the youth for assimilation and westernization. Also with the breakup of joint family living and increasing popularity of nuclear family, pressures to conform to the majority trends are evident. However, compared to other locales, Sikhs in these countries are better organized to face the challenge with innovative approaches. It is heartening to note the popularity of Sikh youth organizations. The Sikh community is well accepted and well recognized. It has moved from early illiterate/semi-literate to professionals and senior positions in corporate and Government organizations and owner driven businesses. From earlier professions of being security



guards, policemen, peddlers, milkmen, agriculturists, moneylenders, labourers in industries and mines, they have moved onto professions requiring higher level of education. Gurdwaras are widely spread out and are great institutions for religious and social get-togethers. One wonders as to how the community could build so many of them with limited population and prosperity, especially in the earlier times. It shows their sense of devotion to this institution as a symbol of Sikh presence anywhere and everywhere. The setting up of educational, social and cultural institutions is a contribution to the local and Sikh community. Setting up of Khalsa Schools and Schools for Girls was a very forward looking initiative by the community despite their own humble background. They were determined to ensure a better future for their coming generations. Sikhs are taking part in charities and philanthropic initiatives in the lands where they have made their homes. They are also taking part in local issues like social protests, independence movements and other concerns as active participants showing their integration with the host society. There are many challenges such as security for the moneylenders in the Philippines, who are facing frequent physical assaults. In Myanmar, the citizenship issue is critical, especially to enable future generations to partake in professional education. In Indonesia, Sikhs have to declare that they are followers not of Sikhism but some other religion that the State recognizes. Living in countries which have declared Islam as the state religion and which preferentially treats the ‘Bhumiputras’ can always create sensitive situations such as in Malaysia and to a lesser extent in Indonesia. The immigrants who do not have Residency papers especially in the Philippines, Korea and Japan are always vulnerable. Historically, Sikh participation and support of the national causes for the home country from where they migrated, has been much beyond their small numbers. Both in the Ghadar movement and in the Indian National Army, Sikhs were in the forefront. The local Governments are now clamping down on residents against any involvement in the political issues of Punjab and India.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific SIKH INITIATIVES

Besides setting up of a number of Gurdwaras, which is a major achievement, there are several other initiatives which the community has taken over the years. Some of these are highlighted below. P UNJABI LANGUAGE : Propagation of Punjabi language: ‘If a language lives only where it is born, it will perish’, says Rana Nayyar, Professor of English at the Panjab University. ‘Language has to transcend geographical borders’. Punjabis in Southeast Asia have done a commendable job, against heavy odds, by providing facilities for teaching of Gurmukhi to younger generations. YOUTH CLUBS: These are especially popular in Singapore and Malaysia and are involved in multifarious activities. SPORTS CLUBS: Besides Singapore and Malaysia, they are also popular in Hong Kong and Fiji. While hockey was their first love, now there is also interest in soccer and even golf. Cricket is also a favourite sport amongst Sikhs, especially in Singapore. YOUTH CAMPS: These have become a part of the Sikh youth calendar of all ages. SNSM of Malaysia has taken the lead. They are providing expertise even to Australia and some European countries. PHILANTHROPY: This is an integral part of the Sikh ethos and is so even amongst the diaspora in all the countries of Asia. SOCIAL AND SOCIETAL HELP: Sikhs are active in community affairs wherever they settle. It is true even in Asia. They participate in local and national causes with vigour and dedication. PROMOTION OF EDUCATION: The majority of early immigrants were illiterate or semi-literate. But they wanted to make sure that the future generations did not have this handicap. Khalsa schools both for boys and girls were set up. More importantly the family budget ensured first priority to sending children to schools and colleges even in cases where income was meagre. At the community level, scholarships and other type of financial assistance are provided for deserving cases. Social commitment is extended to setting up of libraries in larger areas of Sikh settlement. No expense is spared in sending children to schools in



Punjab and India where considered desirable or necessary. Higher education was and is encouraged both within the country of settlement or in India or the West. OLD AGE HOMES AND ORPHANAGES: These have been set up, in some places, alongside the Gurdwaras or otherwise. This has come in handy particularly in countries where Sikh migration is very old. DISPENSARIES: These were set up wherever needed particularly in countries with limited medical facilities MUSIC ACADEMIES AND PROPAGATION OF ‘KIRTAN’: This is an innovation and is gaining popularity in many countries. FESTIVALS AND SOCIAL GATHERINGS: The community is known for its celebrations with great fervour. Besides religious festivals, ‘Baisakhi’ and Diwali are celebrated with enthusiasm. On important occasions, ‘nagar kirtan’ and processions are organized with exemplary discipline. Bhangra is very popular. COMMUNITY KITCHEN – ‘LANGAR’: As always ‘langar’ is generously and enthusiastically served in all Gurdwaras and in all functions at home or at community centres. COUNTRYWISE HIGHLIGHTS

BURMA The setting up of 154 Gurdwaras and other institutions spread all over the country with a population of only 15,000-20,000 or so at its peak prior to 1947 confirms their enthusiasm for institution building. There has been an exodus of Sikhs in various phases since the Japanese invasion in World War II. The Sikhs are at ease with local society and are well integrated, with turban and full Sikh identity. They have seamlessly adopted local dress, language and even food. Some Sikhs get married to the locals, but the spouse invariably chooses to become a Sikh. Compared to almost all countries visited and even Punjab, the third-fourth generation in Myanmar is better able to cope with pressure to give up the unique Sikh identity. The community feels isolated from Punjab due to travel restrictions, expense and hassles involved. With the opening up of the economy and détente in national politics, the situation will hopefully improve.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

THAILAND The majority of the Sikh settlers are into business. Joint living and family business are still prevalent. Sikh identity is comparatively less under pressure as a result of family unity. The community maintains good relations with the royalty and is an active participant in local philanthropy. Many amongst the younger generation are now studying abroad. The Sikhs are a majority among the Indian community. MALAYSIA The country has the largest Sikh population in Asia Pacific. Next only to Myanmar (in the past), there is abundance of Gurdwaras and Sikh institutions, spread all over the country. Sikhs have successfully chosen to enter Government jobs, and into several professions such as health care, law and the corporate world. They have so far been able to manage quite well the propagation of their religion in a Muslim country. There are even some locals who have converted to Sikhism in the province of Sabah. Sikh Naujawan Sabha is very active and organizes popular Annual Sikh Camps, besides promoting cultural and sports activities. They have been rendering great selfless service to local and neighbouring communities in times of emergencies such as tsunami, floods and other natural disasters. There are pressures on the youth towards assimilation and westernization. Because of the affirmative policy towards ‘Bhumiputras’, minority communities are feeling disadvantaged – some are migrating out especially to Australia. SINGAPORE Sikhs are well settled in business, the corporate world and in Government jobs including high ranking positions. The enlightened Sikh leadership is doing a commendable job in trying to keep the Sikh flock together. They have been successful in promoting Punjabi language in schools. Sikhs are considered a ‘model minority’ in Singapore. The Sikh youth organizations are quite active. Like in other places, pressures are being felt by



the youth to assimilate and westernize. This is even leading to out migration to North America and Australia. INDONESIA Although the earlier concentration of Sikhs was in North Sumatra but now many have moved to the Jakarta area. Since Sikhism is not one of the religions recognized by the Government, Sikhs have to perforce declare themselves belonging to one of the recognized religions. The Sikhs of Sumatra showed high degree of leadership in building the first English medium Khalsa School, in Medan which had students not only from all over Indonesia but also from neighbouring countries. FIJI Sikh population is dwindling due to Governmental policies of discrimination against the Indians. A large number of Sikhs have moved out to greener pastures in the industrially developed countries. They were in the forefront in building Sikh institutions including Khalsa Schools/College which are still being well run. Sikhs migrated as free immigrants and not as indentured labour as in the case of majority of settlers. PHILIPPINES The majority of Sikhs are into the moneylending business. It’s a unique system of loaning money to people at the bottom of the economic ladder without any paperwork whatsoever. It is a very popular activity and is akin to a very convenient and informal credit card system. Over the last decade Sikh moneylenders have been target of several murders and extortions. The Sikhs are in a majority among the Indian community. HONG KONG The community has moved forward over more than a century and a half of settlement from policemen, security guards, and doormen to business and professions. They are united in running only one Gurdwara which is well patronized.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

CHINA The Sikh presence is of great historical importance. Sikh policemen were a unique institution. Sikh soldiers, as a part of the British Indian Army, played key roles in several campaigns in China. All Sikhs left the country post-1949 revolution. There are some new Sikh immigrants slowly moving in. SOUTH KOREA The Sikh migration is of recent origin over the last forty years or so. Most immigrants do not have ‘Residence Permits’ and hence are vulnerable. There seems to be no signs of the community building long term roots in the country. JAPAN There are two disparate migrant groups, one recent quasi-legal in the Tokyo area and the other old business focussed, well rooted, Sikhs in Kobe area who have been there since before Second World War. TRAVEL

The early migrants would have come from their villages by bullock carts to the district town and then onwards by train to Calcutta where they would have stayed in the Gurdwara with langar facilities for a few days before embarking the ship to their destinations. For getting the boat to some countries the wait could have been a few weeks. There were frequent sailings to Penang which touched Rangoon enroute. Migrants for Malaya and even Thailand used Penang as the disembarkation port. Many of them were quarantined especially in Penang, for a few days, after which they moved to the local Gurdwara before taking trains to their destinations. In some interesting accounts for migration to Thailand, it has been mentioned that the travel agents were quite resourceful. The ticket purchased in Calcutta included cost of quarantine and even the provision of a tiffin carrier service comprising of ‘chapattis



and daal, sabzi’ for the train journey from Butterworth (Penang) to Bangkok. A message having been sent about the train departure through a telegram, a representative of the travel agent would duly meet the passengers on arrival and collect the empty tiffin carriers. Other popular destinations from Calcutta were eastwards from Singapore involving intermediate stops. Gurdwaras in Singapore and Hong Kong were extensively used for stays by the travellers. The Encyclopaedia of Canada’s Peoples/Sikhs, edited by Hugh Johnston,1 provides some details on cost of travel. A trans-Pacific steamer fare in 1908 cost as much as a hectare of land in central Punjab, where most families had only one and a half or two hectares. In this light, travel to North America represented a substantial speculative investment that few Punjabis could have afforded at the time. Emigration was generally beyond the means of landless caste groups – the artisans, sweepers, leather workers, watercarriers, and barbers who made up half of the population of a typical village. About 85 per cent of the early Punjabi immigrants were Sikh and about 90 per cent of these were Jat Sikh farmers. Most of the non-Jats, whether Sikh, Hindu, or Muslim, were from farming castes as well.

Fares to Southeast and East Asia were, of course, more reasonable. GURDWARAS Comments have been made earlier regarding the prolific building of Gurdwaras by Sikhs in their places of settlement. Burma had a total of 154 Gurdwaras at its peak and Malaysia has over 119 Gurdwaras at present. This tradition would seem to be quite unique to the Sikhs. Gurdwaras came in handy for stay at intermediate stops but more importantly on arrival before settling down. The Gurdwaras provided information on all aspects of their new life including job opportunities through dialogue with the ‘sangat’. This helped the new immigrants in getting used to their new places of settlement. For the existing immigrants it provided religious anchor and social cohesion. The British supported and even encouraged the Sikhs, especially


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

in the Army and the Police Force, to set up Gurdwaras. The earliest public Gurdwara was set up in Burma, Rangoon for which the land was given by the Government and even the foundation stone was laid by a British official. Gurdwaras were allowed to be built in barracks where Sikh Army or police personnel were residing. All Cantonments in Burma had Gurdwaras. The first Gurdwara in Fort Cornwallis, Malaya was built in a Sikh police residential area. The setting up of a public Gurdwara in Penang was not only supported by the British but had British senior officials in the Managing Committee of the Gurdwara to start with. The Sikh also set up various religious, educational, social, cultural, and philanthropic institutions. ‘GRANTHIS’: LOCAL RECRUITMENT



Arising from the Malaysian Government’s directive mentioned under the Malaysia chapter, Sikhs have to give serious thought to encourage local recruitment and training of ‘granthis’. It might be a good opportunity to look afresh at the role and scope of ‘granthis’ in the Gurdwaras. It would probably be necessary, in future, to have multilingual ‘granthis’. They might have to play a role beyond recitation of Sri Guru Granth Sahib, and have added responsibilities for religious education, pastoral care and counselling. This will provide several challenges, e.g. acceptance by the Gurdwara Management Committees of their new and extended role including provision for professional level salaries. In a blog in The Sikhs News Network, dated 5 July 2010, Professor I.J. Singh2 discusses the subject in some detail. No one has formally surveyed Gurdwaras in the diaspora about their practices and expectations regarding a ‘granthi’. Ideally, a Gurdwara, that is a training ground for a Sikh, should be self-managed by volunteers from the ‘sangat’. This is how individual Sikhs, in the past, connected to the fundamentals of their faith as well as honed their skills of collaboration with each other for a bigger cause. That is how true kinship and communities developed. But we must also recognize that granthis are an organizational necessity in today’s world. How, then, to define their role?



Granthis in most North American countries(in fact in all countries) are overwhelmingly Punjab-based, that is, they come directly from Punjab. Many, but not all, are reasonably well schooled in the Guru Granth Sahib and related Sikh literature, and adept in Indian mythological lore. They have, invariably, varying degrees of competence in Punjabi and Gurmukhi, and on occasion, a few other Indic languages and traditions. Such qualifications and skills were probably sufficient to serve the newly arrived immigrant community of Punjabi origin. And indeed the present ‘granthis’ fulfil an emotional and cultural need for large segments of the ‘sangat’. But being largely Punjab-based, granthis also bring cultural baggage that does not always resonate with sections of the sangat. But when it comes to second or later generations, whose linkage with Punjab is limited, they are looking for a different approach and competence of the ‘granthis’. There is now a surging population of young Sikh men and women either born or largely reared outside Punjab and India. Their primary culture is less Punjabi/Indian and more American/ Canadian/British/East Asian – or any of a variety of additional possibilities. The mélange of languages that the youth command may have widely varying levels of Punjabi intermixed with the local argot where they live. Significant and overwhelming parts of their lives are spent outside the Punjabi cultural ambit. Interfaith issues impact them on a daily basis, at work or at play. This reality tells us that we need ‘granthis’ who are equally adept in Western (new) societies, their values, and traditions, as well as the language and culture of the countries in which we now make our homes. We need to evolve a new professional approach to the matter. Management committees, on the other hand, bring their own cultural and feudal baggage rooted in Indian norms. The reality is that ‘granthis’ are reduced to survival wages and their role is almost dictated by and at the mercy of management committees.

Such persons would need not only much higher remuneration but some kind of a professional job contract with appropriate perquisites. Are the Gurdwaras ready especially where the sangat is small and not very affluent? Will this mean curtailment of a number of Gurdwaras and consequent long distance travel for attending a central Gurdwara. In many cases the ‘sangat’ just wants to ‘matha teko’ on week days, which people who have the SGGS at home can do conveniently. Many Sikhs, especially the older generation, are on the other hand quite satisfied with


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

the way things are and would not want drastic changes. It is a complex issue but does need a fresh and serious look. SIKH IDENTITY AND TURBAN

As discussed earlier there are pressures on Sikhs especially the younger generation, to give up their distinct identity and turban. There are strong views on the subject both within India and outside. Before proceeding further, let me quote the legendary Khushwant Singh3 at the seminar, ‘Celebrating Khushwant Singh: The Writer, Historian and Journalist’, organized by the Punjabi University, Department of English and Cultural Studies to felicitate and celebrate his centenary year on 2 February 2014. In his address, (read by his son Rahul Singh), Khushwant Singh said he was an ‘agnostic’, but strongly believed in the sense of Sikh identity and of Sikhs retaining their symbols. ‘Without that, I am convinced, the Sikh religion will eventually die out and perhaps merge with the indistinguishable Hinduism’, he added. Outside India, the pressure of Hinduism absorbing Sikhism may not appear to be as real. It has to be recognized and accepted that ‘turban’ is the brand image, if I may use the term, for the Sikhs and more so in Southeast and East Asia and in erstwhile Commonwealth countries. It is recommended that readers see the documentary The Roots of Love by Harjant Gill4 which was commissioned by Doordarshan and also telecast on BBC a few times. It deals with the subject of Sikhs keeping unshorn hair. Turban, no doubt, makes one stand out but that was one of the rationales for it in the first place. There is always pressure on minorities to conform. Sikhs have been a minority both in India (except for the new truncated Punjab state at present), and the world. So, we should be familiar with the societal pressures. As readers would have got to know by now, the British were keen that Sikhs keep their identity. The issue of turban’s nonacceptance became critical when Sikhs started settling in Western countries. A foreign identity, particularly a visible identity, was felt to be anachronistic with assimilation which was demanded and expected from an immigrant. The problem of turban became further magnified when Sikhs started to migrate illegally. The



illegals have to avoid being spotted out; merging with the majority is almost a necessity. The only case where turban became a prime requirement was when Sikhs were seeking asylum on political and religious grounds. Furthermore in the last few decades westernization is overtaking all cultures, dress patterns, behaviour and even thinking. Mass communication in general and television in particular, are accelerating the demands on the youth to conform to a majority pattern and seek acceptance by the mainstream. The entire spectrum of cultural patterns as they existed is under scrutiny. Questions are raised with increasing frequency on essentiality of turban and beard, etc., for being a Sikh. This is due to the fact that more and more persons are not keeping ‘kesh’. ‘Nonkeshadharis’ would understandably try to articulate and justify their not keeping ‘kesh’. The pressure would build up still further in years to come. It will be more so where Sikh presence is small in numbers. Marriages with local partners are likely to accelerate the process further. Another important point for the branded Sikhs (if I may use this term) is that they cannot fight for their rights to wear a turban, if the community or Gurdwara leaders or their representatives do not themselves wear turbans. Consider the plight of a turbaned Sikh to be represented by a non-turbaned Sikh on say the turban issue before courts or in public fora. THE EAST (ORIENT) VS THE WEST

DIFFERENCES IN MIGRATION PROFILE While visiting various countries, a question cropped up in my mind: Is the Sikh migration to the Orient (the East) and the West different? It is worth examining if there are indeed differences in Sikh migration to the Orient as against the Western countries. This comparison cannot be complete unless migration to all English speaking countries is included which is regrettably not a part of my focus. However some preliminary observations can be made.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

In the East, the first generation retained their Indian passports but the second and later generations have acquired local citizenship. In the West, immigrants are keen to give up Indian passports and become local citizens. Indian passport is seen as a disadvantage. Immigrants have, at present, no interest in being a sojourner as they see distinct advantage in acquiring a Western citizenship. Post decolonization, there were pressures on Sikhs to give up their Indian passports in favour of taking up of local citizenship. It became desirable to limit the ongoing attachment to the ancestral homeland in favour of investing in their new homes and in the emerging national economy and civic institutions of the country of settlement. From almost total assimilation of the Sikhs into local society, say in South America, thereby losing touch with their inheritance, to retaining strong Sikh identity and professing religious practices in Southeast Asian countries, provides an interesting contrast. One thing is clear – numbers in a country become important for retaining identity. Sikh migration to Europe, which is more recent, falls in a different category where the new settlers are still finding their bearings. Prior to decolonization of the countries in Asia, migration was in much larger numbers to the Orient. The West, although a preferred target destination, had put up barriers for Indian immigrants. Over the last few decades and presently, the majority migration of Sikhs is to the West. There is a general attractiveness and preference to migrate to the later countries because of higher wage structure and better standard of living promising better prospects especially for their siblings. Presently, new migration to the Orient is not significant. It is becoming evident that the Sikhs in the West will play an increasingly dominant role in setting trend patterns for the global Sikh diaspora. According to my observations, cultural and social acceptance of the Sikhs is better in the Orient. In the earlier days, there was the common emotional factor of being ruled by the European powers. Was there a cultural divide of ‘us’, the colonized vs ‘them’, the colonizers which resulted in some empathy for Indians settled in these countries? As a side observation, social acceptance of



Sikhs is becoming somewhat indifferent by the Chinese in countries where they are in a majority such as Hong Kong and Singapore. The Indian cultural, social and religious practices have similarities with Oriental practices but are different from those of the West. As a simplistic example, covering the head and taking off the shoes for religious observances is common to India and the East. In the West it is just the reverse. Many in the East are followers of Buddhism and in a few places Hinduism which helps provide an important emotional and cultural linkage with India. Travelling amongst the Indian and Sikh diasporas in various countries, I get the feel that Indians seem more settled, contended and socially better accepted and integrated in Asia. They feel less strange in their new settings. It is hoped that scholars will debate this issue in more detail. For most Sikhs whether in Asia, Europe or South America, their El Dorado is still North America. One may still hear in India the slogan though much less frequently these days – ‘Yankee go home’ but now they add ‘But take my son along!’ Recent political movements such as Khalistan were discouraged and in fact summarily curbed in Southeast Asia. However in the Western countries support for such movements was more prevalent. There is a large number of religious and political asylum seekers in the West whose existence is closely tied up with these issues. In fact some of the Western countries such as Canada might be considered by some as both consumers and producers of Sikh nationalist ideologies. Will the future generations get assimilated and the Sikh identity just fade away? There is no doubt that there would be tremendous pressures. As the experience of South America indicates, initial changes take place soon after arrival but these become more significant in the second generation. The third generation tends to have less linkage with India but more with their country of residence. How much of the Sikh population is of first, second and third generation or even fourth in some cases in a country determines the overall profile. While the Western countries are increasingly accepting Sikhs with their turbans in various professions including the Army and Police, there are still many


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

restrictions and reservations. Prejudices both at Governmental and societal levels do exist. Issues such as admission of children in public schools in France and getting passports and driving licences with photos wearing a turban are problematic not only in many countries of Europe, but even in South America. Any Sikh visiting Ecuador needs a visa even if other citizens from the same country are exempt from this requirement. Keeping the Sikh identity does mean relatively stronger alignment with Indian roots. The unfortunate changes taking place in Punjab with regard to Sikh identity are having an adverse impact on Sikhs globally. Illegal migration which is basically to Western countries invariably necessitates removing the turban. Numbers involved are large (Myrvold and Jacobsen5 estimate this to be about 20,000 annually citing data from UN office on Drugs and Crime report of 2009). This development has created an impression among the Sikh youth that going abroad is synonymous with compromising identity. As Dusenbery says: The historical maturity of Sikh communities in Southeast Asia, now into their fourth and fifth local generation, means that Sikhs elsewhere may now only be reckoning with identity issues with which Sikhs in Southeast Asia have already been dealing for some time. In Singapore Sikhs form 7 per cent of Indian community (mainly Tamils) who are themselves 7 per cent of Singapore population, Sikhs have been able to get recognition as a ‘distinct race’ (as well as ‘religion’) and get support for Sikh initiative projects in language, education, welfare, and heritage. On the other hand in Canada where Sikhs are more than 1 per cent of local population and majority amongst Indians, the state bodies have largely resisted claims by Sikh organizations to represent a distinct ethno cultural group with its own agenda. They have based their refusal on the grounds that Sikhs are but a sub sect of the larger community of Indo-Canadians.

I have tried to tabulate the profile of Sikhs in the East against the West so as to highlight what has been stated above.




Demographic Profile



Social Acceptance


The West New migration with major thrust post Indian independence and in the 1980s and 1990s. Some inter-country movement especially in Europe. Mainly dominated by first and second generation. Population increasing – natural growth and continuing new immigration. Trying to establish themselves with some upward movement. Some in the second generation have done very well in North America and UK. Some immigration of professionals. Others as family members who have to struggle. New immigrants in Europe start as labour, or get into retailing, shopkeeping, catering industry, dairying. Well established in English speaking countries. Somewhat struggling to establish themselves in Europe but making progress. Scope to get married within Indian/Sikh community living overseas. A few marriages to locals—some genuine

The East Old migration with continuing additions till decolonization. Exoduses from China, Burma and Fiji. Some new migration mainly to Philippines, S. Korea and Japan Presence of third and fourth generations. Population stable; Some natural increase; some outward migration. Have progressed substantially. Well established and accepted.

Have moved to the professions especially second, third and fourth generations.

Well settled in all respects.

Most marriages within community. Some married to locals mostly for love. In Japan, Korea and Philippines a few new Contd.


Sikhs in Asia Pacific

TABLE 13.1 Contd. Features

Linkage with Punjab


Sikh Religion, Identity and Turban


The West for love and others for convenience of getting Residence status especially in Europe. Extensive linkage because migration is more recent. Helped by modern facilities of telephone, internet, Youtube, Skype etc. Large number of Gurdwaras – well attended. Important gathering point, essential for bonding by the new immigrants. Gurpurb and other celebrations including ‘Nagar keertans’ organized. Sikh identity followers are becoming a minority. Turban can be an issue for Identity cards, admission to schools and airport security checks. ‘Dharam Parchar’ and Punjabi language are now being introduced. Major issue

Attractiveness Preferred – priority for new destination. North Immigrants America is still the El-Dorado

The East immigrants get married to locals to get Residence status. Were closely linked. Considerable efforts being made in maintaining affinity with religion and culture for third and fourth generations. Several and well established. Exemplary following of Sikhi in Burma. Enlightened leadership and well organized in Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand. Women granthis in Burma.

Substantial following of Sikhi. Turbans still popular – in some cases even more than in Punjab. Youth camps, ‘Dharam Parchar’ and Punjabi language teaching a regular feature in Gurdwaras. Some but not widely prevalent Only for professionals or entrepreneurs. Some migration as transit stays before moving on to Western destinations



NOTES 1. Hugh Johnston, The Encyclopaedia of Canada’s Peoples/Sikhs, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015. 2. I.J. Singh, Sikh News Network, 5 July 2010. 3. Seminar on Celebrating Khushwant Singh, the Writer, Historian and Journalist, organized by the Punjabi University, Department of English and Cultural Studies, 2 February 2014. 4. Harjant Gill, Documentary: The Roots of Love, 2011. 5. Kristina Myrvold and Knot A. Jacobsen, Sikhs in Europe: Migration, Identities and Representations, Ashgate, 2008.



History of the Sikh Gurdwara at Rangoon Inscription of the Foundation Stone at the Gurdwara

(The entire inscription, though somewhat detailed, is being provided as it makes an interesting reading). ‘That in the year 1893 the Sikhs in the Indian Army and in the Military Police in Burma, who were the only residents then in Burma felt want of a Sikh Gurdwara in Rangoon. The then senior Sikh Sardis of the Military Police and the Indian Army sent a Memorial in the said year 1893 through the Chief Commissioner of Burma and Colonel Peel, the Inspector General of Police to the Governor-General and Viceroy of India praying for the grant a piece of land in Rangoon free of rent and taxes to enable them to erect a temple (Gurdwara) and Rest House for the Sikhs in return and as a reward for the meritorious services rendered by the Sikh Military officers and men in the army and in the military police in Burma since annexation of Burma. In the meantime and pending the receipt of orders on the said memorial a strong committee was formed by the Sikhs in the army and the military police to collect funds for the building and erection of a Gurdwara and a meeting place or Dharamsala. Orders on the said memorial were passed in the year 1897 and by an instrument of gift dated 31 May 1897 the Secretary of State for India in Council granted unto (1) Jhanda Singh Rai Bahadur Subedar Major 7th Burma Battalion then stationed at Mikmeiktila (2) to Kishen Singh Subedar Major of Rangoon Military Police battalion then stationed at Rangoon (3) Surmukh Singh, Jemadar Rangoon Military Police Battalion for the time being of the Committee of the Sikh Temple in Rangoon and their successors the Presidents and Members stationed at Rangoon, three pieces of land fronting on Judah Ezekiel Street in block H3, Rangoon, measuring 171 feet by 58 feet, or containing area of 9,956 square feet. TO HOLD the said lands on to the said Grantees free from all revenue or rent UPON TRUST to devote the said land to the purposes of building and maintaining thereon religious buildings for the performance of worship according to Sikh rites and of building to be used as a meeting place and


Appendix 1

Dharamsala for Sikhs and for other Hindus belonging to or connected with Indian Army or the Burma Military police living in or passing through Rangoon but for no other purposes. In the said instrument of gift it was specifically agreed and stipulated (1) That the Secretary of State for India in Council may at any time resume possession of said land and (2) That if the said land and any buildings thereon shall at any time be devoted to any purposes other than those mentioned in the said instrument and if they at any time be not devoted to such purposes then and in any such case the Granter may revoke this gift and thereupon the said land and buildings thereof shall revert to the Crown without any compensation to the Grantees. After the receipt of the said gift from the Government the construction of the buildings thereon was started in June 1897 and the foundation stone was laid on the 23 October 1897 by Captain H.H. Parkins the then Deputy Inspector General of Military Police. The buildings were completed and the opening ceremony thereof was performed in 1899 by the Lieutenant Governor of Burma and a big gathering of distinguished army and military British Officers and Civilians and Sikh Officers representing the Military Police and Indian Army Battalions. The address was read at the meeting by Sardar Bahadur Gopal Singh Naib, Commandant of the Bhamo Battalion and the Lieutenant Governor and party were taken round the buildings by Subedar Major Kishen Singh and Subedar Mehar Singh. A general committee was formed by the Sikh Officers and men in the Indian Army and Military Police in Burma and a managing committee consisting of the following Sardars was also formed who were stationed at Rangoon (1) Subedar Major Kishen Singh (2) Subedar Meher Singh (3) Jamedar Sarmukh Singh (4) Jamedar Kesar Singh (5) Sardar Bhagwan Singh senior vetenerary assistant Military Police (6) Subedar Natha Singh (7) Subedar Dewan Singh (8) Jemadar Kehar Singh. In the year 1900 another application was made by (1) Kishen Singh, Subedar Major of Rangoon Military Police Battalion stationed at Rangoon (2) Sarmukh Singh Jamedar of the said Rangoon Military Police battalion and (3) Kesar Singh Jamedar of the said Rangoon Military Police Battalion as representatives of Sikhs serving as soldiers in the Burma Battalions as Military Policemen in the Burma Military Police Battalions for the grant of an additional piece of land for the erection of the said Sikh temple and Dharamsala as the accommodation was not sufficient and in the pursuance of the said request by an instrument of gift dated the 22 August 1900 the Secretary of State for India in Council granted unto the said Kishen Singh, Sarmukh

Appendix 1


Singh, Kesar Singh and their successors, the President and members for the time being of the committee of the Sikh Temple Rangoon a further piece of land measuring 10 feet by 58 feet adjoining the said piece of land in Judah Ezekiel Street comprised in the said instrument of gift dated the 31 May 1897. TO HOLD the said piece of land unto the Grantees forever free from all land revenue or rent UPON the same Trusts as are set out in the second instrument of gift dated the 31 May 1897 and subject to the same conditions and’ (incomplete). Foundation Stone of Sikh Temple Rangoon Captain H. Parkin Deputy Inspector General Military Police Burma On 23 October 1897

(Ik Onkar) Buniyadi Pathar Sikh Gurdwara Rangoon


Sikhs in Thailand (Siam) (Sent by N. Singh, Thailand)


In 1969, 500th (Parkash Utsav) Birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji was celebrated in such a befitting way, the memory of which will serve as a light house for the coming generation of Sikhs in Thailand and abroad, greatly accelerated already. The existing of India and Thailand and more and more people got acquainted with the philosopy of Sikh religion and Guru Nanak Devji the founder of Sikh religion. The president, S. Balwant Singh Kalra and Hon. Sec. S. Ranjit Singh are quite noteworthy for all those functions, along with other committee members, sub committees chairman and their members have extended their full support to finalise those undertakings. By the grace of Sat Guru and full support from all spheres the following outstanding programmes were finalised. (a) Kirtan Lectures, in Thai, Punjabi and English language, relating to Sikh religion and the life of Guru Nanak was relayed daily on Thai Radio Station for one month. (b) A book written in Thai language on the life, teaching and philosophy of Guru Nanak Devji was published and distributed. (c) Four eyes were brought from India, by the efforts of Dr. Sohinder Pal Singh and were donated to Prince Sukhum the vice-president of Thai Red Cross Society, which were grafted into the eyes of blind people both in Sri Raju Chulalagkorn Hospital by eye surgeons. (d) 500 Indians donated blood to Thai Red Cross Society. Dr. Bannerji the then Ambassador of India, was the first to donate his blood and this practice of blood donation is still in practice. (e) A hall in the Department of Religious Affairs was renovated at the cost of TCS 1,50,000 only and it was named as Guru Nanak Memorial Hall and the inaugration was performed by Gen Krissiwara, the then Education Minister. (f) A written competition was held on the life of Guru Nanak Devji,

Appendix 2


and prizes valuing TCS 2,500, TCS 1,500 and TCS 1,000 were awarded to the first three. (g) A grand tea party was arranged with the collaboration of Embassy of India, at Narai Hotel. Prince Dhani Niwat, President of the Privy Council was the chief guest. High, Thai and Indian dignitaries along with the heads of various religious sects participated in this occasion. Col. Pin Madukant Director General, Religious deptt, Dr. Bannerjee, the Ambassador of India and Prince Shani Niwat delivered lectures on the life and philosophy of Guru Nanak Devji. (h) A grand gathering of high officials of Thai Govt, diplomats of other countries was held at the premises of national theatre of Bangkok where H.M. the king along with H.M. the queen graced that very occasion with their presence. H.M. the king addressed the audience regarding the Sikh religion and Sikhs living in Thailand. Prof. Parkash Singh M.A. representing Chief Khalsa Diwan Amritsar presented Sri Sahib (Kirpan) the Highest Honour (awarded by chief Khalsa Diwan was presented by five beloved ones (Panj Piyares) to H.M. the king through prof. Parkash Singh M.A. and a similak Kirpan (Sri Sahib) the highest robe of Honour was presented by Mrs. Balwant Singh Kalra, w/o the then president of S.G.S.S. Guru Nanak Memorial trust, was opened by H.M the king with an amount of TCS 1,25,000 and scholarships are awarded to the needy students of every university, every year through its income. On this very occasion 29 persons donated TCS 1,45,000 (5,000 each) toward the Red Cross Society of Thailand of which H.M., the queen is the president. SIKH VIDYALAYA

A five storey building of Sikh Vidyalaya is just adjacent to the Gurdwara which was built in the year 1951, through the sheer efforts of Sri Guru Singh Sabha M.C. of that year approximately 700 students boys and girls are getting their education in this school according to the syllabus of Education Ministry, of Royal Thai Govt. The standard of the school is M.S. 3 equivalent to matriculation of the Punjab University. It starts at 8.00 a.m. till 2 p.m. and all children irrespective of nationality are admitted, free education to the needy deserving students is given, the Government is giving financial grant to the school, for its high standard.



It is an Evening School for Girls, recognized as a private school by the Panjab University. It prepares girls for the Matriculation examination of the Panjab University, exams are conducted by an officer of the Embassy of India, papers are despatched by the Panjab University. Sikh Vidyalaya for Girls is an approved centre to conduct the Matric Exam. About 100 girls are obtaining education according to the syllabus of Panjab University. GURU NANAK MISSION SUKH SHALA

In 1955, Sri Guru Singh Sabha has started a hospital in the name of Guru Nanak Mission Sukh Shala at Chakraphet Road, near to the Gurdwara building from where every man can get treatment of his illness. Thousand of patients, have been cured here, needy and deserving patients are given free treatment irrespective of caste creed or religion. LIBRARY

Sri Guru Singh Sabha Library as it is called, is working since 1933. The library has been shifted to an air-conditioned room at Chakraphet Road, besides Guru Nanak Mission Hospital hundred of books in Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi English and Thai language are lying in the Library for its readers. Punjabi, Urdu, Hindi, English and Thai daily newspapers, monthly periodicals, weeklies are the main features of the library along other books. Every body can become its members by observing certain rules. It opens from 6.15 p.m. to 8.15 pm and library in-charge is S. Kartar Singh Ghogar and S. Kuldip Singh Ghogar is appointed to look after its work and maintenance. HOUSE FOR AGED MEN AND WIDOWS

There goes a proverb that service of aged (both male & female) serves a ladder towards paradise. Whoever gives solace to the unfortunate and helpless can get God’s blessings. In 1964 Sri Guru Singh Sabha rented a house for the care of aged (both male and female) where free board lodging, medical aid, clothing is provided to the sheltered under its roof. Proper care for cleanliness, food is taken and a helper is engaged to look after them. In addition to the maintenance of the above institutions Sri Guru Singh Sabha makes substantial donations towards other charitable instituions in Bangkok.

Appendix 2


Few of the institutions to which Sri Guru Singh Sabha donates every now and then are given below: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

Thai Red Cross Society King Anandmahidol Fund Lepers Hospital Prepadang Lepers Children School School for the Blind and Crippled Thai-Pharat Cultural Lodge Orphan House Pingalwara Hospital of Bhagat Pooran Singh Donations both in money and material towards flood and fire victims, etc. STRI SATSANG SABHA

Stri Sat Sang Sabha had long been in form in Bangkok under the patronage of S.G.S.S, who extend helping hand towards Sri Guru Singh Sabha at social and religious affairs. YOUNG THAI SIKH ASSOCIATION

Y.T.S.A. is formed in the year 1973 under the patronage of Sri Guru Singh Sabha, its chief aim is the service both inward and outward and to keep the Sikh youth in touch with Sikh religion create a desire for mutual help, and love with all the humanity in general. It has about 210 members on its lists. Whenever a fire occurs in Bangkok its members reach the spot leaving aside their business and help the fire victims with rice, ‘Ovaltine’, clothing, etc. Sri Guru Singh Sabha is the sponsor of this Y.T.S.A and gives funds for the aid of these victims. Indeed the work done by Y.T.S.A is quite praiseworthy. They have earned a great name for Sikh community living in Bangkok. The relations between Thais and Indians, and Sikhs in particular are very cordial due to their ready service for the flood victims and in other fields. The office of Y.T.S.A is located in the same building of Guru Nanak Mission Hospital, Chakrapeth Road.


Malaysia – Annual Sikh Youth Camp Poster Sikh Naujawan Sabha, Malaysia


Malaysia – Annual Sangeet Samelan Poster


Singapore YSA Project Khwaish VIII Team off to Punjab for Community Service 2008 Young Sikh Association Newsletter, April 2009

I am giving below a write up on 2008 Khwaish VIII expedition. Twenty young Singaporeans, led by two qualified leaders and a trained facilitator, embarked on a journey of selfless and charitable service in aid of underprivileged and needy children in Punjab, India, from 3 to 21 December 2008. They are part of YSA’s community service project team to Korewala, Moga (Project Khwaish VIII). The word ‘khwaish’ means hopes or aspirations in Punjabi. The project represents truly Singaporean ethnic flavour. It comprises participants from all the racial and religious groups in Singapore, namely, 12 Sikhs, seven Chinese, two Indians and two Malay/Muslims. This is in line with YSA’s efforts to be inclusive and to reach out to young Singaporeans from all walks of lives and backgrounds. Young Singaporeans recognised for helping needy schoolchildren in Punjab. They built a library and subsequently catalogued close to 2,000 donated books in order to make it easier for use by needy children in Punjab, India. The group of 23 Singaporeans also cleaned, refurnished and painted the school building. They also conducted workshops for teachers on teaching techniques and library management in the school. At the same time, they held many interaction sessions with the students as well as distributed clothes and toys to the local community.


Singapore YSA Honouring Sikh Graduates Asia Samachar, Singapore, 20 November 2014

A Plaque presentation ceremony was organised by the Young Sikh Association (Singapore) and the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board at the [email protected] on 2 November. The event was held to recognise the academic achievements of young Sikh graduates. An important principle for the event was to engage the graduates and reinstate the need for intellectuals to contribute to the Sikh community and Singaporean society. A good number of the 41 graduates recognised at the event pursued their degree after spending time in the workforce, while seven completed postgraduate studies. There were also several graduates who began their degree studies after completing their diplomas in local polytechnics. See more at:


News Items Asia Samachar, Singapore, 10 December 2014


There are at least four Sikh camps running or about to take off from now till the year end in Malaysia, Singapore and Australia. The largest among them, the Annual Gurmat Parchaar Samelan organised by Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM), will begin on Sunday (14 December). Across the straits, Singapore’s Bahadur Bachey five-day camp starts today (10 December). Organised by Sikh Sewaks Singapore, it caters for youth aged between 4-16 years. In Australia, a six-day Annual Family Gurmat Camp, organised by Melbourne-based Sikh Sewaks Australia (SCA), will begin on 21 December at Knyeton, Victoria. The fourth camp, which will conclude tomorrow (11 December), is taking place at the cool hills of Cameron Highlands in the Malaysian state of Pahang. The Simran Group Samelan, led by lawyerparcharak Kulvinder Singh (a.k.a. Kemey Verji) and running for the 10 year, began on 5 December. (For updates, see Facebook handle ‘Simran Group Samelan – Cameron Highland’). The camp in Cameron Highlands attracted some 280 participants and another 100 sewadars (volunteer camp facilitators). The SNSM camp, which will be the 51st annual camp by the Sikh youth organisation, is its largest annual event welcoming Sikh youth not only from Malaysia but also from overseas. This year’s camp will be held at the quaint town of Bentong, Pahang, about 80 km north-east of Kuala Lumpur. The week long signature events for SNSM, first started in 1963, is held during the year-end Malaysian school holidays.


Sikh Khalsa Association 75th Anniversary Celebration Dinner Guest-of-Honour Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore


Mr Balbeer Singh Mangat, President of the Singapore Khalsa Association, Mr Charanjit Singh, Chairman of the Organising Committee, Ladies and gentlemen, I am very happy to join you tonight for the 75th anniversary of the Singapore Khalsa Association. 75 YEARS OF ACHIEVEMENT

The Sikh community, while small in numbers, has made many significant achievements and contributions to Singapore. You are a strong and united community, with a distinct sense of ethnic identity. Early Sikh pioneers and community leaders devoted their energy and efforts to nurturing and sustaining the rich Punjabi culture and Sikh traditions that they had brought with them from the Punjab. They rallied the community to build and maintain Sikh temples, teach the Punjabi language, and pass on traditional values to the younger generation. As a result, the community has preserved and developed its heritage while maintaining and growing its links with other Singaporeans. The Singapore Khalsa Association (or SKA) is a focal point for the entire Sikh community, for all to get together and participate in social, cultural and recreational activities. The SKA started from humble beginnings. In colonial Singapore in the 1930s, locals were not welcome in the established clubs on the Padang. Undeterred, a group of young Sikh schoolboys started a makeshift club in a wooden hut at a playing field near Sungei Bendemeer. Over time, membership in the club multiplied, and the activities grew. With the strong support of the community, a permanent club house was eventually established.


Appendix 8

Successive Sikh leaders have continued to work hard to establish the SKA as a first-class institution providing excellent social, educational and recreational facilities for the community. Besides serving the Sikh community, the SKA has reached out to other groups and promoted inter-racial harmony. The SKA has collaborated with community organisations to organise social and sporting activities. It has also opened up its activities and programmes to more Singaporeans of other races. A growing number of non-Sikhs are already associate members of the SKA. Indeed, the SKA itself has evolved into a meeting place where Sikhs can meet and mingle with non-Sikhs, socialise, and make friends across racial and religious lines. Tonight’s exhibition and the book by Professor Tan Tai Yong on the history of the Sikhs in Singapore provide an illuminating account of the contributions of early Sikh pioneers and the development of the SKA over the last 75 years. These stories are links to our past and remind young Sikhs of the invaluable contributions that the community has made to this country. As we move forward and Singapore grows and transforms itself, we should make the effort to record and pass down these collective memories and experiences to our children and grandchildren. We will help future generations of Singaporeans to appreciate their history, and realise who we are, where we came from and how our forefathers have shaped this nation. MULTI-RACIALISM AND MERITOCRACY IN SINGAPORE

In our multi-racial and multi-religious society, it is vital for each ethnic community to have the space to be different, to maintain its own heritage and culture. Hence in Singapore, we celebrate the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity that is an essential feature of our social fabric. Amidst this diversity, we find common ground in the shared experiences, values, vision and purpose that hold us together as one people. Had we forced the minorities to play second fiddle to the majority or to give up their individual customs, language and traditions, resentment and resistance would have set in. There would be an undercurrent of racial and religious tension and the minorities would feel like they do not belong. Their children will soon leave, never to return. Our society would be weakened. We built this country on a different model: one based on multiracialism and meritocracy; a country where every Singaporean regardless of race or religion is an equal to his fellow citizen.

Appendix 8


We set out on this path because of lessons painfully learnt, by living through difficult and sometimes bloody experiences in the 1950s and 1960s. Through many years of patient effort, Singaporeans of all races have learnt to trust one another, to give and take, and to accommodate each another’s different customs and ways of life. No one clamours for or receives special privileges. This is something special which we must cherish and safeguard for ourselves and our children. We must continue to work hard to nurture this spirit of mutual tolerance, and to preserve the peace and harmony in our society. Closely linked to the ideal of racial harmony is the fundamental principle of meritocracy and equal opportunity for all. As a multiracial society, we are made up of several ethnic and religious communities. No society can discriminate in favour of any ethnic or religious group and avoid deep trouble. Hence it is crucial for us to continue to organise our society on a basis which all accept as being fair and just. This is why in Singapore every citizen enjoys equal opportunities. Each individual advances through his own efforts and hard work. Everyone is judged on his ability and rewarded on his contributions, and not on which ethnic or religious group he belongs to. Sikhs in Singapore have thrived under our system of meritocracy. The first wave of Sikhs came to Singapore in the last quarter of the 19th century. They were mainly policemen and watchmen recruited from India to help maintain law and order here. Over the years, Sikhs have taken advantage of the abundant opportunities to move up in society. Today, Sikhs can be found in all the professions. Many occupy senior positions. Many have distinguished themselves in public service, in government or the armed forces. Despite being a very small minority community in Singapore, Sikhs have been able to succeed in their respective career choices, a testimony to the benefits which our meritocratic system has brought to every single Singaporean. Of course, meritocracy must not degenerate into cut-throat competition, where each person selfishly looks out only for his own interests, and disregards the needs of his fellow citizens or the broader interests of society. It must be moderated by a sense of community and a strong commitment to give back to society. In particular, those who have done better than others under our system must care for their fellow citizens, and do more to help those who are less successful, not just financially but also through participation in community and social work. This is especially crucial now when incomes are stretching out and those at the lower-end are finding it more difficult


Appendix 8

to cope. All Singaporeans must feel that the system is working for them and will work for their children, and that the most able are not only benefiting from the opportunities but creating more opportunities for the rest. Only then can we all move forward together, and all benefit from nation’s success. The Sikhs appreciate and understand the need for mutual support within the community. Your religious culture and philosophy emphasise mutual help, respect for others, and community service. Sikhs have been involved with SINDA in an effort to improve the educational standards of their children. When several years back Sikh leaders became worried about their less successful brethren and about the decline of the understanding of their mother tongue, the community took prompt steps to tackle this problem. With the support of the Government, you set up schemes to improve the teaching of your mother tongue through the Singapore Sikh Education Foundation. Today around 1,700 of your children are learning Punjabi. The Sikh Welfare Council and SINDA are assisting the less fortunate in your community. Youth activists are organising themselves to reach out to the younger generation, imbue in them the right values, and invest in their future. These self-help initiatives have taken off because of your strong spirit of solidarity and mutual help. This is the way to tackle problems within the community, and strengthen our cohesion as a society. CONCLUSION

Let me congratulate the leadership of the SKA – past and present – and all its members and partners, as you commemorate this historic milestone. I am confident that the same indomitable and pioneering spirit that has sustained the Sikhs and the Association over the last seveny-five years will see you through many more years of future achievements and success.


Fiji – Sikh Mayor Visiting Chandigarh


Indian Armed Forces Deployed in China, 1800-1949*

Name of unit

Arrival in China

Second Opium War, 1857-60 1st Sikh Irregular Cavalry (Probyn’s Horse) 2nd Sikh Cavalry (Fane’s Horse) 8th, Punjab Infantry 11th, Punjab Infantry 19th, Punjab Infantry Ludhiana Sikh Reg. 15th, Punjab Infantry

April April April July April April April

1860 1860 1860 1860 1860 1860 1860

Taiping Suppression Campaign, 1860-1864 Ludhiana Regiment 11th, Punjab Infantry 19th, Punjab Infantry Suppression of Boxer Rebellion (Yi He Tuan uprising), 1900 51 Sikhs 3rd Punjab Light Infantry 4th Punjab Infantry 20th Punjab Infantry 1st Sikh Regiment 14 Sikhs 24th Punjab Infantry Post-Boxer Occupation of China by Allied Forces 21st Punjab Infantry

January 1904

Appendix 10 Name of unit

Arrival in China

30th Punjab Infantry 47th Sikh 76th Punjabis

January 1904 1907 1908


The Garrison of Hong Kong 34th pioneers 25th Punjabis 26th Punjabis 2nd Punjab, 5th Battalion 15th Punjab, 3rd Battalion 14th Punjabis, 2nd Battalion

Boxer Rebellion 1912 1912 1926 1929 1941

*Madhavi Thampi, Indians in China 1800-1949, New Delhi: Manohar, 2005.


Hong Kong – Helmet Exemption


Burma Gurdwaras and Sikh Institutions

Gurudwaras in Burma (still existing) S. No. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30.

Name Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara

Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib

City Rangoon Myengone Syriam Insein Bassein Taungdwingyi Magwe City (earlier Military) Yenangyung Minbu City Kalgaw Pwinbyu Koonzaung Chauk Moulmein Tavoy Tungoo Gurdwara Sahib Meiktila City Myitnge City Mandalay City Theya-ze, Mandalay Kalaw City Shwenyaung Yaunghwe (Rajagaon) Taunggyi City (rebuilt 1999) Loilem City Mongnai, S.S.S. Mongkung, S.S.S. Kengtung, S.S.S. Sagaing

324 S. No.

Appendix 12 Name

31. 32.

Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib

33. 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43.

Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara

Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib

City Shwebo City Ye-u (no building small hut for parkash) Hopin, K.S. (recently rebuilt) Mogaung, K.S. Myitkyina K.S. City Maymyo Mogok City (new Gurdwara) Hsipaw, N.S. S Lashio City Namtu, N.S.S Namtu, N.S.S Monywa City Homalin City


(Existing in 1952-4 but since taken over by the Government) 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63.

Khalsa High School 2. Khalsa Library Ramgaria Hall Khalsa School Khalsa School Khalsa School Khalsa School Khalsa Library Khalsa Anathalya (Orphanage) Khalsa High School and Houses Khalsa Library Sikh Kanya Pathshala Khalsa School Khalsa Library Khalsa Middle School Khalsa School Khalsa Library Khalsa School Khalsa School Khalsa School

Rangoon Rangoon Rangoon Ninyaunghla Pwinbyu Chauk Meiktila Meiktila Meiktila Mandalay Mandalay Taunggyi Taunggyi Taunggyi Myitkyina Maymyo Maymyo Ehang Monywa Homalin

Appendix 12 S. No. 64. 65. 66. 67. 68. 69. 70. 71. 72. 73. 74. 75. 76. 77. 78. 79. 80. 81. 82. 83. 84. 85. 86. 87. 88. 89. 90. 91. 92. 93. 94. 95. 96. 97. 98. 99. 100. 101. 102.

Name Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Tank Chatri Sabha Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib

325 City

Sikh Military Police Rangoon Myenigone, near Yangon Naung Pong Homalin Pakokku Military Pakokku City Gangaw Military Gangaw City Akyab Chaungu Chimon Flam, Chin-Hill Mawlaik, Chin Hill Military Mawlaik, City Kindit, Chin Hill Homalin Chin Hill Military Ehang, N.S.S Tiger Camp, N.S.S Bawdwin N.S.S Monywa Military Mazhabi Sikh Lashio Hsenwi, N.S.S. Lashio, N.S.S. Military Akal Bunga Lashio Kyatpyin-looda Bhamo K.S. Topekhana Military Bhamo City Maymyo Paltan Mogok Military Mazhabi Sikhs, Myitkyina Waighmaw, K.S. Myitkyina, K.S. Military Magyidaw Kambalu Kath K.S. Namma, K.S. Mazigyauk Kabo Shwebo Military

326 S. No. 103. 104. 105. 106 107. 108. 109. 110. 111. 112. 113. 114. 115. 116. 117. 118. 119. 120 121. 122. 123. 124. 125. 126 127. 128. 129. 130. 131. 132. 133. 134. 135. 136. 137. 138. 139. 140. 141.

Appendix 12 Name Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara

Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib

City Loyimoyi Dala Dockyards Malwagone Syriam Jamal Sila Lake Gyogon Tharrawaddy Letpadan Henzada, Military Henzada City Prome Thayetmyo Military Thayetmyo City Melah Military Ninyaunghla Yazeibin Myinekhin Military Sagu Navibasti tatha Garha Basti Salin Lanywa Pegu Sittang Mokplin Thaton Mawchi-Mine Yamethin Military Yamethin City Kyauktan Pyawbwe Military Thazi Lehanda Meiktila Military Anathalya (Orphanage) Meiktila Myitha City Kyaukse City Mandalay Paltan

Appendix 12 S. No.




142. 143.

Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib

144. 145. 146. 147. 148. 149. 150. 151. 152. 153. 154.

Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara

Mandalay Military (Bawa Lakha Singh Ji) and Khalsa Diwan Burma Mingala-ze, Mandalay Sabha Mandalay Kalaw, S.S.S. Military Mazhabi Sikhs Kalaw. Mehithaw, S.S.S. Taunggyi S.S.S, Military Mazhabi Sikhs Taunggyi S.S.S. Loikaw S.S.S. Loikaw City Loilem S.S.S, Military Mawkmai S.S.S.

Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib

Source: Sikh Khalsa Dewan Report, January 1952.


Thailand Gurdwaras

There are several Gurdwaras throughout the country. Currently there are Gurdwaras located in the following provinces – some of these are non-operative due to lack of Sikh sangat in the area: 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17.

Bangkok, Phra Nakhon. Chiang Mai, Mueang district Chiang Rai, Mueang district Chonburi, Pattaya Khon Kaen, Mueang district Lampang, Mueang district Nakhon Phanom, Mueang district Nakhon Ratchasima, Mueang district Nakhon Sawan, Mueang district Pattani, Mueang district Phuket, Mueang district Samut Prakan, Mueang district Songkhla, Hat Yai district Trang, Mueang district Ubon Ratchathani, Mueang district Udon Thani, Mueang district Yala, Mueang district

Additionally, Namdhari Sikhs have three Gurdwaras, two in Bangkok at Sukhumvit Soi 7, Sukhumvit Soi 43, and one at Thonburi.


Malaysia Gurdwaras and Sikh Institutions


Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara

Sahib Muar, Johor Sahib Batu Pahat, Johor Sahib Segamat, Johor Sahib Babe ke Guru Ram Das World, Machap, Johor Sahib Kluang, Johor Sahib Pontian, Johor Sahib Johor Bahru, Johor


Gurdwara Sahib Dharamsala, Kuala Lumpur Wadda Gurdwara Sahib Jalan Kampung, Kuala Lumpur Gurdwara Sahib Jalan Sungai Besi, Kuala Lumpur Gurdwara Sahib Jinjang, Kuala Lumpur Gurdwara Sahib Kampung Pandan Settlement, Kuala Lumpur Gurdwara Sahib Kuyow, Kuala Lumpur Gurdwara Sahib Mainduab, Kuala Lumpur Gurdwara Sahib Police, Kuala Lumpur Gurdwara Sahib Police Depot, Kuala Lumpur Gurdwara Sahib Police Jalan Parliament, Kuala Lumpur Gurdwara Sahib Central Workshops Sentul, Kuala Lumpur Gurdwara Nanak Darbar Tatt Khalsa, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Gurdwara Sahib, Titiwangsa Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Gurdwara Sahib Majha Diwan, Malaya LABUAN

Gurdwara Sahib Labuan KEDAH

Gurdwara Sahib Kulim, Kedah Gurdwara Sahib Sungei Petani, Kedah Gurdwara Sahib Alor Star, Kedah


Appendix 14


Gurdwara Sahib Tumpat, Kelantan Gurdwara Sahib Kota Bahru, Kelantan Gurdwara Sahib Kuala Krai, Kelantan MALACCA

Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara

Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib

Malacca, Negeri Sembilan Mantin, Negeri Sembilan Kuala Klavang, Jelebu, Negeri Sembilan Port Dickson, Negeri Sembilan Seremban, Negeri Sembilan Kuala Pilah, Negeri Sembilan Tampin, Negeri Sembilan,


Gurdwara Sahib Brinchang, Cameron Highlands, Pahang Gurdwara Sahib Bentong, Pahang Gurdwara Sahib Kuala Lipis, Pahang Gurdwara Sahib Tanah Rata, Pahang Gurdwara Sahib Raub, Pahang Gurdwara Sahib Mentakab, Pahang Gurdwara Sahib (Sikh Temple), Kuantan Gurdwara Sahib Khalsa Dharmak Jatha, Penang Gurdwara Sahib Sikh Police, Penang Wadda Gurdwara Sahib, Penang Gurdwara Sahib Perai, Penang Gurdwara Sahib Butterworth, Penang Gurdwara Sahib Bukit Mertajam, Penang PERAK

Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara

Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib

Khalsa Dharmik Sabha, Parit Buntar, Perak Pokok Assam, Taiping, Perak Taiping, Perak Sitiawan, Perak Sungei Siput Utara, Perak Chemor, Perak Kampong Kepayang, Ipoh, Perak Tanjong Rambutan, Perak Kuala Kangsar, Perak

Appendix 14 Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara

Shaheed Ganj Sahib, Kaniunting,Perak Sahib Bruas, Perak Sahib Bagan Serai, Perak Sahib Jelapang, Ipoh, Perak Sahib Sikh Dharmak Sabha, Ipoh, Perak Sahib Gunong Rapat, Ipoh, Perak Sahib Buntong, Ipoh, Perak Sahib Tambun, Ipoh, Perak Sahib Menglembu Regrouping Area, Ipoh, Perak Sahib Lahat, Ipoh, Perak Sahib Gopeng, Perak Sahib Malim Nawar, Perak Sahib Tanjong Tuallang, Perak Sahib Changkat Tin, Perak Sahib Ayer Papan, Perak Sahib Tronoh, Perak Sahib Pusing, Perak Sahib Siputeh, Ipoh, Perak Sahib Menglembu, Jalan Lahat, Ipoh, Perak Sahib Bercham, Ipoh, Perak Sahib Greentown, Ipoh, Perak Sahib Kampar, Perak Sahib Teluk Intan, Perak Sahib Slim River, Perak Sahib Changkat, Batu Gajah, Perak Sahib Batu Gujah, Perak Sahib Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Gopeng, Perak Sahib Malay States Guide, Taiping, Perak Sahib Police, Ipoh, Perak Sahib Tanjong Malim, Perak Sahib Bidor, Perak Sahib Tapah, Perak Sahib Tronoh Mines, Kampar, Perak


Gurdwara Sahib Kangar, Perlis SABAH

Gurdwara Sahib Singh Sabha, Lahad Datu, Sabah Gurdwara Sahib Tawau, Sabah



Appendix 14

Gurdwara Sahib Kota Kinabalu, Sabah Gurdwara Sahib Sandakan, Sabah SARAWAK

Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara Gurdwara

Sahib Sahib Sahib Sahib

Kuching, Sarawak Sibu, Sarawak Bau, Sarawak Miri, Sarawak


Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib Gurdwara Sahib TOTAL -119

Puchong, Selangor Klang Kalumpang, Selangor Kuala Kubu Baru, Selangor Berjuntai Tin, Selangor Klang, Selangor Shah Alam, Selangor Lembah Jaya, Ampang, Selangor Kajang, Selangor Batu Arang, Selangor Ampang, Selangor Guru Ram Das, Banting, Selangor Bukit Beruntung, Selangor Petaling Jaya Rawang Bandar Sunway Nanaksar, Serendah


1. 2. 3. 4.

Guru Kalgidhar Diwan, Malaysia, Perak. Guru Nanak Guru Gobind Singh Foundation, Kuala Lumpur. Khalsa Diwan, Malaysia, Perak. Malaysian Gurdwaras Council, Kuala Lumpur.

Appendix 14


5. Panch Khalsa Diwan, Kuala Lumpur. 6. Sant Attar Singh Ji, Brahm Vidya Neketan, Selangor. 7. Sant Sohan Singh Ji, Memorial Society, Melaka. 8. Sikh Naujawan Sabha, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. 9. Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji, Khlas Garh Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 10. Sri Guru Singh Sabha Larut, Perak, Perak. SOME OTHER SIKH ORGANIZATIONS

1. Association of Professional Sikhs, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. 2. Dato Mahima Singh Foundation, Negeri Sembilan. 3. Guru Nanak Institution, Perak. 4. Gurpuri (Pusat Jagaan Kanak – Kanak Gurpuri) Selangor. 5. Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Sikhism (MCCBCHS), Kuala Lumpur. 6. Malaysian Khalsa co-operative society (Koperasi Khalsa Malaysia Berhead), Kuala Lumpur. 7. Punjabi Education Board Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. 8. Malaysian Sikh Education Aid Fund, Kuala Lumpur. 9. Malaysian Sikh Union, Selangor. 10. Malaysia – Singapore Sikh Sports Council, Kaula Lumpur. 11. Perinder Foundation Selengor. 12. Punjabi Education Foundation, Malaysia, Perak.


Appendix 14

13. Punjabi Sahitik Sabha, Malaysia (Literary), Kuala Lumpur. 14. Sikh Welfare Society, Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. 15. Singhs & Kaurs Society Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur.


Singapore Gurdwaras and Sikh Institutions


Silat Road Gurdwara Central Sikh Temple Katong Sikh Temple Dharmak Sabha Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara Pardesi Khalsa Gurdwara Yishun Sikh Temple SIKH INSTITUTIONS

Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA) Punjabi Foundation of Singapore Sikh Sewaks Sikh Welfare Council (SIWEC) The Sikh Advisory Board The Sikh Foundation The Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (CSGB) The Singapore Sikh Education Foundation (SSEF) Gurmat Sangeet Academy


Indonesia Gurdwaras

1. Yayasan Social Sikh Gurdwara Shree Guru Arjun Dev Ji, Medan 2. Yayasan Missi Gurdwara Shree Guru Tegh Bahadur Sahib Ji, Medan 3. Gurdwara Shree Guru Nanak Dev Ji, Medan 4. Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Medan 5. Gurdwara Shree Guru Gobind Singh Sahib Ji, Binjai, Sumut 6. Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Tebing Tinggi, Sumut 7. Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, Pemantang Siantar, Sumut 8. Yayasan Sikh Gurdwara Mission, Jl. Pasar Baru Timur, Jakarta 9. Yayasan Sikh Gurdwara, Tanjung Priok Jakarta Utara. 10. Yayasan Sikh Gurdwara, Ciputat, Jakarta Selatan 11. Yayasan Sikh Gurdwara, Surabaya, Surabaya 12. Yayasan Sikh Gurdwara, Palembang, Palembang


Fiji Gurdwaras and Sikh Institutions


Sl.No. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

Name Lautoka Sikh Temple Sambula Sikh Temple Tagitagi Sikh Temple The Sikh Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee Nasinu Ravidas Gurdwara Labasa Gurdwara

City Lautoka Fiji Suva, Fiji Ba, Fiji Suva, Fiji Nasinu, Suva Labasa


1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Khalsa College, Ba. Shri Guru Nanak Khalsa Primary School, Ba. Khalsa Secondary School, Labasa Shri Guru Nanak Khalsa Primary School, Labasa Nadiri Bay Khalsa Primary School, Sigatoka


Philippines Gurdwaras

1. Khalsa Diwan Sikh Temple, Manila 2. Gurdwara Kartarsar Sahib SANROQUE SUBD MARKINA CITY

3. Shri Guru Nanak Sikh Temple, Laguna 4. Indian Sikh Temple, Naga Inc., Naga City 5. Davao Indian Temple, Davao City 6. Angeles City Indian Sikh Temple, Angeles City 7. Dagupan Indian Sikh Temple, Dagupan City 8. Gurdwara Jagat Sudhar, Santiago City 9. Dasmesh Gur Sikh Temple, Marilao, Bulacan 10. Nanak Darbar, Iloilo, Inc., Iloilo City 11. Guru Nanak Indian Temple, Cagayan De Oro 12. Guru Teg Bahadur Indian Sikh Temple, Batangas City. N.B.: Possibly 10 more. One example: Sikh Centre c/o Prof. Henry Francis Bibera Espiritu University of the Philippines Campus, U.P. Lahug, Cebu City.


Amrith, Sunil S., Migration and Diaspora in Modern Asia, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Ballantyne, Tony, Colonialism and Diaspora: Sikh Cultural Formations in an Imperial World, New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2007. Batra, Gulbir Singh, Sikhs in Hong Kong, Hong Kong: Sri Guru Gobind Singh Educational Trust & Khalsa Diwan, n.d. Bedi, Rajinder Singh, ‘The Earliest Arrival of Sikhism in Malaya’, paper presented at Colloquium on Indians in Penang: A Historical Perspective, Penang Heritage Trust, 22 September 2001. Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Knut A. Jacobsen (Editor-in-Chief), and Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, Vasudha Narayanan (Associate Editors), Handbook of Oriental Studies: Section 2: South Asia, 2009-14. Chandan, Amarjit, Gopal Singh Chandan: A Short Biography and Memoirs, Jalandhar: Punjab Centre for Migration Studies, 2004. Darlene Machell de Leon Espeña, ‘Transplanting India within Manila: The Saga of Sikh Migrants in the Philippines’, paper presented at the ‘Transcending Borders: Middle East Asia and the Global Community’, an international conference hosted by the United States Naval Academy and the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies held at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, USA, 16-17 October 2009. Dusenbery, Van, Sikhs at Large, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2008. Gandharab, Sewa Singh, Early Sikh Pioneers of Singapore, www., accessed 10 September 2015. Ghosh, Lipi and Ramakrisna Chatterjee, Indian Diaspora in Asian and Pacific Regions, Culture, People, Interactions, Jaipur and Delhi: Rawat, 2004. Gill, Darshan Singh, Sikh Community in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur: MPH Group Publications, 2009. Gill, Harjant, Documentary, Roots of Love, 10 August 2011.



Report of the High Level Committee on the Indian Diaspora, Delhi: Indian Council of World Affairs, 2001. Iyer, Pico, The Global Soul, Vintage Books, 2001. Johnston, Hugh, The Encyclopaedia of Canada’s Peoples/Sikhs, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2015. Kahlon, Swarn Singh, Sikhs in Latin America: Travels Among the Sikh Diaspora, Delhi: Manohar, 2012. Kanwal, Joginder Singh, The Sikh Review, December 2003. Kesawapany K., A. Mani, P. Ramasami, Rising India and Indian Communities in East Asia, Singapore: ISEAS, 2008. Kondo, Mary, ‘Indian Financiers: The Unwelcome People in the Philippines’, Kyoto Review of South East Asia, Issue 4, Regional Economic Integration, October 2003. Lopo-Dhaliwal, Malkiat Singh, Sikhs in Malaysia: Some Historical Notes, Penang: Lopo Ghar, 1971. Madra, Amandeep Singh, The Brisbane Times. Mani, A. and K.S. Sandhu, Indian Communities in Southeast Asia, Singapore: ISEAS, 1992. Markovits, Claude, New Frontiers: Imperialism’s New Communities in East Asia, 1842-1953, Manchaster: Manchaster University Press, 2012. Masako, Azuma, ‘Sikh Diaspora in Japan: A Study of Social and Cultural Practices’, Ph.D. thesis, Panjab University, Chandigarh, 2012. Mohamad, Azharudin, The Ghadar Movement in Southeast Asia, Delhi: Penguin Books, 1988. Myat Mon, International Workshop on Sikhs in Multicultural Southeast Asia, ISEAS, Singapore, 12-13 May 2008. Myrvold, Kristina and Knot A. Jacobsen, Sikhs in Europe: Migration, Identities and Representations, Ashgate, 2008. Rye, Ajit Singh, ‘Indian Community in the Philippines’, in A. Mani and K.S. Sandhu, Indian Communities in Southeast Asia, Singapore: ISEAS, 1992. Sandhu, Manjit S., Sikhs in Thailand, Bangkok: Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University, 1993. Shaw, Ralph, Sin City, Time Warner Paperbacks, 1992. Sidhu, Saran Singh, The Gurdwaras in Malaysia and Singapore, Kuala Lumpur: SNSM, 2003. Sikh Khalsa Dewan Report, Rangoon, Burma, January 1952, December 1954. Sikh Regiment, A Legacy of Valour: An Illustrated History of the Sikh



Regiment 1846-2010, Ramgarh: The Sikh Regiment Officers’ Association, 2011. Singh, I.J, Sikh News Network, 5 July 2010. ——, ‘Sikhs of Singapore: The Den of Lions’, The Sikh Review, March 2001. Singh, Jagatjit, My Travels to China, Japan and Java, London: Kegan Paul, 1903. Singh, Khushwant, The Sikh Review, April 1961. ——, Seminar, Celebrating Khushwant Singh, Panjabi University, Patiala, 2 February 2014. Singh, Shuba, Fiji: Precarious Coalition, Delhi: HarAnand, 2001. Stoneham, Neil, Bangkok Post, 20 April 2004. Tatla, Darshan Singh, The Sikh Diaspora: The Search for Statehood, Seattle: University of Washington, 1999. Thampi, Madhavi, Indians in China, 1800-1949, Delhi: Manohar, 2005. Tinker, Hugh, Separate and Unequal, London: C. Hurst & Company, 1976. White, Barbara-Sue, Turbans and Traders, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.


ablaakhis 83 Akaal Purkh ki Fauj 81 Akhand Path Bhog 96 Amritdhari Sikhs 261 Amritdharis 82, see also Keshadharis; Namdharis Amritsar Medical College 104 Anand Karaj 248 Andrews, C.F. 156 Asian Development Bank (ADB) 164 Association of Professional Sikhs 80 Association of Technical Scholarship (AOTS) 257 Australian Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSRC) 152 Azuma, Masako 247, 252-3, 255-6 Bagatsing, Ramon 164, 184-5 ‘Bai Jaga’, Sikhs in Malaya as 68 Bajaj, Prem Singh 274 Bal, Param Ajeet Singh 126 Banga, Harindarpal Singh 205-7 Bangkok 52-7, 59, 61-5, 125, 128, 254-5, 268, 270, 273-4, 278-80, 289, see also Thailand Bangkok, Bank of Ayodhya in 61 Bangkok, Sikh school 55, 59-60 Bansal, Balwant Rai 174 Bansal, Bobby Singh 44-5 Batra, Gulbir Singh 192 Bell, H. 75 Bhagat, Ish 211 Bhagwant of Khalsa Diwan 175 Bhakna, Baba Sohan Singh 269 Bhumiputras 94, 105-6, 111, 283, 286 Bird, Lady Isabella 97 Bittu, Hardarshan Singh 239 Bose, Rash Behari 277, 279 Bose, Subhas Chandra 72, 118, 276-8

Boxer Rebellion 195-7, 215-16, 269 British Indian Army, Sikh soldiers in 30-1, 38, 194, 198, 212, 214, 274, 276, 279-80, 288 British Nationals Overseas (BNO) 193 Brooke, Rajah Sir James 97 Buckley, Charles Burton 97 Burma 35, 43-6, 285; annexation of 37; citizenship law in 37; Gurdwara in 323-7; nationalization in 42; sangatan in 39; Sikh women in 45; Socialism in 19, 38; as soldiers in 39; U Pancha of 49-50; Yangon Gurdwara in 46; war of 1852 and 17 Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) 41 Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (CSGB) 122 Chadha, Sarbjit Singh 263-4 Chaimongkol Temple, Pattaya 60 Chand, Dhyan 226 Chandan, Amarjit 185 Chatterjee, Ramkrisna 266 Chawla, Santokh Singh 279 Chiang Kai Shek, National Army of 101 Chiang Mai 53, 56-7 Chiang Rai 53, 56-7 China 212-4, 221-8, 288; Indian population in 223; Sikh migrating to Canada 212; Sikhs in Police 216-18; Sikhs as Prison Guards 219; Sikh Army in 214-16, 320-1; social life of Sikhs in 219-20, 224 Chingay Parade Singapore 123



Chiuk, Ka Kin 192 Christian missionaries: Fiji 152; at Lahore 113 citizenship 38, 40, 294; in Burma 37, 283; in Hong Kong 208; in Japan 245; in Korea 237; in Malaysia 69, 93; in Philippines 177, 187, 188; in Singapore 130; in Thailand 55, 58 Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSRC) 152, 156 colonization 16-17 communists 20, 221, 224-5 Creagh, C.V. 194 Das, Datuk Mohan (Major General) 105 Davis, Kingsley 15 De Jasasche Bank, Indonesia 141 decolonization 17-18, 294 Democratic Action Party (DAP) 100 Dhaliwal, Datuk T. Mahima Singh 99 Diamond Jubilee Sikh Gurdwara 74 Dillon, Harbinder Singh 145-6 Duggal, R.S. 43 Dusenbery, V. 116, 119, 147, 296 East (Orient) vs West 293-8 Elman, Richard S. 206 Emeritus granthi 66 Exoduses 19-20, 37-8, 160-1, see also migration Federated Malay States Police (FMSP) 112 festivals 44, 199, 285; Baisakhi 83, 88, 157, 223, 285; Diwali 127, 223, 235, 285 Fiji 150-1, 287, 161-2; arrival as policemenin 156; Indian diaspora in 153-4; occupations in 159-60; Sikh exodus 160-1; Sikh migration 154; Sikh occupations 159-60; Sikh population 160; Sikhs in politics 161; Singhvi Report on 151-3; social and cultural life in 158

First Anglo-Sikh War (1846) 31 First Battalion Perak Sikhs (FBPS) 70 First Opium War 214 First Sino-Japanese War 243 First World War 72-3, 275 500th Birth Anniversary of Guru Nanak Devji 306-7 Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) 164 Freies Indien 276 Fujiwara 276 Full Pop, in South Korea 234 Gardiner, E.A. 75-7 Ghadar Movement 53, 128, 246, 266-7, 269-74, 283; in China and Shanghai 269-72; in Hong Kong 272; in Indonesia 274-5; in Philippines and Manila 272; in Siam – Thailand 273-4 Ghadar parties 185, 266, 268-70, 273, 275; in San Francisco 267 Ghosh, Lipi 266 Ghunghroo restaurant 259 Gill, Ajit Singh 125-6 Gill, Dato Ranjit Singh 99 Gill, Harjant 292 Gill, Jaswant Singh 124 Gill, M.S. 148-9 Gill, S.S. 110 Gill, Saran Kaur 68 Gill, Sarjit S. 86 Gill Tan Sri Dato Seri Darshan Singh 69, 98 Gill, Tan Sri Sarwan Singh 98-9 Gill, Walter 156 Global Sikhs 81, 84 glocalization 29 gold panning 41 Golden Temple, Amritsar 103, see also Gurdwaras government jobs 28, 38, 47, 106, 110, 201, 286 Granthis 36, 46, 65, 87, 174, 186, 223, 233, 269, 290-2 Greater Tokyo 242, 246, 249, 256; immigrants in 249

Index Grewal, Gurmant 100 Grewal, Neena 100 Gujaratis 21, 69, 159, 193 Gurdwara Council of Malaysia 68 Gurdwara Cup 79 Gurdwara Sahib Kota Kinabalu (GSKK) 86 Gurdwara Sahib Kuching 88 Gurdwara Sahib Seremban 82 Gurdwara Shri Singh Sabha 234 Gurdwaras 26, 28, 32-9, 39, 42, 58-9, 62-3, 75, 82, 88, 94, 96, 115, 141, 180, 223, 225, 289-90; affiliated organizations in Thailand 59; in Bangkok 58; in Burma 32, 36, 323-7; chain of 68; on Dong Bao Xing Road 220; in Fiji 156-7, 337; Hong Kong 193, 199-200; Indonesia 145; in Kobe 247; in Malaysia 73, 81, 94, 329-34; in Manila 186; Penang 73, 75, 290; Philippines 174, 181; Pocheon 230; at Rangoon 303-5; of Seoul 234, Shanghai 212, 220-1; Singapore 280, 335; in Thungnan 240; in Yangon 39 Gurmat Camps: Fiji 158; Malaysia 81 Gurpurbs 53, 96, 199, 233, 250, see also festivals Gurpuri Foundation 80, 109 Gursikh, Puran 189 Guru Granth Saroops 221 Guru Kalgidhar Diwan Malaya (GKDM) 78 Guru Nanak Darbar Gurdwara in Tokyo 252 Guru Nanak Dev University 105 Guru Nanak Khalsa Primary School, Fiji 158 Guru Nanak Mission, Thailand 59 Guru-ka-Langar 32, 77-8, 96 Gyanee, Bhagwan Singh 269 Happy, Mandip Singh 173 Hari Brothers, Jakarta 148


Hindi-Chini Bhai-Bhai 222 Hindustan Ghadar 275 Hong Kong 192-3, 287; 300th Anniversary of Khalsa 200-1; arrival 192-3; British Army in 198; Central Gurdwara in 269; during World War II 199; Gurdwara 199-200; Sikh community in 192, 225; Sikhs in Government 202; Sikh migration to 104-5; Sikh Military Police 198; Sikh organizations in 210; Sikh Policemen 195-6; Singhvi Report 193; social conditions 202-3; Travel 201; onward migration from 201-2; with local Chinese residents 203-5 Hong Kong Hockey Association 210 Hong Kong Police Museum 196-8 Hullon, Harjit Singh 98-9 hulugan 167 Ilonggos 182 immigrants 32, 62, 96, 121, 155-6, 209, 234, 237-8, 244, 288; to Fiji 150, 159; in Greater Tokyo 242; Indian 19, 21, 140, 267, 272, 294; in Korea 231; to Malaysia 71; in Seoul 234; in Tokyo 243 Immigration Restriction Act, Malaysia 71 indentured labourers 15-16, 76, 139, 150-4, 156, 163, 287 India-Japan business cooperation 254 Indian Army, Punjabization of 194 Indian Associations 149, 177, 210 Indian community 36, 53, 96, 118, 127, 140, 153, 165, 177, 181, 266, 278, 286-7, 296; business community 57-8, 230; in Hong Kong 193; in Kobe 252; in Philippines 164; in South Korea 230; in Thailand 57-8 Indian Diaspora 16, 140; in Myanmar 37, see also Burma Indian freedom movement 270



Indian Independence League (IIL) 275, 277, 279 Indian moneylenders 36, 168, 171, see also Philippines, Bumbay moneylenders Indian National Army (INA: Azad Hind Fauj) 53, 72, 118, 266, 275-80, 283; in Berlin 276; in China 280-1; slogan ‘Dilli Chalo’ 278; European Theatre and 276; Southeast Asia Theatre and 276-8; in Thailand 278-9 Indian policemen 217; as ‘dog of the British’ 217, see also under Suva Indonesia 287, 336; Singhvi Report 139-40; Sikh migration 140-1; in North Sumatra 142-3; Khalsa School in 143; Sikhs in Jakarta 143-5; Prominent Sikhs 145-6; Sikhs in 146-8 International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) 164 Ipoh 72-3, 83, 112, 115; Gurdwara in 73; as Malaysian Punjab 72 Isteri Satsang Sabha 80 Iyer, Pico 243 Jagas 98, 107 Jakarta, PIO/NRI community in 140 Japan 17, 43, 50, 57-8, 92, 107, 166, 189, 199, 213-14, 243-4, 248-64, 275-83; acceptance of Sikhs in 244-5; China against aggression of 220; immigrants in Greater Tokyo 249-51; Kobe and Tokyo 251-3; Kobe Sikhs in 247-8; labour shortage in 244; necessity of 249; Norio Okaguchi 263; occupation on Malaysia 72, 90, 92, 107, 130, 259, 266; population of 242; Sikh migration to 245-7; Sikhs in 262-3; occupation on Singapore 130; Singhvi Report 245; Turban and Kimono 263-4; wife from 243-4, 251, 262; World Assembly

of Religions for Peace in Kyoto 244 Jaztar 101-4 Kairon, Partap Singh 269 Kanwal, Joginder Singh 155, 162 Kapoors 210-11; in Hong Kong 210 Karkar, Surinder Singh 49-50 Kaur , Jaspreet 106-9 Kaur, Akwinder 187 Kaur, Basant 186 Kaur, Bibi Balbir, as Granthi 46 Kaur, Dhan 186 Kaur, Manjit 190 Kaur, Satya 87 Keezhangatte, James Joseph 192 Kesavapany, K. 252 Keshadharis 36, 82; turbaned Keshadhari Sikh 22, see also non-Keshadhari Sikhs Khalistan 94, 295 Khalsa Association, Singapore 129 Khalsa Bidyak Sabha 79 Khalsa College, Amritsar 48; Fiji 157-8 Khalsa Diwan 28, 39, 68, 78, 109, 113, 115, 174-5, 177-8, 180-1, 192, 200, 210; in Burma 39; in Malaya (KDM) 78, 113-15; in Philippines 177 Khalsa Schools 28, 32, 39, 48, 110, 141, 143, 145, 148, 157-8; in Indonesia 109, 143 Kipling, Rudyard 35 kirtan 88, 96, 109, 114, 121-3, 158; propagation of 285 Kirtan Jathas 77 Komagata Maru voyage 202, 212, 225, 270-1 Kondo, Mari 167, 171 Korean immigration 233, 236, 241 Kuala Lumpur 68-9, 72-4, 83, 85, 96, 101, 109-10, 112 Lahore Conspiracy case 271 Lam-pang 53

Index langar 73, 88, 96, 109, 174, 176, 181-2, 200, 234, 248, 263, 285 large Gurdwara 56, 73, 202 de Leon Espeña, Darlene Machell 165, 175 Lee Kuan Yew 120, 125, 134 Levett, Connie 49-50 Lopo-Dhaliwal, Malkiat Singh 96 lungi/longyi (or dhoti) 41, 45 Macarter, W.A. 76 Madan, Kirpa Ram 53 Magsaysay, Ramon 165 Malay Khalsa Diwan 68 Malay States Guides (MSG) 70, 73, 76-7 Malaya Battalions 105 Malaya Samachar 74 Malaysia 13, 15, 19, 27-9, 32-3, 68-74, 78-9, 81, 83-5, 87-91, 94-111, 130-1, 283-6, 289-90; arrival as policemen 70-2; Gurdwaras in 72-4; 94, 329-34; Gurpuri Orphanage 80; Hudud Law in 94-5; Khalsa Diwan in 68; PJ Gurdwara, 103; SGGS Academy (Music) 84-5; Sikh Band in 85-6; Sikh institutions 78-80; Sikh migration 69; Sikh Naujawan Sabha in 78, 80-3, 109-15; Sikhs as minority 94-6; Sikhs in Community Service 83-4; Sikhs in Kedah 89-93; Sikhs in Sabah 86-7; Sikhs of Sarawak 87-9; Singhvi Report 69; Youth Camps 82-3, 109-15; Wadda Gurdwara in 74-8 Malaysia National Sikhs Movement 80, 98 Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) 110 Malaysian Gurdwara Council (MGC) 79


Malaysian Punjabi Party (MPP) 79 Malaysian Sikh Education Aid Fund (MSEAF) 79 Malaysian-Singapore Sikhs Sports Council (MSSSC) 79 Malminder, Singaproe 126, 128-9 Mandalay 35-6 Mani, A. 54, 67, 142-3, 148, 252 Manila 130, 164-7, 172-3, 177-8, 180, 184-90, 268, 270, 273; multinational Indian corporations in 164 marriages 41, 94, 103, 108, 173, 176, 188, 209-10, 220, 225, 236, 241, 248-9, 293 Masako, Azuma 246, 250-1, 254-5, 261 Mazhabi Sikhs 214 Mighty Khalsa Brigade 82 migration 15-32, 38-9, 53-4, 69-70, 72, 117, 148, 150, 153, 161, 163, 187, 229-30, 246-7, 287-8, 293-4; to Burma 35, 38-9; to Indonesia 141-2; Manila 164-5; to North America 21 Miri Piri Brigade 82 Mohammad, Mahathir 83 Mohammed, Atta 155 Mohammed, Wali 155 Mohanlal, Manilal 153 Mon, Myat 43-4 Moti Restaurant, Japan 257-9 Mukherjee, Bivash 220 Music Academies 285 Nakodar 186, 188 Namaskar Indian Restaurant, Japan 245 Namdharis 39, 54, 58-9, 278-9 Nanak, Guru 120, 157, 223, 238; Birth Anniversary of 306-7 Naqvi, Saeed 166 Narang, Sardar Singh 57, 61-2; of Thai Penang Fabrics 57 National Identity Card (KTP) Indonesia 139



Nationalization of Retail Trade Act, Philippines 165 Nav Bharat Club 210 Network of International Sikh Entrepreneurs (NISE) 80 Nishan Sahib 32-3, 40, 235, 250, 252 non-keshadhari Sikhs 40 non-turbaned Sikhs 174, 293 North Borneo Armed Constabulary (NBAC) 86

Punjab, annexation of 21, 30, 117 Punjabi Foundation of Singapore 122 Punjabis 54-5, 58-9, 63-4, 69-70, 78-9, 82, 86-7, 108, 118-20, 137-8, 154-5, 163-4, 170-3, 176-82, 238-40, 248-9, 291; in Bangkok 54; language classes 33, 88, 90, 116, 121-2, 136, 248, 284, 286; language education in Singapore 136-7

Opium Wars 194 orphanages 110, 285

Rai, Balwant 189 Ramasamy, P. 252 Rangoon (Yangon) 33, 37, 39, 41-4, 47-50, 62, 75, 197, 280, 290 real estate: in Malaysia 104; in Singaproe 125; in Thailand 53, 58, 61 recruitment of Sikhs 70, 196, 203; to Army Police 22 Religious Harmony Council, Singapore 121 residence status 230, 246, 249, 257-8, see also citizenship Retail Trade Liberalization Act 169 revolutionary literature 268 Russo-Japanese War 243 Rye, Ajit Singh 164, 180

Pandit, Parkash 189 Panemanglor, Ajeet 179 Pannu, Rajinder Singh 196 Pardesi Khalsa Sewak. See Malaya Samachar Parkin, Capt. H. 42 Partai Komunist Indonesia (PKI) 144 Pearson, W.W. 156 Penang Police Sikhs 77 Perak Armed Police (PAP) 70, 121, 124 Perak Sikhs 77 peranakan 86 Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) 37, 140, 154, 205; in Myanmar 37 philanthropy 60, 284 Philippines 163, 175-84, 287, 338; Bumbay moneylenders 5-6, 163, 166-72, 178-80; Gurdwaras 174-5; Punjabi School 175; Sikh migration 164-6; Sikh murders 172-4; Singhvi Report on 163- 4 Police Force 70-1, 106, 189, 194-7, 203, 270, 290; Malaya and Singapore 70 Police Gurdwara 91 policemen 22, 36, 70, 117, 153, 156, 194, 203, 212, 216, 218, 283, 287; of Shanghai 216 POWs 276-7, 279 Presidential Agency on Reforms and Government Operations (PARGO) 185

Saffron Revolution, Burma 41 Sahni, Manmohan Singh 257 Sampuran Sikh 257 Sandhu, Amar Singh 98 Sandhu, K.S. 54 sangat 33, 40, 75, 77-8, 82-3, 88, 235, 289-91 Sangha, Bhai Gyan Singh 161 Sant Sepahi Brigade 82 Santarita, Joefe 182 Salazar Lorraine Carlos 176 Sarawakians 87 Saroop of Guru Granth Sahib 222 Second Opium War 214 Second Sikh War 30 Selangor Sikh Union (SSU) 79 Shanghai 22, 70, 73, 189, 197, 199,

Index 210, 212-14, 216-17, 219-20, 222-6, 246, 268-72, 280-1; Gurdwaras in 220-1, 223, 270-1; International Settlement at 217; Police Museum 217; Sikh policeman 224, 228; Thakral Electronics Industrial Corporation 222 Shanmugaratnam, Tharman 137 Shaoxing Gurdwara 223-4 Shaoxing, as textile wholesale markets 223 Shri Guru Nanak Khalsa School Committee 157 Shukla, Anuradha 173 Shukla, Vivek 278 Sidhu, Balwant Singh 46-7 Sidhu, Choor Singh 123-4 Sidhu, Manjit Singh 279 Sidhu, Rashpal Singh 132-3 Sidhu, Saran Singh 81-2 Sikh Advisory Board (SAB) 119-22, 124; Bangalore 119 Sikh Band, Malaysia 85 Sikh Education Board Malaya 79 Sikh Education Foundation, Singapore 120 Sikh Educational Society of Fiji 157 Sikh Institutions 43, 58-9, 78, 121, 129; in Burma 36, 39; in Fiji 156-8 Sikh Missionary Society in Singapore 119 Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM) 68, 80-3, 108-9, 286 Sikh policemen 22, 70, 75-6, 117, 133, 156, 192, 194-5, 198-9, 217-18, 288; to Fiji from Hong Kong and Shanghai 156; in Malaya 70; in Shanghai, as ‘Red-headed Ar San’ 217 Sikh Resource Panel 119 Sikh temples 46, 177, 213, 226; in Malaya 75; Philippines 175; Punjabi classes in 45 Sikh Women’s Awareness Network (SWAN) 80


Sikhism 33, 66, 95, 98, 111, 122, 143, 145, 158, 200, 223, 263, 283, 286-7; in Burma 44; in Myanmar 36 Sikhs: in American Military Police 225; in Batavia (Jakarta) 141; in Bangkok 55-6; of British Army and Police 27, 30-1; in Burma 39-40, 44, 49; Cricket Club (SKCC) Singapore 121; identity 29, 33, 41, 44, 52, 69, 108, 142, 248, 250, 254, 285-6, 292, 295-6; in Indonesia 141, 148; in Jakarta 144-5 143-5; in Kedah 89-94 89-91; in Kobe 242, 246-7, 253, 288; migrating to Tokyo 251; to Phuket 56; in the police 55; in politics, Fiji 161; population 30, 82, 141-2, 150, 158, 160, 195, 250, 287, 295; of Sarawak 87; selling cloth 92; in Shanghai 199, 220; of Singapore 116-17; in Singapore and Malaysia 61; soldiers 22, 31, 43, 192-3, 198-9, 214, 269, 276, 288; studies on 120; in Thailand 54, 62, 66, 279; in Tokyo 242, 255; as traffic policemen 218; under indenture 154; as watchmen 98; women 41, 80, 106 Sindhis 21, 27, 69, 140, 144, 147, 164, 174, 177-8, 180-1, 193, 224, 230, 235, 245, 248 Singapore Indian Development Association 121 Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA) 121-2, 124 Singapore Sikh Education Foundation (SSEF) 122, 136-8 Singapore: 116-18,123-9, 286-7; Sikhs in 117-21; Central Sikh Temple, 120-2; English language schools 135; Gurdwaras 121-3, 335; Multi-Racialism and Meritocracy in 316-18; 75th



Anniversary Celebration Dinner 314; Sikh Khalsa Association 314 Singh Sabha movement 33, 73, 113 Singh, Ajit 96 Singh, Amar 111-13 Singh, Amarjeet 207-8 Singh, Amarjit 109 Singh, Ambika 101-4 Singh, Atma 224 Singh, Autar 109 Singh, Avtar 189-90 Singh, Baba Hari 274-5 Singh, Balbir 258 Singh, Balwant 43 Singh, Bhagwan 269 Singh, Bhai Maharaj 117, 121 Singh, Bhai Vir 263 Singh, Bhajan 119, 121, 125, 138 Singh, Bhan 98 Singh, Bharpoor 244 Singh, Choor 119, 123 Singh, Dalip 83, 109, 185-6 Singh, Dara 100-1, 224 Singh, Dato Ajaib 98 Singh, Datuk Amar 111 Singh, Datuk Ranjit Ajit 99 Singh, Davinder 121, 124, 189 Singh, Dayal 49 Singh, Devender 186-7 Singh, Didar 92 Singh, Fateh 210 Singh, Gopal 185-6 Singh, Gujjar 270-1 Singh, Gurbaksh 92 Singh, Gurcharan 131-2 Singh, Gurmit 161, 174, 261-2 Singh, Gurnam 98, 145 Singh, Guru Gobind 157, 223 Singh, Har Rattan 229, 237 Singh, Harbans 46, 190 Singh, Harcharan 98, 110-11 Singh, Hari 133-4, 189, 274-5 Singh, Harminder 110 Singh, Harprem 113 Singh, I.J. 117, 290 Singh, Indar 273

Singh, Inderjit 124-5, 127 Singh, Ishar 56, 111, 185-6 Singh, Maharaja Jagatjit 213 Singh, Jagjit 110, 126 Singh, Jamadar Bhola 76 Singh, Jaztar 101-4 Singh, Jiwan 238-9 Singh, Jogishwer 262 Singh, Karminder 99 Singh, Karnail 111 Singh, Karpal 99-100 Singh, Kartar 61, 125-6, 189-90, 275 Singh, Khushwant 292 Singh, L. 251 Singh, Lakhvinder 235, 240 Singh, Mahinder 96, 225 Singh, Malkiat 76 Singh, Malminderjit 123, 126-8 Singh, Mehar 162 Singh, Mit 225 Singh, Mohan (Capt) 277 Singh, Mohan (Dr.) 104-6 Singh, Naik Nand 43 Singh, Nand 43, 64, 185, 200 Singh, Narain 185-6, 225 Singh, Parmatma 129-31 Singh, Parmjit 99 Singh, Partap 143 Singh, Phuman 162 Singh, Prabhjot 100, 205 Singh, Puran 190 Singh, Puran (Professor) 245 Singh, Ranjit (Brigadier-General) 110 Singh, Maharaja Ranjit 21 Singh, Ravinder 124 Singh, S.P. 251 Singh, Santokh 99 Singh, Sarban 87 Singh, Sardar Ajmer 89 Singh, Sardar Khushwant 96 Singh, Sardar Pratap 278-9 Singh, Sardar Sunder 76 Singh, Satnam 47-9 Singh, Shian 43 Singh, Sohan 61 Singh, Sonu 171



Singh, Subedar Gurdit 76 Singh, Subedar Major Bahal 98 Singh, Surinder Karkar ( U. Pancha) 41 Singh, Tan Sri Dato Ajit 98 Singh, Tara 187-8 Singh, Tarlochan 99 Singh, Tilwinder 239 Singh, Umrao 109 Singh, Zora 43; for Burma’s independence 41 Singhvi Report: on Burma 36-7; on Fiji 151-3; on Indonesia 139-40; on Japan 245; on Malaysia 69; on Philippines 163- 4; on Thailand 53 Single Women’s Awareness Team (SWAT) 80 Raffles, Sir Stamford 117 Slavery Act, abolition of 16 social organizations 79-80; in Malaysia 78 Soin, Kanwaljit 126 Solis, Michael 240 South Korea 229-30, 288; communist invasion of 229; deportation from 241; Gurdwaras 234-7; Sikh migration 230-4; Singhvi Report 230; write-up from the Internet by Michael Solis 240-1 Speak Mandarin Campaign 135 Sports Clubs 284 Sri Dasmesh Pipes and Drums Band 85 Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS) 26, 32, 65, 76-7, 87, 92, 143, 199, 211, 235, 238, 248, 290-1 Srinagar Medical College 105 SSU’s Aman Club (Kelab Aman) 79 Stri Satsang Sabha 309 sugar plantations 15, 151 Sunday Gurdwara, in Shanghai 222 Suva Gurdwara 157, 162 Suva, Indian Police Force in 156

Tamils 16, 116-17, 119, 136, 140, 193, 224, 296; in Malaysia 69 Tanjong Pagar Dock Police Force 117 Tatt Khalsa Diwan Selangor (TKDS) 78 Tengku Kudin 97 Thai Red Cross Society 59 Thai Sikh Foundation 60 Thailand (Siam) 53, 60-1, 286, 306-9; arrival in 53; astextile traders in 56-8, 106, 223, 273; Din Daeng in 54; Guru Nanak Mission Sukh Shala 308; Gurudwaras in 328; house for aged men and widows 308; Indian trading community 57; Library 308; library in 59; Sikh Vidyalaya 307; Sikh Vidyalaya for Girls 308 Thakral Brothers of Singapore, as Punjab Stores in Bangkok 246 Thakral, Kartar Singh 125 Thampi, Madhavi 20, 194 300th anniversary of Khalsa 200, 252 Toganivalu, Ratu 150 Tokyo Gurdwara 250, 252 Tominaga 252 traders 36, 56, 96, 118, 140, 154, 193, 209, 246 trans-national Indians 154 Treaty of Nanking 214 tsunami 78, 84, 243, 257, 286 turban 28-9, 42, 44-5, 49, 108, 110, 112, 129, 188, 211, 220, 237, 252, 261-4, 295-6; as identity 292-3

Tagi Tagi Gurdwara Sahib 158 Taiping Rebellion 17, 215

Wadda Gurdwara, Malaysia 73-4 Ward Road Gaol 219

Union Steam Ship Company of New Zealand 155 United Sikhs 84, 244 Usman, Hari Singh 275 Vathyam, Meena 212, 224, 270, 280



Warraich, Paul 258, 262-3 watchmen (guards) 71, 90, 92, 98, 118, 141, 143-4, 147, 163, 209, 212, 219, 225 White, Barbara-Sue 209 Winsted, R.O. 97 women ‘Granthis’ 36 World Assembly of Religions for Peace in Kyoto 245 World Health Organization (WHO), Philippines 164 World War I 92, 142, 195, 216, 243 World War II 18-19, 36, 38, 43, 47,

57-8, 64, 72, 90, 114, 117-19, 142, 144, 184, 189, 195, 198-9, 247, 275, 288 Yangon 36-7, 40-1, 46; Sikhs in 40; Gurdwara 40, 46 Yew, Lee Kuan 120 Young Sikhs Association, Singapore 123, 126-9 Young Thai Sikh Association 309 Youth Clubs 284 Zafar, Bahadur Shah 35