HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS
SULTAN NAZRIN MUIZZUDDIN SHAH
AT THE BOOK LAUNCH
SIKHS IN MALAYSIA: A COMPREHENSIVE HISTORY
RANJIT SINGH MALHI
DATE: 10TH APRIL 2021 (SATURDAY) TIME: 10.15 AM
VENUE: GRAND BALLROOM, ROYAL SELANGOR CLUB,
Assalamualaikum dan salam sejahtera
1. Warkah yang diutus oleh penulis, Dr. Ranjit Singh Malhi, memohon perkenan Beta berangkat mencemar duli untuk menyempurnakan pelancaran buku beliau, melambangkan sikap seorang warga negara yang menjunjung budaya dan semangat negeri beraja-rakyat bersultan, yang merupakan identiti berkerajaan dan bernegara di bumi ini.
2. It gives me great pleasure to be here today to help launch this wonderful book on the history of the Sikhs in Malaysia. It is very well written, with numerous delightful details on all aspects of this history, and will be of great interest to all, including non-historians.
3. As well as being highly informative, the book reminds us just how much the Sikh community has contributed to this country, from its establishment as a British colony, right up to date. Although they have only ever been a tiny proportion of the population – accounting today for around two and a half percent – the Sikhs have always stood out and made their presence known.
4. This has certainly been the case in the field of security, something which owes much to their striking appearance. As the book reminds us, this was in large part what made them so suitable for this profession in the early days of British Malaya. A few turbaned and moustachioed Sikh was apparently all it took to strike fear into the hearts of those considering wrongdoing! A well-deserved reputation for courage, loyalty and discipline also played an important role, of course.
5. These characteristics led to the dominance by Sikhs of the early police and paramilitary forces, which were established in Perak. Many Sikhs came to Malaya from the Punjab expressly for this purpose. The very first Perak Armed Police, set up in 1874, was even renamed the 1st Battalion Perak Sikhs, in the 1880s. These early Guards helped to make safe the treacherous mountain passes between the tin mining areas and the coastal settlements, which were previously plagued by highway bandits. The Sikhs’ prowess in the security forces became so well established that, as the book informs us, even non-Sikh Indians were reportedly encouraged to don a turban in order to qualify! When the first colony-wide regiment was established in 1896, Sikhs made up over eighty per cent of it.
6. While Sikhs were also predominant in the police forces set up in other states, they continued to play a special role in Perak, as the mounted Royal Bodyguard for my great great grandfather, Sultan Idris Murshidal Azzam Shah. The establishment of this bodyguard reflects the remarkable level of trust that the Sikhs inspired, due to their unfaltering devotion to duty. This splendid-looking cavalry force took part in celebratory parades on state occasions, including in Singapore, which must have been a very fine sight indeed. It is remembered as an important and colourful part of the history of the Perak sultanate.
7. Today, Perak hosts the largest Sikh community in the country outside of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. Here, as elsewhere, they have long moved beyond the security sector in which they originally excelled, bringing their talents and skills to many other fields. And the very same qualities that served them so well in the colonial police and military forces, especially their dedication, discipline, and sense of duty, have propelled them to success across the board. Sikhs can be found at the top of their game in all the professions, as lawyers, judges, accountants, and as distinguished academics, such as the author of this book. They equally excel in business and industry, as well as in the fields of sports, culture and the arts. Despite their small numbers overall, we find notable Sikhs in all areas of public and private life in Malaysia.
8. So, we have Tan Sri Swaran Singh Gill, who started as a court interpreter in the 1930s, and rose to one of the highest legal positions in the country, the Chief Justice of Malaya, in the 1970s. We have Tan Sri Ajit Singh, distinguished diplomat and former Secretary General of ASEAN. We have Dr. Sukhdave Singh, former Deputy Governor of Bank Negara, and we have Tan Sri Ranjit Singh, former Chair of the Securities Commission. And there are many more who could be mentioned.
9. There are also many Sikh ladies who have had highly distinguished careers. These include Dr. Harban Kaur Virik, the first female paediatrician of this country; Madam Harwath Kaur, Malaysia’s first female magistrate; and Professor Dato Dr. Saran Kaur Gill, Deputy Vice Chancellor of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
10. Other notable educationists include former Headmasters Karam Singh of Clifford School, Kuala Kangsar, and Joginder Singh Jessy of Sultan Abdul Hamid College, Alor Setar, also an author of history text books. There have been numerous treasured and respected Sikh teachers, among them Ajmer Singh and Gurdial Singh, both conferred the ‘Tokoh Guru’ award for their contributions in this field.
11. Sikhs also excel in sports, from test cricketer of old, Lall Singh; hockey stars such as national captain of the 1980s, Sarjit Singh; footballers including Datuk Santok Singh, who was in the Malaysian team that qualified for the Moscow Olympics; and gold medalist athletes, including javelin thrower Datuk Nashatar Singh. We must also mention Swaran Singh (shot put), Jagjit Singh (rugby captain), Karamjeet Singh (motor ralling), Amarjit Singh Jessey (Class 1, international hockey umpire), Dilbagh Singh Kler from Sabah (5000 meters), Dato Dr Cheema (Patron of the Malaysia-Singapore Sikh Sports Council), and Tan Sri Darhshan Singh Gill (President of the Extreme Sports Federation of Malaysia).
12. In the media and the arts, we find broadcaster Harjit Singh Hullon speaking our national language better than many Malays, and DJ Dave singing Malay songs better than many Malays!
13. The same dynamic can be observed in Singapore. Many Singaporean Sikhs who have achieved great success in their lives also trace their roots to British Malaya, with forebears who came over to serve in the early security forces. Just as in Malaysia, the tiny Sikh population there, not more than 15,000 strong, has produced a remarkable number of figures who have made their mark at the national level. And just as in Malaysia, these contributions range across many fields, from politics and business to the arts.
14. Prominent Singaporean Sikhs include internationally renowned academic, writer and poet, Professor Kirpal Singh, and surgeon and dedicated campaigner for women’s advancement, Dr. Kanwaljit Soin. Another outstanding individual is the highly successful businessman and long-serving politician, Inderjit Singh. He rose from humble beginnings to build a multi-million-dollar company with his brothers. They credit their mother, who ran a small business when they were growing up, with instilling them with an entrepreneurial spirit.
15. Another wonderful example of social mobility in action is Police Commissioner Datuk Seri Amar Singh. He was the Director of Commercial Crime Investigation, the highest rank attained by a Sikh in the police force, before his retirement in December 2018. A third-generation policeman, his maternal grandfather arrived in British Malaya as a teenager in the early 1900s, and served as a constable. His father came over during World War II, and served in the jungle corps in the Emergency of the 1950s. Unlike them, Amar Singh had the opportunity to attend university, including overseas, and, with his multiple qualifications, dedication and diligence, has been able to reach the highest levels of his chosen profession.
16. As we celebrate all these highly distinguished members of the Sikh community, it is useful to reflect upon what has contributed to their success. Five main ingredients can be identified.
17. The first is the ability of the original arrivals, all those years ago, to adapt well to the new situation in which they found themselves. Despite the very different climate, culture and customs, these early Sikhs were able to integrate comfortably with the existing local community, and take full advantage of the opportunities available in this new environment. They were valuable assets to this country right from the start, and their contributions have only grown ever since.
18. The second key ingredient is the exceptional patriotism displayed by the Sikhs in their role as protectors of this new home. Their willingness to put their lives on the line for King and country exemplifies very well the Malay saying, ‘Di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung’. Sikhs have served in our armed forces with distinction through the decades in many capacities, and many have risen to occupy senior ranks. We have had three esteemed Sikh Brigadier Generals — Rabans Singh Gill, Baljit Singh and Dato’ Ranjit Singh.
19. The third ingredient of their success can be found in the great importance they place on education, with a commitment to invest in their children so they may attain ever greater success. This is complemented by the fourth ingredient, the closely related qualities of thrift, discipline and perseverence. It is these admirable traits that enable the Sikhs to make the longer-term investments that are necessary to achieve the high returns they seek — in education, in business, or in whatever their chosen careers may be.
20. A deep respect for their cultural traditions can be identified as the fifth key element of the Sikhs’ success. While the younger generations have thrived in the modern era, they have remained loyal to their faith. They continue to uphold the strong cultural traditions of their forebears, even while they make the most of what modernity has to offer. This winning combination of tradition and modernization, which has enabled the Sikhs to achieve so much, is within reach of all communities in Malaysia, if only others can emulate the dedication and discipline which seems to come so naturally to them.
21. These five characteristics – adaptability; patriotism; commitment to education; hard work and thriftiness; and respect for tradition – have together empowered the Sikhs to conquer the highest heights in modern Malaysia. From the modest beginnings of their forebears in the security forces of the nascent British colony, they have become highly-valued citizens of Malaysia, a numerically small but vitally important component of our rich multi-cultural society.
22. This book helps to highlight the immense contributions that have been made by the Sikh community to the development of Malaysia, while providing us with fascinating and illuminating details of various aspects of their history here. While we may already be familiar with some of these, others we may learn about with great interest for the first time. I highly recommend you to delve into this most readable book, which I believe is destined to become a classic in this field.
23. Dr. Ranjit, dalam tulisan beliau, berjaya mendokumentasikan contoh dan kisah yang membuktikan semangat kewarganegaraan dan kesetiaan masyarakat Sikh, menjunjung prinsip kedua Rukun Negara, iaitu kesetiaan kepada Raja dan Negara. Dengan sukacita Beta melancarkan buku yang telah dihasilkan oleh Ranjit Singh Malhi, ‘Sikhs in Malaysia: A Comprehensive History’.