Tridivesh Singh Maini | Myanmar | Asia Samachar | 17 June 2015
The Sikh population in Myanmar draws even lesser attention, especially when compared not only to other ethnic groups in Myanmar but also Sikhs settled in other parts of the world including Southeast Asia. Estimates of the total Sikh population in the country vary. The current population of Sikhs in Myanmar is not significant (estimated in a journal article at anywhere between 2,000 and 3,000). There are around 48 Sikh Temples in Myanmar, including one in downtown Yangon (erstwhile Rangoon) (“Road to Mandalay” 2014).
Most Sikhs had migrated to Myanmar during the late 19th century as part of the Burma military police. This was unlike other communities such as the Tamil Chettiars, who had come in search of potential business opportunities around the mid-19th century and were able to emerge as successful moneylenders as well as landowners.
The first Sikh temple in Myanmar was inaugurated in 1897 by Captain H Parkin, the deputy inspector general of military police, while the opening ceremony of the temple was performed in 1899 by the Lieutenant Governor of Burma. The integration of the Sikh community and its relevance to the British Raj is clearly evident from the interactions between senior British officials and the local Sikh population. Before leaving Myanmar, Reginald Craddock sent a message to the Sikh community and tried to allay their fears with regard to the restrictions imposed on the kirpan (dagger) as well as the general attitude of the British Raj towards Sikhs in Punjab.
A number of Sikhs were forced to leave Myanmar first after the Japanese takeover, and then after the arrival of dictatorship in 1962. Some Sikhs chose to remain in Myanmar however, and interestingly one of the prominent Sikhs, U Balwant Singh, was even Myanmar’s representative to the United Nations. The condition of most Sikhs was dismal, since they were not permitted to study any professional courses, such as medicine, engineering and law.
Currently, Sikhs residing in Myanmar run businesses, mostly automotive parts, while a minuscule minority are engaged in farming. With an increasing interest in Myanmar, it is likely that Sikhs in the country might get more attention (“Road To Mandalay” 2014). Recently, the United Kingdom-based documentary film-maker Bobby Bansal directed a documentary on Sikhs in Myanmar titled, “The Road to Mandalay.”
Abridged from ‘The Sikh Community in Myanmar: Past and Present’ by Tridivesh Singh Maini in the Economic and Political Weekly (Vol – L No. 23, June 06, 2015), a social science journal published from Mumbai, India. See here for full the article.
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