Changi Museum: This photo sent chills down my spine

Rajeshpal Singh | Singapore | 22 Dec 2015 | Asia Samachar |
The tipping point picture for me, Sikhs being executed. Taken at Changi Museum, Singapore
The tipping point picture for me, Sikhs being executed. Taken at Changi Museum, Singapore

By Rajeshpal Singh

On 11 Sept 2015, I was privileged to witness the unveiling of a plaque by the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (CSGB) on the walls of The Changi Museum to immortalise the memory of the Sikhs that laid down their lives in defence of Malaya.

This initially was just another event to me that I had to attend to support the CSGB team’s efforts.

SEE ALSO: WW2 fallen Sikhs not accorded proper last rites

For a third generation Singaporean Sikh, what happened during World War 2(WW2) seems so long ago and would probably hold no relevance to us today. However that changed quickly as I strolled through The Changi Museum and saw the many artefacts of the soldiers and civilians that went through the war.

The tipping point was when I saw the picture (above) in the museum.

CSGB presenting plaque to Changi Museum to commemorate Sikh soldiers in WW2 – PHOTOS CSGB
CSGB presenting plaque to Changi Museum to commemorate Sikh soldiers in WW2 – PHOTOS CSGB

The picture showed in the background 10 blindfolded turbaned and bearded Sikhs, some sitting in ‘Chongkari’ and others squatting. In the foreground of the picture were Japanese soldiers with rifles held in their hands and aim taken on the blindfolded Sikhs. IT WAS AN EXECUTION! That picture sent chills down my spine. I felt the hairs on my neck stand.

Thoughts began flooding my mind. Who were these Sikhs? Why were they being executed? Where were they from? Did their families know that they were being executed? Then I read the caption under the picture and it read “Japanese firing squad taking aim at Indian Soldiers”. 

There was no names, no explanation why they were being fired upon and what these ‘Indian soliders’ fought for. Nothing of that sort, it was just that short and impersonal caption that made me realise what all this effort to unveil a plaque was all about.

It was to correct a part of our history to give a prayer to those Sikhs that laid down their lives, to never forget their sacrifice and to place a marker for the passer-by to note that the Sikhs “True to the Sikh Tradition, they fought courageously and selflessly, never flinching when even in the jaws of death, fighting an enemy that was no threat to them.” (quote from the plaque at The Changi Museum).

The plaque that we put on that wall in The Changi Museum will ensure that any passing ignorant Sikh, like me, is made aware of those sacrifices by the Sikhs in the defence of this land.

That morning on behalf of the Sikh Community, Gurcharan Singh said an Ardas. In it, he said “…many Sikhs fought and died during the defence of Malaya and many of these Sikhs remain nameless today and we know nothing of them beyond that a large number of Sikhs participated in the defence..”.

I learnt that morning, as well, that the two-thirds of the British Army in Malaya at that time were Indians (and Sikhs) from British-India and a significant body were Sikhs.

I have never been told this fact before. When I heard it, I could not but help feel proud. The martial spirit that Guru Hargobind Ji introduced and Guru Gobind Singh Ji institutionalised carried strongly from the lands of India to our very own Singapore.

The lesson I took that day was the importance of understanding our own history to understand our identity. Now I try to think, what would have been going on in the minds of those 10 Sikh men in that photo who assuredly knew that death was waiting to take them any second now. Did they think of Waheguru, their families, what they achieved in that life, or whether anyone would ever know that that day they were killed by firing squad and their bodies afterward would likely be dumped in some mass grave and any memory of them would be erased.

Well, if it was the latter, on 11 Sept 2015, one more Sikh (i.e. me) knew of their sacrifice. I will tell many many more lest we forget them.

Rajeshpal Singh
Rajeshpal Singh


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