The Sikhs: A model community

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| Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi | Opinion | 21 April 2016 | Asia Samachar |

AS-OpinionI refer to Sardar Jaspal Singh’s article entitled “Redefining Vaisakhi” (The Malay Mail, 16 April 2016). He is absolutely correct that Vaisakhi cannot be regarded as the “Sikh New Year” as Vaisakhi falls on the first day of the Vaisakh month (April/May) which is the second month according to the Nanakshahi or Sikh Calendar. The first month in the Sikh Calendar is Chet; hence, the Sikh New Year falls on the first day of Chet (14 March).

Historically, Vaisakhi originated as a springtime harvest festival, a Thanksgiving Day for a bountiful harvest in the Punjab. It was then institutionalised by Guru Amar Das Ji (third Sikh Guru) in 1567 as a special day when all Sikhs would gather to receive the blessings of the Sikh Guru at Goindwal.

SEE ALSO: Redefining Vaisakhi

SEE ALSO: Vaisakhi: Points to Ponder

Today, Vaisakhi is celebrated primarily by the Sikhs worldwide in honour of the creation of the Khalsa Panth (Sikh Brotherhood) by their tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji. On Vaisakhi day in 1699, Guru Gobind Singh Ji established the Khalsa Panth during a large gathering at Anandpur. At this gathering, the Guru called upon Sikhs to uphold their faith and preserve the Sikh religion. Guru Gobind Singh Ji then lifted his sword and asked that anyone prepared to give his life for his faith to come forward. One Sikh came forward and followed the Guru into a tent. Shortly after, the Guru reappeared alone with his sword covered in blood, and asked for a second volunteer. Another Sikh stepped forward and again the Guru took him into the tent, and re-appeared alone with his sword covered with blood. This was repeated until five Sikhs had offered their heads for the Guru. Finally, the Guru emerged from the tent with all five men dressed in saffron-coloured clothes and turbans. Guru Gobind Singh called the five Sikhs the nucleus of the Khalsa Panth, the Panj Pyare, the Five Beloved Ones.

Today, Vaisakhi has ultimately become the birth anniversary of the Khalsa.

Guru Gobind Singh gave the Khalsa (meaning the “Pure”) a unique identity with five distinctive symbols of purity and courage, known today as the Panj Kakke or the Five Ks: kesh (unshorn hair and beard), kachhera (cotton shorts), kara (iron or steel bangle worn commonly on the right wrist), the kirpan (a small curved sword) and the kangha (a small wooden comb). About 80,000 men were baptised in a few days. The Guru gave all Khalsa men the surname of Singh (lion) as a reminder to be courageous. Women took on the surname Kaur (princess) to emphasise dignity. With the distinct Khalsa identity, Guru Gobind Singh gave all Sikhs the opportunity to live lives of courage, sacrifice, and equality. The Sikhs were to dedicate their lives to the service of others and the pursuit of justice.

With regard to Sardar Jaspal Singh’s labelling of the Sikhs today (without elaboration) as “no more a force to be reckoned with”, I share a different view, particularly in reference to the diasporic Sikhs.

Jaspal’s statement may have been made in reference to the lack of political influence of the Sikhs, a minority group today in India primarily due to a Hindu-dominated national government. However, one must appreciate the fact that despite constituting less than 2% of India’s population, the Sikhs have contributed immensely to the nation’s agriculture, industry, transport, military and sports. 

Outside India, the Sikh community is definitely a vibrant force to be reckoned with and a model community for others to emulate. Throughout the world (including Malaysia), the diasporic Sikhs have proven to be a dynamic and resilient community which within one generation had transformed from predominantly being one of policemen, bullock carters, watchmen, dairymen, carpenters and mining labourers into doctors, lawyers, engineers, academicians and other professionals.

Of particular significance, is the success story of the Sikhs in Britain, Canada and the United States. The Sikhs in these three countries have successfully transformed themselves from being perceived initially as a “culturally unassimilable and socially undesirable community” into a “model industrious and entrepreneurial community”.

In the words of David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom: “British Sikhs make an immense contribution to our country in so many ways. Whether it is in the fields of enterprise or business; whether it is the way hard working families are doing the right thing; whether it is in the way Sikhs practice the pillars of their faith, Britain’s Sikhs are a success story and model community that is doing great things for our nation.”

In a similar vein, Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, stated: “Canada is proud to be home to one of the largest Sikh populations in the world, and we thank the community for the immense contributions it makes to our country.”

Indeed, Canada currently has four Sikh Cabinet ministers. There are currently at least fifty Sikhs who are CEO’s of high tech companies in the Silicon Valley. In the words of Bruce La Brack, a leading cultural anthropologist and South Asian specialist: “This represents an achievement that is one of the most remarkable transformations any immigrant community has ever achieved in America.”

Finally, according to the 2010 Population and Housing Census of Malaysia, the Sikh/Punjabi population in Malaysia totalled 65,493. Based on extrapolation of the 2010 figure and a 5% allowance for under-enumeration, the current population of Sikhs/Punjabis in Malaysia is about 75,000 and not 170,000 as stated by Sardar Jaspal Singh.

Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi
Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi

Dr. Ranjit Singh Malhi, Kuala Lumpur

[ASIA SAMACHAR is an online newspaper for Sikhs in Southeast Asia and surrounding countries. We have a Facebook page, do give it a LIKE! Visit our website: www.asiasamachar.com]

RELATED STORIES:

Redefining Vaisakhi (Asia Samachar, 16 April 2016)

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Malaysia DPM at Sentul Vaisakhi on 14 April, Health Minister at Puchong today ( (Asia Samachar, 13 April 2016)

Momentous Vaisakhi celebration in Canada (Asia Samachar, 14 Apr 2016)

Vaisakhi: Points to Ponder (Asia Samachar, 12 April 2016)

Canadians share Khalsa Panth ideals: Justin Trudeau (Asia Samachar, 11 April 2016)

Maybank allows Sikh staff unrecorded leave for Vaisakhi. Kudos! (Asia Samachar, 6 April 2016)

Vaisakhi unrecorded leave for Malaysian Sikh civil servants (Asia Samachar, 6 April 2016)

Vaisakhi: Puchong invites health minister, Penang gets chief minister (Asia Samachar, 26 March 2016)

Vaisakhi 2016 programme listing: Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia (Asia Samachar, 17 March 2016)

Malaysia’s annual Vaisakhi kick-off goes to Klang (Asia Samachar, 14 March 2016)

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Today, Vaisakhi is celebrated primarily by the Sikhs worldwide in honor of the creation of the Khalsa Panth (Sikh Brotherhood) by their tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji.

    Sikhs say that Sikhism gives equal treatment and respect to women but your translation of ‘Khalsa Panth’ as ‘Sikh Brotherhood’ gives the perception that Sikhism is male orientated.
    Sikhism still has customs which give precedence to males which makes them think that they are superior to females. Some of the customs are include:
    [a] During marriages the male senior member of the bride gives the ‘palla’ to the groom which signifies that from then onward her responsibility is transferred from father of the bride to the groom;

    [b] After marriage the bride must stay with the groom’s parents or his house [of course this is breaking down] but she still must first be taken from her parents house to her husband’s house;

    [c] Bride’s parents are required to cater to all the ‘demands’ of the groom which demand may include gifts including for relatives of the groom. In my own family case when my sister was married the groom’s brother demanded liquor and full scale dinner and when the demand was rejected the professional millionaire brother insulted me by saying that I do not know how to look after his sister’s Baraat. The prospective in-laws of my niece demanded full scale lunch/dinner with meat and liquor and furniture/other items costing about RM20K though it had been agreed earlier that the Baraat numbering about 50 pax will be provided with temple langgar but the Baraat number who came was over 100 pax and some of whom misbehaved after becoming drunk. Similar misbehavior was done by another professional brother-in-law who came from another town and was accommodated in two three-star hotel where on vacating they did not settle their personal liquor bill and left with the hotel room keys the next morning and for which I had to compensate the hotels with RM1K. The hotel owner told me that they will never rent in future their rooms to Sikhs.
    Just for information these two marriages ended in divorce soon after for reason that in one case the husband was violent and abusive [though his parents were good people] while the other had greedy parents with regular demands [while the son did not have the courage to stand up against his greedy parents].

    [d] The Granthi always gives his advise to the couple before the ceremony and also requests the couple to promise to follow the tenets of Sikhism one of which is not to cut their hair and the promises are given by bowing. Most grooms keep their long hair and come with turbans and some with swords but immediately after the wedding is over the first thing most grooms do is cut the hair and the turban disappears. This I have observed in many weddings. Thus the lesson may be a waste of time of the Granthi and Sanggat who has to listen and the broken promise make a mockery of the Guru and may also be an insult. Suggest stop these two and other shabads if they are not to be adhered. I remember one wedding where the couple did not do the ‘phere’ as the couple both believed that they did not agree to the intended ‘promises’. In another case the couple made it a condition that the Granthi will not give the advise as they were both professionals. These are just some examples.

    [e] Some grooms parents demand for multiple milnies and gold gifts even when the bride’s parents may not be able to afford. In one case the groom’s mother demanded 17 milnies and when the bride’s parents said that they cannot afford it the groom’s mother gave the bride’s parents 17 golden chains to be given to her relatives during milni as she considered it important for her reputation and did not want her relatives to know that the bride was from a poor family.

    Above are just some examples but there are others where the girls do not get the same level of respect as that which is given to the boys. I was informed by an Asst Professor that the divorce rate among Sikhs may be as high as 70% when I had commented in one of my article that the rate is about 50%. The sad part is that the high rate may be among professionals and high wealth.

    It is perceived that the cause may be that the sons and their parents may not be willing to change their mindset and give due respect to their own wives/daughters-in-laws respectively as they would give their own sisters/daughters and always forgetting that their own sisters/daughters may be some one else’s wife/daughter-in-law.

  2. I find that Sikhs as individuals can be brilliant and recognized to be so by other and the community but as a community they are perceived within the community as divided who are so individualistic that rarely do they help others. One professional relative of mine is that each much work for his/own success and only then they will realize the value of hard work but when I suggested why not give a helping hand the response was that I do not want them to feel indebted. It is difficult to understand the rationale.

    On the other hand Sikhs will donate generously to and for temple relidious functions but appear to be reluctant to assist those in need or help to finance education or health or with any seed money for struggling entrepreneurs.

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