Three main phases of Sikh immigration into Malaya

I do not consider the arrival of the Sikh political prisoners (few according to Kernial Singh Sandhu and Mary Turnbull) and convicts as the first wave of Sikh immigration into Malaya - RANJIT SINGH MALHI

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| Malaysia | 17 May 2017 | Asia Samachar |
Captain Tristram Speedy (towering figure in the centre), Bukit Gantang (Perak), circa 1874. – Photo courtesy of Arkib Negara Malaysia

After his article ‘Sikh immigration to Malaya (see here), Asia Samachar had sent some questions to clarify and amplify the points raised by Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi. Here are his replies:

Asia Samachar: What are the main phases of Sikh immigration into Malaya?

Ranjit Singh Malhi:  Broadly speaking, there are three main phases of Sikh immigration into Malaya: 1870s to mid-1920s, late 1920s–1946, and 1947–1957.

I do not consider the arrival of the Sikh political prisoners (few according to Kernial Singh Sandhu and Mary Turnbull) and convicts as the first wave of Sikh immigration into Malaya. They were not free settlers (people who chose to come to Malaya on their own volition to seek a fortune), although some of them subsequently stayed behind after serving their sentences.

“Immigration” is generally defined as the coming of non-native people into a country in order to reside and work there. Strictly speaking, it does not include forced migration of transported convicts.

During the first phase, the Sikhs started immigrating to Malaya in considerable numbers when the British started recruiting them in the police and paramilitary forces. A vast majority of these Sikhs were illiterate and from the agricultural and artisan classes.

From late 1920s onwards, a large number of Sikhs from the commercial (attracted by opportunities for commercial enterprise, particularly in the textile, provisions and sports goods trade) and educated classes (attracted mainly by opportunities for subordinate employment in the government service) immigrated to Malaya.

Most of the Sikh commercial immigrants (mainly Arorasand Khatri Sikhs) were from and around the Rawalpindi, Lahore, Ludhiana, Jalandhar and Amritsar urban centres of the Punjab. There were also Sikh commercial immigrants from Rangoon and Bangkok.

The late 1940s and early 1950s saw an influx of new Sikh immigrants (primarily from West Punjab) into Malaya as a result of the political unrest and displacement due to the partition of Punjab in 1947. This influx was boosted by the trade boom generated by the Korean War (1950–1953). However, this migration stream was cut short by the immigration restrictions introduced by the Malayan Government in 1953.

AS: “Based on existing documentary evidence, the first Sikhs who came to Malaya were Nihal Singh (popularly known as Bhai Maharaj Singh) and Kharak (also spelt as Khurruck) Singh.” You wrote the above. What are the references to this statement?

RSM: To date, the only documentary evidence sighted by historians about the earliest arrival of Sikhs to Malaya is that related to Bhai Maharaj Singh and Kharak Singh. Main references include despatches by the Governor of Straits Settlements to F. J. Halliday, Secretary to the Government of India and works by Kernial Singh Sandhu, M. L. Ahluwalia, Nahar Singh and Kirpal Singh.

AS: “Kharak Singh was a close associate (disciple) of Bhai Maharaj Singh.”You used the word disciple, in brackets, though. Why? Sikhs are usually described as disciples of the Guru. What is the source for this information?

RSM: Kharak Singh was a close associate or follower of Bhai Maharaj Singh. “Disciple” is a synonym for a “follower”. The noun disciple comes from the Latin word “discipulus” which means “student, learner, or follower”. Additionally, the usage of a term is contextual. For example, Dr. Hakam Singh in his book Life Stories of Great Sikh Saints has referred to Nihal Singh as a disciple of Bhai Bir Singh.

AS: “As stated by Kernial Singh Sandhu (an authority on Indian immigration to Malaya), other classes of Sikh convicts (besides political prisoners) were also sent to the Straits Settlements. In 1857 there were about 60–70 Sikh convicts in the Singapore jail.” Which book are you referring to for the above statement?

RSM: Let me keep your readers “excited” over this question; they can purchase my book when it is published next year for the answer to this question. However, I will provide one clue: the number of Sikh convicts in Singapore in 1857 is not provided by Kernial Singh Sandhu. Readers should take note that about 100 Sikh convicts attempted to break out of the Singapore jail (without success) in 1853 and not 1863 as stated in some books. The authoritative source is a contemporary newspaper, The Singapore Free Press.

Indians in Malaya: Some Aspects of their Immigration and Settlement (1786–1957) By Kernial Singh Sandhu

AS: “The pioneer recruits were enlisted by Captain Tristram Speedy—a former Superintendent of Police in Penang—to help Ngah Ibrahim (territorial chief of Larut, Perak) restore law and order in Larut.” What are the most authoritative references to this statement?

RSM: A well-established fact which actually needs no referencing. What that needs to be clarified is the exact number of discharged sepoys recruited by Captain Speedy in India. Virtually all books (notable exception being Kernial Singh Sandhu’s book, Indians in Malaya) state 110 sepoys. The Calcutta’s Commissioner of Police, in his telegram of 25 September 1873 to the Officiating Under-Secretary to the Government of Bengal, states that only 95 men proceeded to Penang with Captain Speedy. It should also be noted that most of these sepoys were Pathans and not Sikhs as stated in some historical works.

AS: Captain Speedy reached Penang on 29 September 1873 and proceeded straight to Larut.” What is the most authoritative source for thsi statement?

RSM: A well-established fact which actually needs no referencing. Authoritative sources include John M. Gullickand Kernial Singh Sandhu.

AS: “The Sikhs also formed the backbone of the Malay States Guides (MSG) established in 1896 and headquartered at Taiping, Perak.” What is the most authoritative source for the above statement?

RSM: Another well-established fact which actually needs no referencing. There are numerous authoritative sources including works by Abdul Karim bin Bagoo, Patrick Morrah and the Federated Malay States Annual Reports.

AS: “Those Sikhs who failed to join the police and paramilitary forces took up jobs in the private sector to work as watchmen, moneylenders, bullock-cart drivers, dairymen, milk vendors, and labourers in the tin and iron ore mines.” What is the most authoritative source for the above statement?

RSM: A well-established fact which actually needs no referencing. Sources include works by Kernial Singh Sandhu and Manjit Singh Sidhu.

AS: “From late 1920s onwards, a large number of Sikhs from the commercial and educated classes immigrated to Malaya.” What is the most authoritative source for the above statement?

RSM: Kernial Singh Sandhu’s book, Indians in Malaya: Some Aspects of Their Immigration and Settlement (17861957).

 

Dr Ranjit Singh Malhi, who runs a management consultancy, completed his PhD in 2015 on the history of Sikhs in Malaya. He is passionate about writing history as “it is”.

 

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

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