By Ajit Singh Jessy
The Sikhs first arrived in then Malay states in two batches in the 1870’s. The first were the Sikhs who revolted against British rule in India and were arrested and banished. The second batch, which came in large numbers and were brought by the British to serve in the police, known as Malay States Guides. Their numbers increased in tandem with the expansion of British rule over all the states of Malaya. Along with the uniformed Sikh personnel others came on their own and settled all over Malaya, particular in the West Coast States. Likewise Sikhs arrived and settled in Sabah and Sarawak around the same time.
Many became watchmen/security guards. Within one generation the Sikhs moved up the employment chain and ventured into the transport business around the tin mines, as well as various professions. The initial migrant Sikhs placed great emphasis on education and this foresight paid great dividends as the younger generation moved away from being policemen, watchmen, cattle rearers and bullock cart drivers.
Compared to the relatively small segment of the population numbering less than 100,000 out of a 30 million population, Sikhs have been punching way beyond their weight in almost every profession.
POLICE FORCE: Sikhs rose rapidly within the police ranks and served in every category, as heads of CID and other departments right up to the rank of Chief Police Officer (CPO). The current CPO of Kuala Lumpur is Datuk Amar Singh Ishar Singh. SAC1 U. Santokh Singh served as Chief Police Officer Selangor. He had the distinction of being the first Malaysian to receive training at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Scotland Yard. SACI Dershan Singh, Deputy Director of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) Malaysia. SACII (R) Dato’ Nashatar Singh served as Deputy Commandant of Police Training Centre (PULAPOL) and retired as Deputy Director of Internal Security and Public Order, Bukit Aman.
LEGAL: The Sikh community has produced outstanding Advocates & Solicitors and some of these personalities have brought great pride to the nation and the community. Tan Sri Swaran Singh Gill (SS Gill) began his career as a Court Interpreter in 1935 and retired as the Chief Justice. His remarkable rise from an interpreter to the Chief Justice is reflective of the career advancement of many other Sikhs. Another well know legal eagle was the late Y.B Karpal Singh, who was also a leading politician. Dato’ Jagjeet Singh served as Senior Federal Counsel, Attorney General’s Chambers and retired as Session’s Court Judge. Datuk Harmindar Singh Dhaliwal currently sits as Court of Appeal Judge Dato Amarjeet Singh A/L Serjit Singh is Head of Civil Division of the Attorney Generals Chambers of Malaysia and D. Sunita Kaur Jessy is Judge of Session’s Court, Ipoh.
EDUCATION: Sikhs have made tremendous contributions in the field of education from Primary to University. Some of the well-known names were the Mr Karam Singh, Headmaster Clifford School Kuala Kangar, Mr Joginder Singh Jessy, Headmaster Sultan Abdul Hamid College, Alor Setar who was a well know author of History books on Malaya/Malaysia which were used as school text books in primary, secondary and Form Six classes. Mr Ajmer Singh and Master Gurdial Singh were conferred Tokoh Guru for their contributions as educationist.
ACADEMICANS: In this field too there have been many prominent Sikhs who have contributed immensely and held prominent positions. Prof. Dr Saran Kaur Gill, Deputy V.C. University Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Prof Dr. Harchan Singh, Deputy V.C AIMST University, Dato’ Dr Parmjit Singh CEO of Asia Pacific Institute of Information Technology (APIIT) being amongst many others.
MEDICAL: The medical field along with the legal profession, have produced many outstanding Sikhs. Leading Sikh’s have served both in the government and private sector and many have been pioneers. Notable amongst these are Dato’ Dr Keshmahinder Singh, who played a key role in the setting up of the Tun Hussein Onn Eye Hospital, Petaling Jaya. Dr R Bhagwan Singh, Director of the Institute of Medical Research (IMR), who bequeathed his bungalow worth about RM500,000.00 in 1980 to the institute of Medical Research, Dato’ Dr. Bhuprinder Singh, the leading pathologist. Dato’ Dr Harnam Singh consultant Otorhinolaryngologist, Head and Neck Surgeon, Consultant Anti-Aging Physician. Dr Pall Singh, Tun Hussain Onn Eye Hosipital and Dato’ Dr Jagjeet Singh Sambhi (Obstetrician and Gynecologist).
ARMED FORCES: Many Sikhs have served with distinction in ensuring peace and tranquility in the nation. There were three Brigadier Generals, Rajbans Singh Gill, followed by Brigadier General Baljit Singh and Brigadier General Dato’ Ranjit Singh. Many others held the ranks of Colonels, Lieutenant Colonels and majors.
POLITICS: Despite their rather small number, Sikhs have also been active in politics at the national and state levels. The Second President of the Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) was Baba Budh Singh. Dato Mahima Singh, Karam Singh, Karpal Singh, Gobind Singh Deo and Ramkarpal Singh Deo were elected to Parliament. Other’s were appointed as Senators, namely Dato’ Rina Bhar, Dato Chet Singh, Tan Sri Kernail Singh Nijar, Dato’ Paranjit Singh and Dato Daljit Singh Dalliwal. In Penang we have the first Sikh Executive Council Member (Exco) Jagdeep Singh Deo.
SPORTS: Sikhs have also been active in almost all sports with such leading names as Datuk Santokh Singh (Football), Dato Nashtar Singh (Javelin) Swaran Singh (shot put). Amarjit Singh Jessy, (Class 1, International Hockey umpire), Jagjit Singh (Rugby Skipper), Karamjeet Singh (Motor Ralling), Lall Singh (Cricket), Dilbagh Singh Kler from Sabah (5000 meters) and Dato Dr Cheema who is Patron of Malaysia Singapore Sikh Sports Council (MSSSC), which organizes annual sports festival for Sikhs. The most recent was hosted by the Royal Malaysia Police Sports Association (RMPSSA) at Kelab Aman in Kuala Lumpur in June 2017.
Some of the other Sikhs who have made great strides in their career and contributed to nation building are Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Ranjit Ajit Singh who is the Executive Chairman Securities Commission, Dr. Sukhdave Singh current Deputy Governor Bank Negara, Dato’ Gurcharan Singh, 1st General Manager of EON who was responsible for sales and marketing Proton cars, Dato’ Seri Chet Singh who as head of Penang Development (PDC) saw to the establishment of the nation’s first Free Trade Zone (FTZ) which led to Penang being transformed into an International Manufacturing hub. Tan Sri Ajit Singh who served as Ambassador and Secretary General Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Dato Seri Paduka Lakhbir Singh Chahl who served as the Secretary, Penang City Council and Secretary General Regional Network of Local Authorities for Asia Pacific (CITYNET).
Finally, I wish to acknowledge the assistance and advise rendered by Dr Harjit Singh of USM in the preparation of this brief write up on the Contribution Of Sikhs In MALAYSIA.
Dato Ajit Singh Jessy is a Penang-based lawyer practicing in Industrial Relations and is supportive of Sikh causes. He made a presentation on this topic a a recent Penang Heritage monthly talks.
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