Amazing Sikhs from around the world

A community that punches above its weight class, writes Ben Morais

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L-R: Karpal Singh, Harjit Singh Sajjan and Manmohan Singh

By Ben Morais | OPINION | MALAYSIA

Sikhs seem to possess an indomitable spirit and a desire to rise above their station in life. This is not just happening in India where most Sikhs live but throughout the world.

Members of the vibrant Sikh community in the United Kingdom, for instance, are taking their noble tradition of religious hospitality to one of the most inhospitable places on the planet.

This is a remarkable and edifying example of real caring, concern and sympathy for the downtrodden and it is manifested in this act of feeding the displaced individuals.

Just a mere five miles from the Syrian border, Sikh volunteers from Langar Aid are feeding about 14,000 refugees fleeing the civil war in that country. This is a remarkable and edifying example of real caring, concern and sympathy for the downtrodden and it is manifested in this act of feeding the displaced individuals.

Religious Hospitality at its Best

Langar Aid is an off-shoot of Khalsa Aid. Khalsa Aid is mainly funded by UK based Sikhs. Khalsa Aid was founded in 1999 in the UK.

In the not too recent past, Khalsa Aid, an international non-profit and relief organisation has also rendered much-needed assistance to displaced Kosovan refugees as well as provided earthquake relief in Turkey.

The answer lies, I believe, in the lofty Sikh principles of selfless service and universal love.

Selfless Service and Universal Love

Just what is it that motivates these Sikh volunteers from the UK to place themselves in harm’s way especially in a danger zone and render much-needed assistance to fellow human beings in distress?

The answer lies, I believe, in the lofty Sikh principles of selfless service and universal love. These are truly noble principles to live up to. It is relatively easy to talk or preach about selfless service and universal love but to actually live it in practice is altogether a different matter.

To carry out this humanitarian service, these committed volunteers have taken time out of work, education, family and other recreational pursuits to travel abroad and render assistance. These volunteers have truly demonstrated in a practical and inspiring way their utmost commitment to their religious principles.

Their selfless service, especially in such dangerous conditions, reminds me of that famous saying: ‘Greater love than this no man has, than to lay down his life for another.’

Golden Temple in Amritsar

The Golden Temple in Amritsar, India – the holiest shrine for Sikhs throughout the world, provides another telling example of this selfless service and universal love.

How many know, for instance, that nearly 100,000 people are fed on an average day at the Golden Temple? This free meal is not limited to only Sikhs but extended to individuals of every faith, colour and ethnicity who visit the temple.

This simple but nutritious meal, let me reiterate, is free for all who visit, not just Sikhs. Think for a moment about the sheer logistics and costs involved. This goes on day after day. Of course, those entering must observe certain respectful traditions before entering the Golden Temple.

Back here in Malaysia, I have been informed that a number of Western tourists on a shoestring budget have heard about the warm hospitality at Sikh temples in Malaysia. They go with confidence to a Sikh temple for a meal and also occasionally to spend a night there. They have to, of course, adhere to an appropriate code of conduct whilst spending the night within the temple compound.

Four Sikh Cabinet Ministers in Canada

Recently in Canada [2015], the prime minister of that country appointed four Canadian Sikhs as cabinet ministers. These appointments made world headlines because they are serious, high-level positions in the government of Canada. It is also a clear demonstration that this is Canada’s most diverse cabinet. Canada leads the world, I believe, in truly embracing diversity in full measure. There is no lip service or tokenism here.

Harjit Sajjan, a former senior police officer and a veteran of three military deployments to Afghanistan, was appointed Defense Minister. This is a senior position in the cabinet. It is no window dressing. Amarjeet Sohi was appointed Infrastructure Minister, Navdeep Bains, a business school professor was appointed Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister and finally, a Sikh lady named Bardish Chaggar was named Small Business and Tourism Minister.

What some may not know is that there are an estimated 500,000 Sikhs in Canada today. Sikhs first started moving to Canada more than 100 years ago. The appointment of not one but four ministers from this community is a clear sign that the Sikhs have integrated well into Canadian society.

By contrast, India has only two Sikh ministers. But then again, one must realise that Sikhs in India only constitute two percent of the population.

Sikhs in the Indian Army

Sikhs are by nature respectful, courageous, hardworking and enterprising. Does one realise that nowhere in the world can you find a Sikh beggar? This speaks volumes about the cohesion within the community.

There are no official statistics for the number of Sikhs in the Indian Army for obvious reasons. However, it is generally regarded to be in excess of twenty percent! There are also many senior Sikh officers from the ranks of colonel to general.

A Sikh, Manmohan Singh, a graduate from Oxford University has also served with distinction for a number of years as the prime minister of India.

Sikhs in Malaysia

The Sikhs constitute one of the many Indian groups in Malaysia. The biggest group of Indians in Malaysia come from the Tamil community. In the early days of Malaya, these Sikhs served in the Police force as well as in the Home Guard. The Home Guard was an earlier version of the Territorial Army.

The Sikhs were recruited to serve in these bodies because of their impressive size and build, towering figures and burly outlook, complete with moustache and beard that made them look fierce. However, they are also big, strong and friendly people if you take the trouble to get to know them. In the Army and Police force too, Sikhs have made great contributions.

Significant Contribution to the Professions

In the fifties and sixties, it was common to see a number of burly Sikh gentlemen serving as guards (or jagas) for banks and companies. These guards would sleep on charpoys beds in front of the buildings that they were protecting. The charpoy is basically four wooden legs supporting an open, rectangular structure that is filled with intricately woven network of ropes or chords.

Other economically and socially disadvantaged Sikhs took to goat herding or rearing cows for their milk. The Sikh would then peddle a bicycle with a milk tank on the back and sell the milk to a regular list of homes in the area. Some of these Sikhs also got into the informal but lucrative money lending business.

Lion of Jelutong

Through sheer dint of hard work, discipline and a desire to improve their lot, many of these families provided a disproportionately high number of well known medical doctors/specialists, engineers, lawyers, academics and other professionals.

Easily one of the more well known, highly regarded and respected Sikhs in Malaysia is the late Karpal Singh. He was regarded as a brilliant and fearless criminal lawyer and many did seek out his services. He was also a committed Member of Parliament, a lawmaker of repute, and a righteous fighter for the underdog.

You can now probably understand why I stated that the Sikhs certainly do punch above their weight class and they do so with style and flair.

 

Ben Morais, CIMA Malaysia president in 1990s and a past president of Institute of Public Relations Malaysia, founded BMV Consultancy in 2006 to focus on providing consultancy and training services. You can follow his blog here. This article first appeared here.

 

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RELATED STORY:

Karpal Singh deeply missed in this election (Asia Samachar, 12 May 2018)

 

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2 COMMENTS

  1. I know many may not like my post. In all the recognition and hype about so much good being done, Should Khalsa Aid not start a project for their old and elderly Sikh “buzurks”. Most of the elderly are abused by their children, forced to babysit, clean and cook. Doesn’t matter which country- they are all treated badly. Some are left in gurdwaras all day long so they don’t need to on the heaters. Some are left at shopping malls. I have personally encountered this scenarios. Have anyone seen the tears and the heartbreaks of this elderly man and women?
    Many cases of Sikh parents being forced to sell their house and land to fund the children overseas, yet treated with disrespect and abuse.
    If you can do so much goodwill around the world, why not take care of your own backyard as well. Set up old folks home so they can spent their elderly life with other older people. They can be treated with respect and be given food and not have to beg for it. There are many Sikh drs willing to do rounds to checks on the elderly.
    I’m writing this out of frustration as I know nothing will come out of this. We can’t manage our Gurdwaras without fights – yet for a religion that people – non Sikhs look up to – there is so much disharmony.
    Why only gloat about service to war torn countries, dondome goodwill for your deserving elderly. Every other community has a pathshala, why not the Sikhs?

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