By Dya Singh | OPINION | AUSTRALIA
The first post on the subject has received global coverage through various other Sikh e-magazines namely Sikhnet, learning zone, Whatsapp groups etc. (The Sikh Review has requested permission to publish it). Malaysian Sikhs have certainly raised their hand!
The main response from Malaysian Sikhs is that I have left out so many personalities! Numerous names have been in fact forwarded to me. I will also encourage all to add comments as you see fit in Asia Samachar, rather than writing directly to me. But, some will prefer to just write to me. You are welcome.
One needs to understand that this is my own ‘birds eye view’ as a former Malaysian. One could produce a ‘directory of Malaysian Sikh personalities’ and even then miss out many prominent names!
But this has prompted me to do a Part 2. Again from my own perspective. Equally important personalities to those in Part 1, and some ‘odd-ball characters’, but, in my mind, they are all equally as important because they form the fabric and spirit of the Sikh Quom in Malaysia. Again, the personalities mentioned here are at random, as they come to mind.
The first ‘name’ that pops to mind is Giani Sukdaiv Singh Ji who set up Gurpuri as a Sikh orphanage and sanctuary for children from broken homes. With generous sangat backing in the name of true sewa mainly, and some governmental aid, he has persisted for over 20 years at the cost of his own vocation as an engineer and to a degree a stable normal family life! To date the organisation has not only a building through generous donations in Kuala Lumpur but has purchased acreage in hinterland mainland Malaysia to build a complex. He has also included sanctuary for women without effective husband support due to violence, drugs, or sheer poverty. Sukdaiv Ji, who is younger than I, is already being addressed as Baba by some and in my mind he is next after Sant Baba Sohan Singh Ji, for the piety and spiritual elevation he portrays and the spiritual nourishment he gives to many who need upliftment. He even attends our Sikh Youth Australia annual ‘camp’ as senior religious mentor.
The second ‘family’ that comes to mind is the ‘Dasmesh’ family. Brothers Sukdev Singh and Harvinder Singh with strong support from their wives and families, formed the globally famous and very visible Sikh Sri Dasmesh Pipe Band. It does not stop there. Sukhdev’s wife, Jaswinder Kaur, as the backbone, had set up the Sri Dasmesh International School, a much sought after school in Kuala Lumpur for mainstream studies to pre-university level and courses in kirtan, Punjabi and some Sikh spiritual knowledge for the Sikh students. It also schools non-Sikh students and has achieved high academic performances in the country getting a top 5-star rating from the Malaysian Education Department. Sukdev also contributed valuable sewa, also as Jathedar of the Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM) which has disseminated Sikhi parchaar (Sikh preaching) to thousands of Sikh youth for over 50 years! This is a ‘family’ which is a shining credit to the Sikh Quom.
The first ‘oddball’ and very colourful character I recollect is lawyer, politician and equal rights activist, Karam Singh, who was the first Sikh MP in the first parliament after Independence in 1957. He was an opposition MP who stood for the ordinary worker. For his vigorous campaigns against worker inequalities and actively supporting workers unions, he spent a great deal of time behind bars under the Internal Security Act. He was the youngest MP in Malaysia and sadly he passed away in obscurity at a very young age.
Being musically inclined, the second ‘oddball’ personality was colourful Sikh ‘singer’ Ram Singh Gulzar. An amazing and very popular kirtenia who could sing for long hours and was equally adept in singing soulful Punjabi ballads and folk songs in more relaxed atmospheres. I had the privilege in learning a great deal from him sangeet-wise and also singing alongside him in my teens. Those who knew him and heard him, had a very high regard for him. One of my teenage heroes!
Oddball previous radio personality Rishiwant Singh Randhawa, Rishi for short, a.k.a. Satu Singh and his ‘Massi Ji’ Mejindarpal Kaur have carried out sterling sewa especially in relief work in disaster areas globally under the auspices of United Sikhs, a global Sikh group. Mejinderpal, a qualified lawyer has fought various cases especially of discriminatory practices towards Sikhs globally. Rishi is making a name for himself as a ‘walking ambassador’ carrying out long distance walks to raise money for worthwhile charities locally and even for overseas.
A very little recognised ‘oddball’ is Joe Mahinder Sohi, the ‘Vigilante’ of Shah Alam! A man respected by criminals and the police, Joe has single-handedly apprehended over 60 petty criminals and has been directly involved in the recovery of many stolen vehicles. He has been awarded numerous medals and citations for his outstanding ‘citizen-policing and citizen-arrest’ efforts in the true ‘sant-sipahi’ spirit of Sikhi. When he appears on the streets on his very noticeable and huge motor-bike in his famous red bandana or dastaar, he is a sight to behold and waved through by the traffic police! I was in Malaysia recently when he apprehended a felon who was holding himself out as an immigration officer, red handed, extorting money from illegal immigrants! “You want respect from the police – assist them” is his motto! Besides many government and local council accolades, the Chinese community has also honoured him for his selfless sewa. The Sikhs are still to wake up to his contribution, or just take him for granted.
In the sports arena numerous sportsmen and athletes come to mind. First, mention of Nash – Nashatar Singh from the Malaysian Police Force, who represented Malaysia in ‘throwing’ events notably the javelin in the 60’s and 70’s is a must. Dilbagh Singh Kler was a long distance runner for Malaysia from the far-flung state of Sabah. The ‘flying Sikh’ and rally ace, Karamjeet Singh is a Malaysian driving champion involved in car rallies.
Then in my mind we have Santokh Singh and Serbegeth “Shebby” Singh who played football for Malaysia in the 70’s and 80’s. Shebby is even now an expert commentator on football on Malaysian TV. Two Avtars – Gill and Grewal, come to mind for playing hockey for Malaysia in the 80’s. There are many more! During my time in Malaysia especially the 1960’s, there were numerous Sikh hockey players notably Ranjit Singh who also played cricket for Malaysia. He made a name for himself for taking the wicket of Gary Sobers and scored a half century against the West Indies when they had a one-match stopover in Kuala Lumpur. I am certain there were others! Lall Singh was a cricketing legend. The only Malaysian ever to play for the Indian national side against England. That was in the 1950’s.
In the academic world, I remember Queens Scholar and Professor of genetics Satwant Singh Dhaliwal and economics specialist Professor Harcharan Singh Khera. Dr. Keshmahinder Singh was the very first GP in Malaya and later eye-specialist. He was instrumental in setting up the Hussein Onn Eye Hospital (next to Petaling Jaya gurdwara). So many headmasters and specialist teachers who served the younger generation with great distinction!
There are probably more lawyers in proportion to the total Sikh population than any other community! Sarwan Singh Gill attained the highest post of Chief Justice of the High Court in the 60’s. Current cabinet minister Gobind Singh Deo and his two brothers (Jagdeep Singh Deo and Ramkarpal Singh) also involved in regional politics in the state of Penang. They are all lawyers. All doing sterling service in the mainstream community Madam Harwanth Kaur was the first female Sikh lawyer who went on to become the first Lady magistrate in Malaysia.
Numerous Sikhs have received bravery awards for putting their lives at risk to save others. Amongst my friends, Balwant Singh and (later Inspector) Sohan Singh of the Malaysian Police Force are two of them. Another friend, Captain Hardev Singh, died in an ambush by insurgents on the Malaysia-Thai border in the line of duty in the 80’s.
The Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia has groomed and seen many selfless sewadhars (volunteers) including Sukhdev Singh (Dasmesh) mentioned earlier, Harvey Gill, Bulwant Singh, Autar Singh and many many more who have held this wonderful organisation together for over 50 years and pass on valuable gurmatt dissemination and, living proudly, as Sikhs, to thousands of Sikh youth. Behind the scenes sewadhars like Master Pritam Singh and Master Daljit Singh have given life-long sewa for youth not only in Malaysia, but also Thailand and Indonesia.
Inspirational sessions (IPS) specialists like Sukdev Singh, Harcharanjit Singh Raja, Balwinder Singh @ Balley, (Ragi) Gurmukh Singh, Karamjit Singh (Kamay), Sukhinderpal Singh, Hari Singh and many many others have inspired Sikh youth for decades and continue to do so.
By the way ‘all’ of these mentioned are professionals in high posts or as lawyers, doctors and pilots, and all sewa is freely given. Today offshoots of SNSM-brand Sikhi are sprouting in Australia (namely Sikh Youth Australia and Sikh Naujawan Melbourne) and also in New Zealand, notably in Auckland.
I must give special mention of the long serving Malkith Singh. A man who reputedly organises and also cooks langgar for, sometimes up to five gurdwaras most Sundays. He has been a background sewadhar for the SNSM and the Sikh community in Malaysia for almost four decades! He also served as Jathedar for SNSM for two terms.
My final word, tribute and gratitude goes to the wonderful coterie of Granthi Sahibs and other leading dharmic lights I grew up with besides Sant Baba Sohan Singh and my own venerable father Giani Harchand Singh. Starting from the north of the Malay peninsula, they were … Giani Harnam Singh Balav (Penang), Bhai Gamdoor Singh (Taiping and Tampin), Master Nasib Singh (Punjabi teacher, Taiping), Ragi Badan Singh (Kuala Kangsar), Giani Bhaur Singh (Green Town, Ipoh), Baba Jwala Singh (Bidor), Giani Babu Singh, Bhai Ishar Singh, Giani Bachittar Singh, Giani Arjan Singh all from the Klang Valley, Baba Bhaundhu, Giani Jang Singh (Seremban) and the last of these wonderful Sikhs, Giani Rann Singh passed away in Malacca very recently. There was a very inspiring roving percharak, Giani Phuman Singh Ji who used to come and stay with us and hold discourses almost every year.
Sikhs and Sikhi in these parts, has seen ‘ups’ and ‘downs’, but I believe that we are now experiencing a resurgency with the prominence Sikhs are displaying in this country. Most importantly, if only we can all learn to confront our ‘haumai’ (EGO) and work with each other, accepting each others difference in lifestyle and diversifying ideologies, and working towards common goals – then we will be able to further the life philosophy of Sikhi and Sikh living. Our differences are minimal but can be blown out of proportion if we pursue a binary form of mentality – ‘my way or the highway’! ‘If you are not 100% ‘for’ my beliefs, then you are against me’!
Again, these are my own affectionate and nostalgic views of Sikhs in Malaysia. If interested in more Sikh personalities, I can refer you to ‘Pride of Lions‘ by Dr. Manjit Singh Sidhu which has just been released (2017).
Malaysian-born Dya Singh, who now resides in Australia, is an accomplished musician and a roving Sikh preacher. The Dya Singh World Music Group performs full scale concerts on ‘music for the soul’ based on North Indian classical and semi-classical styles of music with hymns from mainly the Sikh, Hindu and Sufi ‘faiths’. He is also the author of SIKH-ING: Success and Happiness. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
[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]
Malaysian Sikhs raise their hand (Asia Samachar, 1 June 2018)
Pride of Lions (Asia Samachar, 28 Oct 2017)
Sikh migration to Peninsular Malaysia – Part 1 (Asia Samachar, 10 Jan 2017)
How to get Sikhs fighting each other (Asia Samachar, 30 May 2018)
I came back to soak in this mood of chardhi kala (Asia Samachar, 18 May 2018)