By Dr Manjit Singh Sidhu | PRIDE OF LIONS: EMINENT SIKHS IN MALAYSIA |
Sardar Kartar Singh’s roots go back to Pre-Partition India. His father Sardar Gean Singh was born in Lahore, capital of the former Sikh Kingdom of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. The family migrated to Delhi sometime in the mid-19208. This was a most fortunate move. They were able to sell their property and take the money to Delhi, the capital of British India. Their relatives who stayed back in Lahore lost Virtually everything at Partition of British India in August, 1947. The Partition delivered a cruel blow to the Sikhs in particular. As many as one-fourth of the total Sikh population of India (6 million in 1947) were residing in West Pakistan in 1947. All of the Sikhs had to flee to Hindu dominated India. Tens of thousands were killed in the riots that took place especially in the province of P 1mjab. During this exodus women were raped or kidnapped. Atrocities took place on both sides of the border.
From Delhi, Gean Singh together with a few ethers decided to migrate to South-East Asia. First they took a train to the port-city of Calcutta (now renamed Kolkata). There they stayed at Vadi Sangat Gurdwara. After purchasing ship tickets they set sail for Penang; upon disembarkation they stayed at Wadda Gurdwara located along Bricklin Road. From here he travelled south by train and settled in Kampar (a large tin mining town, lying to the south of Ipoh) in the first instance. Later he moved to Ipoh, the present capital of Perak and settled in an area near the Wadda Gurdwara, close to the Ipoh Railway Station.
Some members of the party settled in Bangkok, Thailand. Since he had some education in Lahore, he was able to get a job with the Malayan Railways. In Ipoh, he stayed in a locality called Buntong. This settlement had a large Sikh population; many of them were Sainis by caste; in the pre-war days Sikhs living here were cattle rearers; some of them were peddlers, selling cloth, going around surrounding areas and estates on bicycles; later they switched to Honda motorcycles. (This was revealed to me by a friend, Mr. Mer Chand, a former resident of Buntong, Ipoh).
Upon retirement, he joined a well-known motor company, Borneo Motors. According to his grandson (Dato’ Sri Rakhbir Singh), Gean Singh played an active role in overseeing the development of some Sikh Gurdwaras in Perak State.
Kartar Singh was born in Buntong, Perak, on 3rd November, 1930. At the age of seven he enrolled in Anderson School. The Japanese Occupation interrupted his studies. Following the return of the British after the Japanese surrender, he resumed his studies. He was a bright student and did well and went on to join the famous Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur.
Upon completing his Senior Cambridge, he joined the Malayan Civil Service. He was posted to the prison’s department and joined service in Alor Setar Prison. Upon promotion, he was sent to Taiping, the former capital of Perak State. Soon after completing his training, he was posted at Pudu Prison, in Kuala Lumpur, as a Senior Officer. After a few years he was transferred to Penang Prison as Deputy Superintendent.
The year 1970 was important in his life. A disgruntled prison officer of South Indian origin gave a pistol to a prisoner. The prisoner armed with a gun made a bold move to escape. Kartar Singh happened to be at the main gate on that fateful day. As the prisoner tried to escape Kartar blocked him. The prisoner pointed his gun at Kartar Singh and fired his gun at point blank range.
Luckily for Kartar, the chamber was empty. Disregarding personal safety, Kartar overpowered the prisoner, thus toiling a daring escape. Later an inquiry was held and the truth came out as to how the prisoner got hold of the gun; he revealed that the gun was given to him by a prison officer. The officer who had given him the gun was charged and dismissed from service. This was revealed to me by a retired prison officer Mr. Parkash Jotiram, of Seremban.
For his brave act, Kartar Singh was awarded the SPGP, in 1971. It is the highest award for gallantry and bravery, and was presented by the King of Malaysia, His Royal Highness Tuanku Abdul Halim (The Sultan of Kedah), during his first term as Yang di-Pertuan Agong (1970 to 1975).
SEE ALSO: Pride of Lions
This makes Kartar Singh, the only Malaysian Prison Officer who received the Sri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (SPGP) up to this date and the only Sikh in Malaysia to be given this award. The medal is now being kept by his eldest son, Dato’ Sri Rakhbir Singh, a practicing lawyer in Sabah. Living recipients of SPGP are paid an allowance of RM 400/ per month. He was the fifth recipient of this award. It can be given to any eligible person, both civilian and armed forces. According to Wikipedia it was first awarded in 1963 and last awarded in 2001. In all there have been 28 recipients of this distinguished award.
Now to trace his personal life. Sardar Gean Singh married Madam Jagjit Kaur d/o Sohan Singh (from Thailand) in 1956, in Penang, now deceased. Sardar Kartar Singh SPGP passed away in Penang on 3rd April, 1978.
The couple have four children namely, Harcharan Kaur (she now resides in Sydney, Australia), Surjeet Kaur formally a flight stewardess with Malaysian Airlines and later a Cabin Crew Officer in Kota Kinabalu), now deceased. Dato’ Sri K. Rakhbir Singh, a practicing lawyer in Sabah, followed by Sukhdev Singh, formerly a CaptaIn with Malaysian Airlines and later Flying Instructor with Air Asia, now deceased.
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Pride of Lions: Eminent Sikhs in Malaysia authored by Dr Manjit Singh Sidhu.
Price: RM50 (add RM10 for postage within Malaysia)
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