YSA’s Sarabjeet Singh in the running for Singaporean of the year award

YSA and his team started an initiative called Cultural Community Conversations, which invites non-Sikhs to Sikh gurdwaras to help them understand Sikh religion and culture

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Sarabjeet Singh – Photo: The Straits Times
By Asia Samachar Team | SINGAPORE |

Sarabjeet Singh should be no stranger to Asia Samachar readers as he has been featured in a number of articles as we showcased the activities of the Young Sikh Association (YSA).

In a recent article, he shared about how he picked up the art of tying the turban.

This time around, the always obliging and ever ready to take on a challenge Sarabjeet has been picked Singapore’s largest newspaper as one of the 11 finalists for the The Straits Times Singaporean of the Year 2019 award.

One of the finalists the year before was Harbhajan Singh, a veteran nurse who was on the front line battling the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis.

The award seeks to recognise Singaporeans whose extraordinary acts of goodwill have improved their community and the lives of others. It also recognises Singaporeans who have put the country on the world map or persevered to overcome immense adversity.

Two weeks of online public voting for the award will begin on Dec 25.

Below is the article ran by the newspaper on him.

 

CONNECTING PEOPLE FROM DIFFERENT ETHNIC GROUPS

By Clement Yong | STRAITS TIMES | SINGAPORE |

When Mr Sarabjeet Singh was six years old and frolicking in a swimming pool, two Chinese girls asked him where his top was.

“I wore my hair long in keeping with the teachings of Sikhism and they had mistaken me for a girl,” Mr Singh, now 35, told The Straits Times.

“If only I had explained myself instead of angrily swimming away,” he added, saying the incident was a missed opportunity.

Today, the president of the Young Sikh Association (YSA) heads a YSA initiative called Cultural Community Conversations, which invites non-Sikhs to Sikh temples to help them understand Sikh religion and culture.

In September, Mr Singh and the YSA earned kudos when, instead of lashing out, they invited an Instagram influencer to the Central Sikh Temple after she had posted online that two men with turbans were “obstructions” to her view at the Singapore Grand Prix. The influencer said the visit to the temple helped her better understand other religious practices.

The success of that visit kick-started Cultural Community Conversations.

“I have come to realise that many of these incidents are caused not by malicious intent, but by ignorance. I knew her comments could have been made by any of my former students,” said Mr Singh, who used to teach geography and now works at the Education Ministry.

So far, a group from the Republic of Singapore Air Force, some teachers, as well as nearly 400 residents living near the Central Sikh Temple have either attended or set up meetings with the YSA.

“Many of those who live in the area tell me they thought the Central Sikh Temple was a mosque. The (influencer) incident has allowed more people to admit they don’t know much about Sikhism and Sikhs,” Mr Singh said.

Cultural Community Conversations is structured as informally as possible so people have greater liberty to steer discussions, an open approach much like the YSA’s work with Sikh groups in universities. YSA encourages Sikh students to take non-Sikh friends to temples.

Mr Singh, whose wife is Chinese, has also sought to convince others that Sikhs need not be defined primarily by their ethnic or religious traits. In Primary 4, he cut his hair short to fit in, telling his conservative father, who was in Canada on business, his decision in a teary phone conversation.

“My mum would tell naysayers that she would gladly eat soup made by my wife and that my wife enjoys her chapati. What matters are the person’s values. As Singaporeans, we have much in common.” The Straits Times (20 Dec 2019)

 

RELATED STORY:

How I learnt to tie my Phag (turban) (Asia Samachar, 15 Dec 2019)

Veteran Sikh nurse shortlisted for ST Singaporean of the Year 2018 award (Asia Samachar, 15 Oct 2018)

 

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