Sikh bullock carters contribution to Malayan tin mining, rubber industries

From the 1880s until the late 1920s, the main mode of road transport in Malaya was bullock carts and the majority of bullock carters were Sikhs.

| History | Malaysia | 3 July 2017 | Asia Samachar |
Central Bus Stand, Seremban, 1947. Back row (Sikhs standing from left): Unknown, Amar Singh Gill, Chet Singh Kokri, Santokh Singh and Ginder Singh Gill

SIKHS in Malaysia contributed significantly towards nation building, particularly in maintaining law and order. They also played a significant role in the early economic development of Malaya, especially the Federated Malay States.

From the 1880s until the late 1920s, the main mode of road transport in Malaya was bullock carts and the majority of bullock carters were Sikhs. The Sikh bullock carters contributed to the development of the tin mining and rubber industries. They transported tin ore, latex and rubber sheets as well as construction materials for the building of roads and railways, management consultant and history writer Dr. Ranjit Singh Malhi tells The Star.

Among the Malayan Sikhs who owned a fleet of bullock carts and became prominent contractors were Vir Singh (Pajam, Negeri Sembilan), Hamir Singh (Sungai Petani, Kedah) and two brothers, Bhan Singh and Dhan Singh (Kuala Lumpur).

SEE ALSO: Indians in Malaya

SEE ALSO: Indians in Malaya

When motorised vehicles became popular in the 1930s, the Sikhs were among the first to start lorry transport business and bus companies. Among the most successful Sikh lorry transporters in Malaysia before the 1980s were Ginder Singh Gill, Gajjan Singh, Indra Singh Sujapur and Nashter Singh Rai. Currently, among the leading Sikh transporters in Malaysia are Pritam Singh Agency Sdn. Bhd., Syarikat Roda Bulk Movers Sdn. Bhd., and Sidhu Brothers Transport Sdn. Bhd.

In Negeri Sembilan, until the late 1970s, about 70% of the bus companies were owned by the Sikhs (including Utam Singh Omnibus Co. Ltd., Seremban Town Service Co. Ltd., and Seremban Omnibus Co. Ltd.), Ranjit said in the article [The Star, 9 June 2017. ‘Story of Sikhs in Malaysia‘ by Majorie Chiew].

Utam Singh’s buses (16-seater) in the 1930s. Photos courtesy of Jithinder Singh, grand-nephew of Utam Singh, Seremban

The article also highlighted a couple of factual errors that Ranjit wanted to address. Among them:

– The oldest known Sikh organisation in Malaysia is Sri Guru Singh Sabha Penang (1895), not Khalsa Diwan Malaya (1903), now known as Khalsa Diwan Malaysia;

– Captain Tristram Speedy recruited 95 discharged sepoys from Punjab in 1873, not 110 as generally written;

– Most of the sepoys recruited by Captain Speedy were Pathans, not Sikhs;

– The Malay States Guides were not involved in the atrocities of the 1915 Singapore Mutiny; and

– Numerous Malayan Sikhs were involved in anti-British political activities geared towards either gaining independence for India (Ghadar movement, 1913-1918 and the Indian independence movement in Malaya during World War II) or safeguarding the religio-political interests of the Sikh community in Punjab (Akali movement, 1920-1925).

Najar Singh Bagha Purana driving a bullock cart in Serdang, Selangor in 1944. Source: Collection of Bhagwan Singh Bagha Purana

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