Gurdwaras, societies need to evolve, speaker tells inaugural Singapore Sikh Community Lecture series

Prof Tan Tai Yong (right) speaks at SKA’s inaugural Singapore Sikh Community Lecture series, moderated by Aljunied GRC MP Pritam Singh – Photo: SKA Facebook
By Asia Samachar Team | SINGAPORE |

Sikh community institutions, organisations and gurdwaras, which had traditionally defined the Sikh culture in Singapore, may have to evolve and adapt. At the same time, they have to actively engage the Sikh youth.

These were some of the key messages delivered at the inaugural Singapore Sikh Community Lecture series yesterday (2 Nov).

“They will find it increasingly more challenging to control and shape the narrative and markers of Sikh identity,” Yale-NUS College president Prof Tan Tai Yong, an academician who has published extensively on the Sikh Diaspora, told the audience.

The inaugural lecture series, organised by the Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA), was launched to commemorate the 550th birth of Guru Nanak. It attracted more than 120 guests.

Prof Tan, who is also the deputy chairman of Institute of South Asian Studies, NUS, said that the Sikh community will need to “create spaces for a diversity of voices and new perspectives on how Sikh identities can be negotiated”.

He felt that one important group that the community needs to more actively engage with is young Sikhs.

However, he noted that “engagement with the youths, with their different worldviews and priorities, will be the major challenge.”

He added that it was important to get them interested and take some form of ownership in the preservation of Sikh religion, traditions and culture.

In the lecture entitled “The Sikhs in Singapore – Past, Present and Future”, Tan described the Singapore’s Sikh community of 12,000 as a “minority within a minority” in a multiracial population of 5.64 million.

The presentation examined how the Sikh community has adapted and responded to the changing environment in Singapore. It also traced the arrival of the early Sikh migrants to Singapore in the 19th century to them becoming local citizens, contributing to the development of the society.

Prof Tan also examined some of the key achievements made by the Sikh community as well as the challenges it faces as it continues its efforts to remain an integral part of Singapore’s multi-cultural and multi-religious fabric.

In Prof Tan’s view, young Sikhs may want to do things in certain ways that may cause discomfort. For instance, more could be done to acknowledge the arts and creative fields as much as the Sikh community has acknowledged and supported successes in politics, business and other professional fields.

“As much as gurdwaras and community institutions play important roles in the shaping of Sikh identity, so too can film, art and fiction created by Punjabi Sikhs,” he said.

Prof Tan suggested “…cultivating in the Sikh youths, the consciousness based on core beliefs and values, while allowing space for them to engage (sometimes critically) and adapt to the contexts and circumstances of their everyday lives may be the surest way of ensuring that “Sikhism and the Sikhi will continue to thrive in Singapore.”


Audience at SKA’s inaugural Singapore Sikh Community Lecture series – Photo: SKA Facebook

The address was followed by a panel discussion with former Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Coordinating Committee for Sikh Institutions Inderjit Singh, moderated by Pritam Singh, Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC.

The questions ranged from connecting with the next generation of Singapore leadership; impact of developments in India on the Sikhs in Singapore to greater engagement with young Sikhs; Sikh women empowerment and the Singapore Sikh community being able to continue to punch well above our weight, among others.

Spearheaded by SKA, the lecture series will see eminent personalities – Sikhs and non-Sikhs – from Singapore and overseas being invited periodically to discuss key issues which have an impact on the Sikh community vis-à-vis the other communities in Singapore as well as internationally.

The lecture series aims to provide an important platform for the Sikh community in Singapore to gain a deeper understanding of local, regional and global issues, and to devise relevant mechanisms to address these issues.



Singapore ambassador Prof Koh speaks at YSA lecture series (Asia Samachar, 4 May 2016)


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