AN attempt by Punjabi Christians to brazenly attract Sikhs into their fold in Ipoh, Perak, five years ago saw a vigorous pushback from the Sikh community leaders. What is the situation today? Are Sikhs still being targeted by other faith groups in this former tin mining valley?
“They’re still around but they’ve gone stealth,” one community leader told Asia Samachar when asked about the activities of the Christian groups.
“These is some reverse in the flow. I know of some who have come back to the Sikh fold,” said Santokh Singh who heads the Ipoh-based Khalsa Diwan Malaysia (KDM).
On the other hand, Sikh activists on the ground in Perak – one-time home to the largest Sikh population in this part of the world – say the Sikh preaching front may not have improved over the years, either.
“At this point, it is mostly gurdwara-based programmes. Apart from that, you have some chat groups, confined mostly to forwarded messages,” said Daaljit Singh, a former president of Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM) Perak.
Flashback. Exactly five years ago, Sikhs in Ipoh had raised an alarm on alleged intensified moves by Punjabi Christians in luring Sikhs, especially from poorer neighbourhoods, to a Christian worship programme.
The trigger came following widespread invites to Sikh families — through printed cards, WhatsApp messages and word of mouth — to attend church in Ipoh to celebrate ‘Khusian Da Mela’. Initially, one source said the programme was badged ‘Vaisakhi Da Mela’, but changed after an initial Sikh protest.
In response, SNSM Perak, a Sikh youth organisation, had sent a group of observers to the programme held at the Church of Praise at Perindustrian Ringan Sri Rapat, Ipoh.
When spoken to then, SNSM Perak Jathedar Jaswant Singh told Asia Samachar: “We felt that they had gone overboard with the invites, giving them openly to Sikhs. We just wanted to ensure that if Sikhs did turn up, we can advise them what the programme is all about.”
Five years down the road, when contacted again, Jaswant said the Punjabi Christian groups were no longer openly targeting Sikhs, but they were still going about their activities.
On Sikh parchaar (preaching), he said it has not increased in any significant manner.
“Sanggat attandence at Satsang programmes have dwindled so much. Some 15-20 years ago, we used to make one thela (25kg) of rotia (bread). Nowadays, 7-8 kg won’t finish,” he said.
At the same time, he believes the Sikh population in Kinta Valley – the larger area surrounding Ipoh – has increased. “We see many of them attending programmes like Vaisakhi or the New Year,” he said.
One saving grace is the weekend Punjabi schools held all over the country. Perak has 12 Punjabi Education Centres (PECs), as they are known, under the care of KDM and local gurdwaras.
“Apart from academic lessons, we also have Sikhi lessons. We have Sikhi books for these classes. That could be one reason. That could have provided some basic grounding on Sikhi to the students,” said KDM’s Santokh.
At these Punjabi classes, aside from learning basic Sikhi, children also a get chance to mingle.
“They go for outings. There is some sort of togetherness…community coming together. It keeps them together. Otherwise, they will be easy pick [for conversion],” he said.
The PEC has reached even the smaller towns where the Sikh population may have dwindled further due to migration to cities.
He said Punjabi students from smaller towns like Teluk Intan and Sungkai are transported to Bidor for combined Punjabi classes.
“We used to have centres there at one time. But when the number of students drop, we find it more efficient to provide transport and get them to the nearest town. We will open a centre even with five students,” he said.
Santokh noted that the the parchaar in gurdwaras was geared towards the adults. Hence, the case of the missing youth.
“I don’t blame them [youth]..What is spoken on the stages is geared towards the adults. Sometimes, even the adults don’t understand it. In that respect, what we teach – in classes is more effective.
“I’ve been advocating that gurdwaras must have parallel programmes for the young during major programmes. Programmes for kids in gurdwaras is lacking. You have them in some gurdwaras, but we don’t have enough of it. We need to pay more attention to the children,” he said.
On this, one Ipoh-based Sikh activist said that school going children usually have packed schedules on the weekend, with tuition consuming a good part of their time.
“Parents are very focussed on ensuring that their children do well in schools. I don’t blame them. They see education as a way out for them. After school and tuition, they have very little time left for other acvities, gurdwara included,” he said.
He also noted a significant drop in the number of Sikh youth taking part in Gurmat camps or other Gurmat-related gatherings.
“Our kids’ mindset has changed. They turn to IT to get answers and don’t feel the need to be physically present at a camp or gurdwara,” he said.
However, he observed that the Buddhist youth have seemed to overcome the challenge, as their youth camps are well attended.
“The Buddhist groups have been able to attract the youth. They have made it interesting and exciting. I attended one of their camps and noticed the kids eagerly taking part,” he said.
The Rise of Christianity in Panjab (Asia Samachar, 31 Jan 2020)
Ipoh Sikhs raise alarm on Punjabi Christian event (Asia Samachar, 13 May 2020)