By Gurmukh Singh | OPINION |
In November 1994, Dya Singh of Australia published his Research Project and Dissertation for his BA in Aboriginal studies at the University of South Australia. The renowned singer of Gurbani in world music genre was an accountant by profession. He started the Introduction with these words: Since coming to Australia in 1980, I have been intrigued by the number of non-Sikhs who carry the surname “Singh”……which was invariably used as a surname when Sikhs travelled outside Panjab.
So, Dya Singh developed a habit of stopping in small towns in Australia when on long journeys and checking the local telephone directories. He was never disappointed and always found some “Singh” names. He wondered if they had Sikh connections. Soon he started meeting some people with those names who confirmed that, indeed, their ancestors were Sikhs! Dya Singh continued with his degree project and by completion had discovered many such families. Some had kept old photographs of early migrant Sikh Australians. Prompted by these discoveries, others in Australia followed to uncover more information about early Sikh settlers in Australia going back to 1848 when a Sikh migrant had opened his bank account in Adelaide, South Australia.
I was reminded of above research by Dya Singh by a recent communication from Sardar Tarlochan Singh, ex-MP and former Chair, National Commission for Indian Minorities. To quote, “I wrote this earlier also that we should make an effort to have a complete history of arrival of Sikhs in UK and have a permanent place which could be a sort of museum. The Sikh diaspora is now well settled and have all the resources to take up this project. I have seen such a museum in Mauritius, depicting the arrival of Biharis in that country. Near the Statue of Liberty in New York, there is a museum of the arrivals of white men in America. Since our arrival in UK, Canada and America is 125 years old, it is easier to collect documents and newspaper articles and oral history…I hope similar efforts would be made by the Sikhs in all other countries where they are settled.”
There are many non-Sikh examples in America like the museum of early settlers in Virginia. In 1607, Jamestown in Virginia was the first UK settlement in North America. There are other similar museums at Maryland and Alabama.
From Australia, Dya Singh has confirmed that there is a small organisation in Perth called the Sikh Heritage Trail which has done good work in tracing Sikh history there with the possibility of a Sikh heritage museum in due course. However, he thinks that British Sikhs should take a lead.
In the UK, Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail and Panjab Heritage projects are similar. S. Tarlochan Singh feels that in late S. Harbinder Singh Rana the Sikhs have lost one of the most dedicated visionaries. Having worked with Harbinder Singh Rana on the Wellington Arch “Jawans to Generals” exhibition in 2002, I agree. Much material has already been collated: Peter Bance has published Sikhs in Britain: 150 Years of Photography. Led by S. Harbinder Singh Rana, much work has been done by Maharaja Dalip Singh Trust and Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trial. Amandeep Singh Madra OBE of UK Punjab Heritage Association is also active. The project can be developed as a wing of another museum like the Sikh Museum at Derby.
So, Sardar Tarlochan Singh is keen that there should be a proper place to house the story of Sikhs in the UK and that the earliest arrivals should be described with proper records, photos and artefacts. The museum should also have a gallery of Sikh achievers.
He suggests that such a project should be considered by those with expertise in the field. Similar museums should come up in diaspora countries. With dedicated teamworking, England is in a good position to take a lead and guide others.
Gurmukh Singh OBE, a retired UK senior civil servant, chairs the Advisory Board of The Sikh Missionary Society UK. Email: email@example.com. Click here for more details on the author.
* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
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