Malaysia The Sikhs of Labuan, Malaysia

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    The Sikhs of Labuan, Malaysia
    by MUMIN MALAYSIA



    One of the spots in Malaysia that has a significant population of Sikhs is Labuan. When I visited the island, I found a book titled "Sikhs in Saban and Labuan - A historical perspective", authored by Surjit Singh Gill.
    The book begins with an introduction to Sikhism and Guru Nanak's teachings. And then it details the history of Sikhs in Sabah and Labuan. Sikhs form a minority in the population. The book says Sikhs have made contributions in areas such as defence, law and order and served in the public sector.


    According to the book, the first Sikh to set fooot on the island was Bhagat Singh Sandhu who reached Labuan to join the coal company security service as early as 1868. He was only 20-years old. He was paid Rm 5, which was considered a handsome amount in those days.
    In fact, Bhagat Singh is remembered by a monument along the old Macarther Road.


    A significant contributor in the life history of Labuan was Gurbux Singh Sandhu (a Punjab-born man who arrived in Labuan in 1923). He was the founding president of the Indian Association of North Borneo, Labuan, formed in 1936. He served as a honorary Inspector on the Police Force.
    The book laments the fact that the younger generation of Sikhs are losing touch with their religion and the mores of Sikhism.

    Many young Sikhs cannot read or write Punjabi language in which the divine philosphy is written and spoken. The book urges the present generation to "remember their historical past ... and maintain identity in the volatile world order."


    When I was in Labuan, I found a Gurdwara in a prestigious area in town. The book says that the gurdwara was built in the year 2000 at a cost of Rm 1.6 million.


    I began talking to some Sikhs in Labuan and asked them about life on the island.


    Manjit Kaur, working at Rent-a-Car, loves it here.


    "It's a peaceful island," she says. "I have lived in Kuala Lumpur ("KL")... but I moved here to bring up my daughters. You get quality time to spend with your children. Half your life is not spent in driving - I can't say the same about KL," she says.


    Manjit Kaur introduced me to the Secretary of the Gurdwara, Sital Singh.
    He describes a typical day in Labuan: "Life begins early. At 7.30 a.m. all shops are open. Between 8 and 8.30 Government, Public Works and Immigration Offices open. The working day continues till 4.30 pm., after which people begin to wind up their day. I personally wind up my business at around 7.30 p.m."


    "Labuan has religious institutions of all faiths: there are Masjids, Churches, Chinese Temples, a hindu temple and our very own Gurdwara," he says. But there is complete religious freedom, and each one is free to practice his or her own faith.


    Sital Singh wouldn't move anywhere else in the world for anything. "I have visited the U.S. , Canada, India, Singapore and Australia. But nowhere in the world is life as stress-free, quiet and peaceful as it is here."

    December 27, 2009
     

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