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Heritage Sikhs In Malaysia: The First Generation


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Policing the Empire – Early Sikh migration to the Far East

March 26th, 2009

It is widely accepted that Sikhs played a significant role in the British Indian Army, and hence the many British military campaigns fought on and abroad Indian soil . They impressed the British officers with their fearsome, martial persona and adept ability at mastering the drill. The ‘proud Sikh soldier’ and his various attributes prompted British administrators of Malaya and the Straits Settlements to consider the Sikhs as an appropriate racial category to recruit from for the para - military policing needs of the Malayan Native States and the Straits Settlements. The Sikh appearance and presence was effective, in the opinion of the British, in intimidating the Chinese Secret Societies and deterring the activities of the other ‘Eastern criminal classes’. Although the presence of significant Sikh communities in the Far East today can be largely attributed to the migration of Sikhs during the colonial era, in search for employment in the various law enforcement and security agencies of the eastern colonies, very little has been written about the role and contribution of the Sikhs in the colonial police forces of Malaya and the Straits Settlements.

Arunajeet Kaur explains the recruitment of Sikhs for the colonial police forces in British Malaya . Using primary documentation from the British and Malaysian Archives , the author pieces together the life and times of the early Sikh policeman - migrant to these parts of Asia. Beginning with their arrival on Malayan soil in1874, as Speedy’s men, to protect British tin and mineral investments in Perak , Arunajeet elaborates the structure and principles of Colonial policing and demonstrates how the Sikhs became a valuable strategy of colonial power in keeping subjects of the British colonies in the Far East in check. A second part to this publication describes how these Sikh policemen then formed the genesis and subsequent establishment of Sikh communities in Southeast Asia by being the initiators and contributors to the construction of places of Sikh worship and as propagators and participants of Sikh religious precepts and politics .

This publication fills the lacunae in the knowledge of the Sikh Diaspora in the Far East. While Sikh communities in the UK, US and Canada have received sufficient academic and public attention, Sikh communities in Southeast Asia have been constantly overlooked , at best mentioned in passing or as casual footnote when theorizing on overseas Sikhs . This publication is a first in focusing on the Sikh communities in Asia .
Source Policing the Empire ? Early Sikh migration to the Far East | SikhNet

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004
Arunajeet Kaur has done a wonderful job...The early SIKHS of MALAYA ( now MALAYSIA) have a really chequered history.....we have been here for a Century ++.....
Aruna is now doing her PHD in Australia...

Malsyia also has its very own Punjabi writer cum Historian...Malkeet Singh Lopo of Prai butterworth Penang...who at one time even sold his one and only house to finance his first two volume sikh history of malaya ( in Punjabi). Recently he has written a Novel based on History...Malaya..the MITHHEE JAIL.."Malaya the sweet Prison..." sequel is also on the way. Its a book worth reading...entertainment and history
Jul 13, 2004
While googling on Sardar Lopo Sahib, came across a nice article about him and his literary activities at www.punjabnewsline.com/content/view/3957/.

It is pasted below for your reading pleasure:

Sunday, 06 May 2007
A new historical novel 'The Enchanted Prison' written by Malkiat Singh (65) chronicles the little-known story of the pioneering Sikhs in Malaya and the emotional process of attachment towards their new homeland.

KAULA LUMPER: SOME time in the 1920s, a widower farmer from a village in the Indian province of Punjab travelled to Malaya with his son and daughter, seeking a better life and fortune.
Arjan Singh ended up in Rawang and found himself making a laborious living by breaking charcoal for the furnace in a powerhouse. In his spare time, he reared cattle.
His son, Bachan Singh, would later move to Prai to work as a labourer in the pier, and his daughter-in-law Balwant Kaur would tend the herd in Kampung Teluk.
Little did Arjan suspect then that his struggle would one day be told to the world by his own grandson, through a scholarly work of literature.
The Enchanted Prison, chronicles the early hardships, predicaments and successes of the Sikhs who, like other communities, helped propel Malaysia to the modern industrialised land it is today.
“We had a tough life,” recalls Malkiat Singh of his family’s past.
“Our early generations suffered. So they knew education was important. That is why their children progressed rather fast.” Based on historical facts, The Enchanted Prison expresses in a fictional plot the conditions in India and Malaya from 1873 to 1937.
“Malaya was the first country outside the Indian subcontinent that Sikhs emigrated to,” the retired school teacher explains at his home in Seberang Jaya, Penang.
“It was referred to as the golden cage or a heavenly prison.
“It was a prison because one was so enchanted by this foreign country that you were unable to return to your ownhomeland.” Malkiat’s book describes how early immigrants underwent a transformation through an emotional process of attachment that made them devoted to Malaya.
“When the first immigrants came here, they viewed Punjab with nostalgia and longing. But when they returned there years later, it had become a strange country!” Most of the early Sikh immigrants were needed by the British colonial government. While many belonged to the army and police, a steady stream of other occupations also grew — milkmen, cattle farmers, guards, craftsmen, collies and tailors.
Through fiction, Malkiat recreates a past universe borne out of a deeply endeared imagination. There is a keenness for detail that makes the old world come alive in the mind of the modern reader.
The novel is replete with images — the steam journey from Calcutta to Rangoon to Penang; the bachelor’s kongsi for contract workers; the labour work they undertook; their common kitchen; the activities at the railway; the expansion of roads and the building of houses.
Through such images, Malkiat brings out the ethos of the pioneers and their very experiences for the current generations of Malaysians.
Though specific to a particular ethnic community, the novel is easily one of the most insightful works of historical literature to have come out of Malaysia in the last few years.
Malkiat has an intimate grasp of the idiosyncrasies and mores of the early Sikh explorers in Malaya’s rural frontiers.
Ironically, Malkiat has never set foot in Punjab. Despite this, he has authored several books, including the Sikhs in Malaysia series which he co-wrote with his wife, Mukhtiar Kaur.
Malkiat has always known there is no commercial revenue forthcoming from his research.
In fact, The Enchanted Prison was originally written in 1972, but was not published due to lack of funding until recently, when his old friend Hari Singh took up the project. “It is a labour of love,” says Malkiat.
Malkiat used to write for the Singapore-based Punjabi paper Navjiwan Weekly and the KLbased Pardesi Khalsa Sevak — both now defunct.
When the latter closed in 1960, he began writing a column called Lopo Kalam (Lopo writes) for Malaya Samachar, the only local Punjabi periodical.
Known as an eccentric, his collections of old photos, patchwork quilts and traditional dolls have been displayed in exhibitions around the country.
“I have even compiled about 2,000 words from the Malay language that are also used in Punjabi,” he says proudly.
Absorbed by Punjabi folk songs (“the vocabulary is inspiring, the music can move you”), Malkiat is planning a major project for next year — the third centenary of the installation of the Guru Granth Sahib, the holy book of the Sikhs.
Large portions of his novel are engrossed with elaborate descriptions of weddings and even a couple of funerals — all serving to show the vibrancy of the culture then with its rituals and orthodoxy, its fashions and cuisine.
What makes the work particularly precious is that its fiction is craftily condensed as a commentary of major historical episodes of the period.
Malkiat weaves real incidents, both well-known and obscure, into an imaginary plot.
Even as it alludes to the glories of the old Sikh kingdom in India, the book dispenses much readable information — with real anecdotes and accounts — on facts like the Malay States Guides, tours by Sikh saints and freedom fighters to Malaya, journals and accounts left by travellers from that era and the politics that took place.
A sequel which deals with the period 1937 to 1955 is in the offing. Malkiat calls it an “adoption period” that was affected by Punjab’s partition between India and Pakistan, and the prospects of Merdeka.
In February, he suffered a third heart attack. The hospital he was warded at for a whole month was teeming with a steady stream of well-wishers.
“They are more than blood relations,” he says of his old friends. “They are left overs from a generation that is slowly diminishing.”
(The Enchanted Prison is available at the office of Malaya Samachar, 2nd floor, Wisma Tatt Khalsa, 24 Jalan Raja Alang, 50300 Kuala Lumpur. Tel: 03-26930735; 012- 3690673 (Hari Singh). E-mail: samachar@streamyx.com This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it)


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Thank you Thank you Arvind ji, Gyani ji -- because I would like to see the threads on the disapora really blossom and bloom, including this one.