Recognising the Sikh community’s history


  • Letters
  • Wednesday, 20 Feb 2013

THE Malaysian Sikh Community has the distinction of being a progressive and dynamic community which within one generation was transformed from predominantly being one of policemen, bullock carters, watchmen, dairymen and mining labourers into doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professionals.

The Sikhs, proportionately, have perhaps the largest number of professionals compared to any other group in Malaysia.

Unfortunately, the history of the Sikhs in Malaysia is yet to be fully written and has received scant academic attention to date.

In this regard, the latest book by Dr Azharudin Mohamed Dali of the University of Malaya entitled Sejarah Masyarakat India di Malaysia with one entire chapter on the Sikh community is greatly welcomed.

I am currently completing a book pertaining to the social, economic and political history of the Sikhs in Malaysia.

Apart from some factual errors (which should not be repeated in subsequent writings), Dr Azharudin gives the erroneous impression

that the Sikhs of the Malay States Guides (MSG) stationed at Singa­pore played a major role in the Singapore mutiny of February

1915.

The truth is that the 1915 mutiny was a rebellion against the British started and conducted almost entirely by one half of the 5th Light Infantry regiment (Muslim Rajputs) of the British Indian Army stationed at Singapore.

The ringleaders – Subedar Dunde Khan, Jemedar Chisti Khan and Havildar Imtiaz Ali – and Sepoy Ismail Khan who fired the first shot of the mutiny were all men of the 5th Light Infantry.

Only 11 (seven Sikhs and four Muslims) out of 97 men of the MSG stationed at Singapore were charged and convicted of complicity in the mutiny.

The seven Sikhs were found in Tiong Bahru where the shooting had taken place and two of their rifles having been recently fired.

Six of the Sikhs were sentenced to nine months and the seventh sentenced to 11 months of imprisonment.

According to Dr T. R. Sareen in

his book, Secret Documents on Singapore Mutiny 1915, the seven Sikhs were sentenced to imprisonment under very flimsy circumstantial evidence.

The role of the MSG in the 1915 mutiny has been aptly summarised by Dr Sareen as follows: “… there is no shred of evidence to connect the individuals (of MSG) with any of the outrages or with various detachments of mutineers … their conduct though lacking in initiative, was perhaps justifiable.”

To sum up, out of the 202 men tried by court-martial for their involvement in the 1915 Mutiny, only 11 belonged to the MSG and all of the 47 insurgents sentenced to death and executed were men of the 5th Light Infantry.

DR RANJIT SINGH MALHI Kuala Lumpur

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