Thursday, 21 November 2013

Historical Episode of Komagata Maru during the Ghadar Movement

Paper commissioned by Sikh Study Forum, East London.

(Note: It is a co-incidence that about two weeks after I had sent this paper to S. Baldev Singh Sabbar, convener Sikh Study Forum, towards mid-September 2013, I read a report in the Panjab Times UK (10 October 2013) about a book, “Ghadri Baabay kaon sann” (Who were the Gadhri Babas) by Ajmer Singh. Apparently the book stresses that the Babas – founders of the Ghadar movement - got their inspiration from Sikh ideology. A conclusion also reached by this paper. Many writers have ignored this self-evident truth and not done justice to Sikh tradition nor to the Ghadar movement.)

"This ship belongs to the whole of India, this is a symbol of the honour of India and if this was detained, there would be mutiny in the armies." (a passenger on Komagata Maru told a British officer.)

“The visions of men, widened by travel and contacts with citizens of a free country, will infuse a spirit of independence and foster yearnings for freedom in the minds of the emasculated subjects of alien rule.” (Gurdit Singh Sandhu of Sarhali)

When invited to write a paper about the Komagata Maru episode during the Ghadar Movement, I started with some facts and figures. I also had in mind the words of a renowned patriot, Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna, the first President of the Ghadar Party.
He said:
"We were not Sikhs or Punjabis. Our religion was patriotism.”
(Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna)

The ship, Komagata Maru carried 376 passengers consisting of 340 Sikhs, 24 Muslims, and 12 Hindus, all British subjects. When looking at these figures, not only do we need to bear in mind the population mix of undivided Punjab before 1947, but also take into account the fact that the total Sikh population in 1914, when the ship set sail for Canada, was no more than about 3 million. It would seem that Baba Sohan Singh’s statement that “We were not Sikhs...” is made in the spirit of a true patriot.

But then, Prof Puran Singh also wrote rather cryptically, “Punjab is neither Hindu nor Musalmaan; Punjab lives in the name of the Guru’s”
(Panjab na Hindu na Musalmaan, Panjab jeenda Gura(n) dey naam te”)

Panjab is the land of the Gurus.
Panjab, Gurua(n) di dharti hai.

That is because, Guru Nanak’s wake-up call was for all, and above religious divisions. His clarion call to have belief in One Creator Being [and one humanity] was first heard in Panjab; and, according to Sir Mohamad Iqbal, “a perfect human being woke up India from a bad dream.”

Phir akhir sada utthee toheed ki Panjab se
Hind ko ek Mard-e-Kamal ne jagaya Khwaab se.....
(Sir Mohamad Iqbal)

Therefore, Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna’s statement can be looked at in a more positive way.
The egalitarian ideology of Guru Nanak is the heritage of the Sikhs. It is also the heritage of all Indians and of all humanity. That heritage is not exclusive to the Sikhs; but also inclusive of all those who understand and accept the universal ever green message of Guru Nanak.

Only Guru Nanak Sahib’s revolutionary ideology can explain the passenger figures on Komagata Maru being 340-24-12 being Sikh-Muslim-Hindu, respectively. Hugh Johnston wrote The Voyage of the Komagata Maru: The Sikh challenge to Canada's Colour Bar”. (1979, Toronto: Oxford University Press.) He does not mince his words; he writes about the “Sikh” challenge to Canada’s colour bar.

I have digressed slightly; because, in the context of any phase of the struggle for people’s freedom in India, it is important to understand why the Sikhs feature so prominently. Here, at the outset, I am intentionally alluding to the possible reasons for the later split in the Ghadar Party in America into Communist and Anti-Communist factions after World War I. A movement which does not acknowledge the source of its insipration and continually draw from it, will run into the sands.

From childhood, a Sikh grows up listening to the fearless deeds of the Khalsa, and begins to understand that a Sikh is prepared to die as a warrior fighting for the righteous cause:

Said Guru Nanak: “It is the right of a brave person to die for a worthy cause.”
Maran munsa surya(n) hak hoay maran parvano. SGGS 579 (2nd;.... hoay mareh parvano..).SGGS 580

Before the martyrdoms of Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Tegh Bahadur, the Semitic martyrdom tradition, to which Guru Nanak Sahib’s ideology gave a new meaning, was unheard of in India. [But this is a topic for another discussion.]

It is true that the inherited freedom-loving Sikh spirit was further influenced by socialist thought popular in western universities.

Sikhs living abroad resented the prejudicial treatment they were receiving (and continue to receive to this day) from the majority white communities in the countries they migrated to. Their anger began to be directed towards the British colonial rule in India.

In 1913, the Pacific Coast Hindustan Association, popularly known as the Ghadar Party was formed, mostly by Sikh emigrants to the United States. Ghadar means "revolt" or "rebellion." It is an Urdu word derived from Arabic. The President of the Ghadar Party was Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna. Others like Kartar Singh Sarabha, Rashbehari Bose, Dyal, Tarak Nath Das, Maulavi Barkatullah and V G Pingle were the leading figures.

Komagata Maru incident was one of several in the history of the struggle for Indian independence, in the early 20th century. This episode of connected events, started with a challenge to exclusion laws in both Canada and the United States. These racially biased laws, were designed to keep out people from the Indian sub-continent.

The Canadian government passed an order-in-council on January 8, 1908, that prohibited immigration of persons who "in the opinion of the Minister of the Interior" did not "come from the country of their birth or citizenship by a continuous journey and, or, through tickets purchased before leaving the country of their birth or nationality."

In effect that applied mainly to Indians; because a continuous journey by sea from India to Canada or America was not possible. Ships had to stop in Japan or Hawaii. Yet, in 1913 alone, Canada accepted a record number of over 400,000 immigrants from Europe.

On the American side, a legal battle over the rights of Indians to obtain U.S. citizenship was being fought by Bhagat Singh Thind, whose youngest brother Jagat Singh was a passenger on Kamagata Maru.

The background to the incident was that a Sikh businessman, Gurdit Singh (1861 – 1954), a supporter of the Ghadar Party, established the Guru Nanak Steamship Company and chartered a Japanese ship, Kamagata Maru, to transport Indians to Canada in defiance of Canadian exclusion laws. He was well aware of the laws and by challenging the continuous journey regulation, he wanted to open the door for immigration from India to Canada.

So we need to look at the incident and the Ghadar Movement in the historical context of the struggle for the freedom of the Indian sub-continent from colonial rule.

The ship was scheduled to start from Hong Kong in March 1914, but Gurdit Singh’s planned voyage was illegal under Canadian laws. He was arrested for selling tickets for this illegal voyage.

However, he was later released on bail and given permission by the Governor of Hong Kong to set sail. The reason for the Governor’s decision is not clear. It may be that there was doubt in the Governor’s mind about his own legal position for not allowing the ship to set sail. After all, he was not bound by Canadian laws.

The ship departed on April 4 with 165 passengers. After picking up more passengers at Shanghai on April 8, the ship arrived at Yokohama on April 14. It left Yokohama on May 3 with 376 passengers, mostly Sikh, as we have seen, and sailed into Burrard Inlet, near Vancouver, on May 23. However, it was not allowed to dock.

The name of the first immigration officer who boarded the ship is given as Fred "Cyclone" Taylor.

From this point on, as in every story, there are heroes and villains. The heroes are the defiant passengers of Kamagata Maru and the Ghadar Party organizers of the “Shore Committee”, and the villains are the racialist law makers and politicians, and the overzealous officials who made life difficult for the passengers.

At that time, Balwant Singh was the head priest of the Gurdwara in Vancouver. He had been one of the three delegates sent to London and India to represent the case of Indians in Canada. He and another revolutionary, Maulavi Barkatullah met with the ship en route. Revolutionary literature was distributed and political meetings took place on the ship.

A Conservative MP, H H Stevens, who was in league with an immigration official Malcolm R. J. Reid, organised a public meeting to send the ship back without allowing any passengers to disembark. There is little doubt that Stevens, the politician, in league with Reid, the official, were behind the mistreatment of the passengers. Under political pressure, the Conservative Premier of British Columbia, Richard McBride, gave public assurance that passengers would not be allowed to enter the country.

During this time a "Shore Committee" was formed and organised protest meetings in Canada and the United States. It is quite remarkable that in those days the Committee managed to raise Canadian dollars 22,000 to charter a ship, while resolving to go back to India to start a revolution.

A court case in the name of a passenger, Munshi Singh was started to test the exclusion laws. However, on 6 July “the full bench of the B.C. Court of Appeal gave an unanimous judgment that under new orders-in-council, it had no authority to interfere with the decisions of the Department of Immigration and Colonization.”

Passengers became restless in the crammed conditions on the ship. They sacked the Japanese captain, but the Canadian government ordered the harbour tug Sea Lion to push the ship out to sea. On July 19, the angry passengers attacked the police with lumps of coal and bricks. HMCS Rainbow, a former Royal Navy ship, under the command of Commander Hose stood by.

In the end, out of 376, only 20 passengers, who had not violated the exclusion laws , were admitted to Canada. The ship was forced to leave for Asia on July 23, exactly two months after its arrival in Vancouver.

During this time, the British colonial rulers were being kept informed of all these events including the declared revolutionary agenda of the Shore Committee and the role of the Ghadar Party ring leaders on board the Komagata Maru.

The ship arrived in Calcutta on September 27, 2014. It was stopped outside the harbour by a British gunboat, and the passengers were placed under guard. When the ship docked at Budge Budge Ghat, the police went to arrest Baba Gurdit Singh and about 20 other men who were identified as revolutionaries.

They resisted arrest and there was a general riot. Shots were fired and 19 of the passengers were killed. “Some escaped, but the remainder were arrested and imprisoned or sent to their villages and kept under village arrest for the duration of the First World War.

This incident became known as the “Budge Budge Riot”.

The Komagata Maru incident inflamed passions and gave a massive boost to the cause of the Ghadar Party. Meetings were organised by the Party not only in California in 1914 but also in other diaspora countries and members were recruited to the revolutionary movement. The incident was used as a rallying point by the leaders. The declared intention was to start a massive uprising in India. Some of them returned to India at the start of World War I, and started anti-British activities.

Kartar Singh Sarabha, was an eighteen years old student at the University of California, Berkely. He returned to India and, possibly with the Indian Mutiny of 1857 in mind, incited Indian soldiers to revolt. He was captured with others, tried at Lahore, and sentenced on 13th September 1915. He washanged three days later.

With Indian and world attention focussed on the War, any possibility of a popular uprising was crushed quickly by close of year 1915.

That plan did not work immediately but did take India one significant step closer to independence.

Before concluding, I would like to say something about the true story of Indian independence. Depending upon own leanings, some would like to start it from the Indian Mutiny in 1857. However, I would suggest that struggle for the liberation of the Indian sub-continent started with Guru Nanak Sahib’s challenge to Babar, the Mughal invader, with a tacit message of revolt to the people of India when he said “Hindostan draaya...”. He used the word Hindostan i.e. the whole people of the Indian sub-continent, who feared for their lives. The later colonial powers also were invaders, albeit, more sophisticated and less cruel. Nevertheless , their intention was to conquer and enslave Indians.

5th Nanak, Guru Arjun, spoke of “halemi raj”, in which no one would inflict pain or suffering on another; and, 9th Nanak, Guru Tegh Bahadur, told the same people to be brave, and “frighten none, and accept fear from no-one.”

We can start the story of Indian independence from Guru Gobind Singh’s challenge to the hill rajas at Rawalsar in 1701 to rise up against slavery and overthrow the foreign invaders. From Baba Banda Singh Bahadur onwards, thousands of Sikh shaheeds of the 18th Century Khalsa continued the struggle for people’s freedom.

Despite good Anglo-Sikh relations, a series of incidents kept reminding the freedom loving Sikhs that they were not free under the British colonial rule. The freedom movement in Panjab had in fact started as soon as Panjab was annexed in 1849. This picked up at national level towards the end of the 19th Century when the Indian National Congress party was formed in 1885.

The Sikh writers, preachers and poets had not forgotten, nor were they going to let the people of Panjab forget, the loss of their Panjabi Khalsa Raj. It was a soldier in the Khalsa army of Panjab who first resolved to fight against British colonial rule following the annexation of Panjab. This man was Baba Ram Singh (1816 – 1885). His stress was on simple living, regular meditation on Naam (God’s Name) and boycott of all foreign goods and services. His method of fighting foreign rule was effective and later adopted by the Indian national leaders like Mahatma Gandhi.

Following the Komagata Maru episode and the Ghadar Party activities, when the Sikh jawans returned home after the First World War, they realised that they were denied the freedom for which they had made such great sacrifices during the War. New Sikh movements started. Some of these aimed to reform own religious institutions and to free them from British control. Others arose to oppose British colonial rule. British administrators of India were concerned; because they had experience of Sikh determination when they were fighting for a just cause. Sikhs suffered the consequences for their lead role in the freedom struggle by making over 80% of all sacrifices (hangings and life imprisonments resulting from the freedom movement). These sacrifices in the struggle for freedom were made by a community numbering less than 2% of the population of the sub-continent!

The next phase of the Indian struggle for independence was triggered by the massacre at the Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar, the holy city of the Sikhs. It was on the Vaisakhi day on 13th April, 1919.

However, in the context of the Komagata Maru episode, we can say that the final phase of Indian independence started with the Ghadar Party, further motivated by this historic incident.

Gumukh Singh
Article may be published with acknowledgement.

© Gurmukh Singh

Recommended further reading:

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Meeting with Jathedar Akal Takht Sahib

Sikh Council UK: Progress Meeting with Jathedar Akal Takht Sahib

In his letter of 9 October to Singh Sahib Giani Gurbachan Singh ji, Jathedar Sri Akal Takht Sahib, S. Gurmel Singh Kandola, Secretary General of the Sikh Council UK, thanked him for “a constructive meeting which paved the way for furthering the cause of Sikhs living abroad.”

That meeting took place on 29 September, 2013 at Ramgarhia Gurdwara Sahib, Oswald Road, Southall, UK. Singh Sahib was accompanied by his PA, S. Jaswinder Pal Singh.

S. Gurmel Singh’s letter of 9 October, also introduced me as member of the Council’s Board of Jathedars visiting Panjab, and suggested a follow up progress meeting at Darbar Sahib in the first week of November.

As mandated by Sikh Council UK, I met Singh Sahib and S. Bhupinder Singh, In-charge of Akal Takht Sahib Secretariat, at Darbar Sahib on Wednesday 6 November 2013.

The main aim of this meeting was to agree regular (routine level) consultation process between Akal Takht Sahib and the Sikh Council UK, and also extension of the same process to representative organisations in the Sikh diaspora countries.

Renowned global Kirtania, Bhai Dya Singh of Australia, who led the religious proceedings from the Sikh side at the Parliament of World Religions in December 2009, also attended as an observer for Sikh Australians and the Australian Sikh Council (see footnote).

There were two main aims of the meeting following on from discussions with Singh Sahib on 29 September meeting:

- To link Gurdwaras and Sikh organisations at national and international level with Sri Akal Takh Sahib.

- To set up a two way consultation process at working level, supporting and briefing Akal Takht Sahib, while seeking regular advice and additional practical level guidance about Sikh Reht Maryada e.g. about “mixed” marriages when one partner was a non-Sikh, same sex marriages, misuse of chairs and benches in Gurdwara halls etc. (Draft paper about “mixed” marriages in English and Punjabi, and position paper on same sex marriages, were handed to Singh Sahib.)

Main points were also given to Singh Sahib in Panjabi.

Singh Sahib continues to show a keen interest in a “Supreme” (Vishav) Sikh Council at world level, linking national level Sikh councils. He agreed that the Sikh Council UK is ideally placed to give support and advice to promote this initiative. He appreciated the Sarbat Khalsa ideal as the founding principle of the Sikh Council UK, bringing diverse Sikh organisations (“garam/naram” factions) and Gurdwaras together, while keeping an open door for those who remain undecided about sitting around one Panthic table.

While understanding the parameters of his position, I was much impressed by Singh Sahib’s grasp of global Sikh issues and what needs to be done. The “maan-maryada” and authority of Sri Akal Takht will be enhanced through communication with Sikh diaspora and exposure to modern challenges faced by the global Sikh community.

A point stressed by S. Bhupinder Singh was that serious correspondence (postal or by e-mail), must be constructive and uphold the high position of Akal Takht Sahib. Such communications will be responded to as directed by Singh Sahib at the meeting. I had a further follow up telephone discussion with S Bhipinder Singh on 7th November to ensure clear understanding of issues. He accepted that our communication will be mostly in English, which can be translated by Sri Akal Takht Sahib Secretariat as required.

Organisations promoting grass-roots (Sangat) representation in the diaspora countries, are now in a position to link up and initiate upward reform of our central institutions by bringing them face to face with 21st Century issues. Yet, the only way to make progress is to understand and take into account the political pressures under which the senior office holders, including Jathedar Akal Takht Sahib, are working. To show this understanding is not to yield to such “politics” and negative influences, but to counter such forces and to strengthen the position of the office holders by inviting them to respond.

Research, advice and guidance is always a two way process. Sikh scholars should form panels wherever they live, produce research and draft papers, and submit these through national organisations, to Akal Takht Sahib for consideration and issuance, where necessary, of related formal guidance by the Singh Sahiban.

Above are some main points which Singh Sahib ji received in writing and himself added to in discussion.

Permission was sought and given by Singh Sahib for these matters to be reported in news and further discussed by the Sikh Council UK and other national organisations in diaspora countries.

Following the meeting, Bhai Dya Singh and I were acknowledged by Singh Sahib with siropas, received in humility.

(Note: Bhai Dya Singh of Australia was visiting Darbar Sahib following a Kirtan tour of Malaysian Gurdwaras (37 programmes in October organised by the Malaysian Sikh Naujavan Sabha), with two renowned Gursikh musicians from Punjab, Paramjot Singh (Guiness world record holder for tabla) and Sandeep Singh (taus and dilruba). Singh Sahib appreciated Bhai Dya Singh of Australia’s Kirtan recordings for young Sikhs in diaspora countries.]

Gurmukh Singh
Member Board of Jathedars
Sikh Council UK

Chair Advisory Panel
The Sikh Missionary Society UK

Darbar Sahib Darshan 6 November 2013


Dedicated Khalsa Aid sevadars in Punjab:  Discussion of aid projects which were also mentioned to Singh Sahib, Jathedar Akal Takht Sahib.

Below: Family photos

Lady with mobile: "Hellow Waheguru ji - is that You"

And Dya Singh says I never smile !The odd Sikh couple at Darbar Sahib!

Where are all the Sikhs?


So, how does this gadget work ?
Singh Sahib showing a keen interest in a Kirtan playing electronic device presented by S. Dya Singh of Australia.
Clearly, communication with AT Secretariat in English will be difficult !

Dhaadi jatha before Akal Takh Sahib

Ah! Some Sikhs also.

Akal Takht Secretariat offce - paperwork before meeting JAT Sahib.

Photos mostly by Dya Singh.

Gurmukh Singh

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

UK Sikh Issues: Briefing for Visiting Australian Minister

(Click on photos for full picture)

Above photos:

Parliament of World Religions December 2009:

- Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh ji with S. Dya Singh of Australia and other Sikh personalities.

- Dalai Lama talking to Dya Singh (Group) at a Parliament of World Religions function.

- Victoria State police pass for Amridhari Sikhs

Sikh Education Welfare and Advancement (SEWA) Network:

Briefing paper (footnotes in brackets)

London (UK): Educational Visit by the State Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship in Victoria, Australia, the Hon Nicholas Kotsiras MP.

Briefing note for the Minister’s meeting with prominent London Sikhs led by the Sikh Council UK on Saturday 28 September, 2013, at Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha, Southall.


British Sikhs welcome this educational visit by the Minister.

Not surprisingly, in many respects, British Sikh experience of integrating and engaging with the plural British society, is similar to the experience of fellow Sikh Australians. This note summarises the commonalities and differences with a view to learning from each other.

The Parliament of World Religions (December 3-9, 2009) held at Melbourne, Victoria, symbolised the State government’s commitment to a plural society. Sikh Australians, led by Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria (2), played a prominent role, helping with food and accommodation for attendees from overseas. Langgar (food prepared in Gurdwara’s non-discriminatory community kitchen) was served regularly to visitors.

British Sikhs were well represented by over one hundred Sikhs, led by Bhai Mohinder Singh of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, Birmingham, UK.

Victoria State policy in developing a multicultural policy is much appreciated by British Sikhs.

This briefing note is under the following main headings:

1. Sikh world view

2. Back ground: Victoria State and the Sikhs

3. Sikh Australian challenges and concerns which are similar to those of British Sikhs

- Education of public servants about Sikh identity and religious needs

4. Issues which affect relations with majority or other faith communities

5. Monitoring of Sikhs as a distinct religio-ethnic community

6. Sikh representation and engagement

1 Sikh world view

Sikhs are looking for the betterment of all. They spend their lives aspiring towards the central theme of Sikhism, expressed as “Sarbat da bhalaa”. That means, working towards, and wishing for the good of all, regardless of race, gender or religion. The sacred Word (Gurbani) in Sri Guru Granth Sahib (SGGS), the Sikh holy Scripture, revered as the Living Guru or Preceptor, teaches them: “To serve [God’s creation] in this world is the ultimate goal of human life”(2)

Sikhs believe that acceptance of diversity is a spiritual experience. It is the basis of healthy multiculturalism, which promotes “unity in diversity”, a slogan the Sikhs share with Australians.

Respect for diversity also means assertion of own distinct religio-cultural identity. Therefore, the Sikhs are a culturally sensitive people. Sikhs have always believed that they must lead lives which complement the mainstream way of life, in the countries they live in. All they seek is that their basic religious rights and identity as a distinct community, are also respected.

2 Back ground: Victoria State and the Sikhs

Based on briefing by Dya Singh of Melbourne (3)

It will be helpful to take a brief look at the Sikh Australian interface with the Government and other communities in the State of Vicoria. Many issues are common to Sikhs living in the UK and other Western countries. In some respects Victoria State is ahead of UK government in engaging with minorities like the Sikhs.

Victorian state politicians make regular visits to Gurdwaras and also inform themselves on Sikhs and Sikhism.

The Victorian government is to be complimented for funding schools to teach cultural awareness (4). This augments a generational healthy change towards a vibrant multicultural society. Sikhs are very much a part of that change .

Government servants are taught about Sikhs and their articles of faith and special needs.

Amritdhari (formally initiated) Sikhs are allowed to carry kirpan: holy sword, (literally: “benevolent protector of honour”), an article of faith, symbolic of spiritual and physical focus and discipline.

In Victoria they are issued with police cards, which are proving to be effective.

In Victoria, more attention is given, and funding provided for multicultural education, especially in schools. The stress is on “world citizenship” as a school subject.

Racial tensions: Once the issue was raised in Victoria a few years ago, the State Government was very quick to tackle the issue seriously and positively e.g. by even sending delegations to India. Victims have been helped (5).

Like UK police, the Victorian Police Force now has turban wearing Sikhs and there are also some turban wearing Customs officers. Turban wearing Sikhs are slowly gaining recognition as upstanding members of the community.

Generally, there are positive moves by the Victorian authorities to raise the profile of Sikhs and Sikh Australians are grateful for that.

3 Sikh Australian challenges and concerns which are similar to those of British Sikhs

The main Sikh Australian concern (and challenge) is to remain an extrovert community; while promoting own distinct identity very much as part of Australian multiculturalism and responsible citizenship; and not to develop ghetto mentality.

British Sikhs have similar concerns: to actively participate in British multiculturalism while retaining distinct religio-cultural identity.

They want to be recognised and counted as “Sikhs”, while making maximum contribution as hardworking, law abiding and loyal citizens of the countries they live in.

The main challenges for the Sikhs and the governments they deal with, arise from the above Sikh aspirations.

Education of public servants about Sikh identity and religious needs

Sikhs in Australia and the UK feel that more structured education is needed about Sikh identity at all levels in the Government and agencies. For example guidelines about Sikh articles of faith (including Sikh turban) should be issued and special modules introduced in courses given to government servants i.e. public servants, police, security services, prison services, customs, social services and others likely to deal with Sikhs. This is being done actively in the USA.

One example of guidance which can be used for training and issued to public servants has been developed by the UK’s Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in consultation with nationwide Sikh organisations (link at footnote (6) ).

4 Issues which affect relations with the majority or other faith communities

Sikhs do not seek converts; and resist activities by religious groups which aim to impose their “way of living” on others.

British Sikhs share the Sikh Australian view that funding for multicultural and inter-religious activities should be aimed at bringing people together, not to help create a ghetto mentality within any one ethnic or religious group .

Selective pampering of certain minorities is frowned upon by other minorities and can cause tensions (7).

Sikh Australians and British Sikhs also wish to avoid the path followed by another major religious group, Islam. For example in France, where due to the ban on the wearing of religious symbols or headgear, the Sikhs continue to be persecuted by not being allowed to attend schools with turbans.

Owing mainly to lack of education, Sikhs continue to suffer racial attacks, both, as Sikhs, and also due to mistaken identity as a result of terrorism, wrongly justified by fanatic elements in the name of another major world religion, Islam . Most annoyingly, sometimes the Western media show remarkable ignorance about the Sikhs and become a party to spreading ignorance relating to Sikh identity. That also happened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Incorrect “terrorist” profiling by security agencies continues to be a problem for Sikhs while travelling in Western countries (8).

5 Monitoring of Sikhs as a distinct religio-ethnic community

Incorrect religio-ethnic classification of Sikhs, one of the most visible communities in the world, has resulted in inaccurate count of the Sikhs in Australia and the UK . This affects their rights (9).

Regrettably, the impression gained by British Sikhs is that counting them as a distinct religio-ethnic group in the Census, as they are legally entitled to by the House of Lords in 1983 (Mandla case), has become a political issue, wrongly associated with Sikh “separatism”.

We understand that the Australian government has yet to recognise Sikhism as the fifth largest world religion; well represented in numbers in Victoria.

6 Sikh representation and engagement.

Due to the establishment of well over 300 Gurdwaras around the country, active participation in interfaith events at local level, literature published by The Sikh Missionary Society UK, and also led by those like Lord Indarjit Singh at national level, British Sikh interfaith engagement and experience has been positive. Relations with other minority communities, living close together in towns like Southall, have been tested by world and national incidents and remain good. Local community elders have taken responsibility to ensure peaceful co-existence.

However, the Sikh experience in the area of effective representation of Sikh identity and issues at national level remains unsatisfactory due to a number reasons.

Questions have been raised from time to time if the Government and senior officials are talking to the right people in the community, who are in touch with grassroots issues and concerns. All communities have ambitious individuals, who, as they get closer to the official ear, get further away from real grassroots organisations. Some rely on paper organisations to claim wide representation. Sometimes the officials too are content to deal with such articulate and often affluent individuals pushing themselves for representative positions and appointments.

There are no simple solutions except for the communities to improve own organisation and representation. This is happening in the UK with more involvement of well educated younger Sikhs and through widely based national organisations, and a round-table representative body, the Sikh Council UK.

More identity Sikhs are entering the political field at local and national levels. We hope to see Sikh identity representation in the House of Commons, and in the British media in the years to come.


(1) Contact Gurdarshan Singh: e-

(2) SGGS p21

(3) Dya Singh, Melbourne based “world music” artiste , who also led Sikh opening and closing ceremonies at the Parliament of World Religions (December 3-9, 2009). He is closely involved with multifaith events and multicultural education in schools. Himself, a full identity Sikh, he gets regular work assignments with schools in Victoria and other states, to give talks about multiculturalism, especially, regarding cultural sensitivities. Website:

(4) For example, recently, a team led by Dya Singh, organised half day series of workshops on cultural awareness, school bullying, cultural song and dance and faith sensitivities to three faith-centric private schools - a Muslim school, a Jewish school and a Christian school. They all came together for one day and went away having learnt a little more about each other’s faiths including visible identity Sikhs, for Dya Singh was leading the team.

(5) One young Sikh kid who was killed by an Indian student in a domestic dispute and which in the early stages looked like a racial killing was then state funded to be taken back by his parents to be properly cremated in India.


(7) SEWA Oz note: There is a tendency sometimes of the government funding certain communities which appear to encourage a 'ghetto' mentality rather than helping these communities to integrate into the mainstream of Australian society, which is, after all heading towards a healthy multi-cultural society. The impression gained is that one minority community is given special privileges like having own prayer rooms in universities where sometimes even Christians and Jews (who are “prolific” in Melbourne) do not have such facilities. Sometimes just to appease the Muslims, all meat served in mainstream events is allowed to be halaal. That Sikhs do not eat halaal or kosher is ignored. This kind of selective pampering to certain minorities is frowned upon by other minorities.

(8) Full article at link:

(9) Although, most recent census gives a figure of 33,000 Sikhs in Victoria, it is believed that the the actual figure is much higher, especially when the floating populations of students is added. There are about ten prominent Gurdwaras in Victoria in addition to many other centres where smaller communities of Sikhs gather for prayers regularly. New gurdwara in Keysborough district can seat 1,500 and can cater for about 5,000 on big occasions. It is built on 4 acres of land.

Similarly, we have no accurate figures for Sikhs in the UK due to a missing separate “Sikh” box in the Census forms. As a result Sikh numbers are estimated between half to a million Sikhs!

Gurmukh Singh

Article may be published with acknowledgement.

©Gurmukh Singh

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Our Grand-daughter "A Bundle of Joy" !

Holy Vaak: "Sukh Nidhaan Pritam Prabh Meray...." SGGS p.802

(For published article and comments see )

In his congratulatory e-mail on the birth of our grand-daughter on Sunday 7 July, the celebrated writer Dr I J Singh of New York wrote, “Congratulations! Do keep in mind that little girls have their fathers (and grandfathers) wrapped around their little finger from day one, and that's as it should be. I know for I speak from experience ....."
Youngest brother, Dya Singh of Australia wrote, " A baby is called a 'bundle of joy' - may she bring plenty of joy into your household. I have always been biased about girls anyway...."

I am not "biased" in any way, but cannot resist saying that daughters do have an edge over sons when it comes to affection for parents. We have two sons, both gave us much happiness as they grew up; but the wife has always complained, "If only we also had a daughter, she would have been such great company and help.....". My two "bhanji's" (late elder sister's daughters) remain close and ever affectionate, even though living away in the US and Canada.

As soon as the global family’s networks started buzzing on the arrival of the little new family member, grand parents on both sides (daadkay and nanakay) agreed that the morning's Sangat "Vaak" that day from Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji, should be the Vaak for naming the baby also. The Vaak started with the words "Sukh Nidhaan...". [Therefore, letter “S” for naming the baby]. My interpretation of these two Words “Sukh Nidhaan” is "Treasure of Happiness and Contentment" - because "sukh" is a peculiarly Panjabi word and I equate it with a state of contentment, bliss and harmony.

Our new arrival, little grand-daughter, is a reflection of "Sukh Nidhaan" and has brought great joy to the international family. The love of daughters for parents is forever.

I would like to share a story by S Sangat Singh of Malaysia, which illustrates the point that girls are always there for parents. (Part of his comment below my this article on Sikhchic) : "Here is something I had saved for such an occasion. On the first day of their marriage, a wife and husband decided and agreed not to open the door for anyone! On that day first, the husband's parents came to see them, they were behind the door. The husband and wife looked at each other, husband wanted to open the door, but since they had an agreement, he did not open the door; so his parents left. After a while the same day, the wife's parents came. The wife and the husband looked at each other and even though they had an agreement, the wife with tears in her eyes whispered, "I can't do this to my parents," and she opened the door. The husband did not say anything. Years passed and they had four boys and the fifth child was a girl. The father planned a very big party for the new born baby girl and he invited everyone over. Later that night his wife asked him what was the reason for such a big celebration for this baby, while there were none for the others! The husband simply replied, "Because she'll be the only one who will open the door for me!"

The last time I wrote about girls some years ago was a comment on an article in The Economic Times of India with the heading, "Girls Lesser Children of God" by Arun Maira. At about the same time, a concerned young Sikh from Birmingham (UK) invited me to review a short film about birth of girls in Indian families to give a Sikh view. I recall that the film was well directed and brought home the truth about prejudice against daughters in our society, much against the Guru’s teaching and trend in civilised societies.

Two of my related articles are about the status of women in Sikhism and the active role of women in Sikh tradition (see Sikh Missionary Society UK website links at footnote*).

As Prof Prabhjot Kaur wrote in a well researched article, “It has been said that the status accorded to women is the touchstone of the civilization of society.”

It is not my intention to go into the oft repeated and well rehearsed arguments trying to prove men-women equality in Sikhism, or to misquote Gurbani Shabad “Bhand jammiay bhand nimmiay.........So keo(n) manda aakhiyay jit jammay rajaan.” (“Why condemn women who conceive and give birth; to whom men are betrothed and married and who give birth to kings?”- GGS p.473) This Shabad is a response to those who condemn women; it is not to show “equality” of men and women.

A holistic view of Gurbani gives a clear head-start to women, who have the natural (psycho-physiological) attributes for achieving the purpose of this life. Men have to make that much extra effort to develop those qualities. The human soul is the “naar” (female) seeking union with the Creator Lord to attain the status of “sohagan” (happily married woman living in a state of bliss). The lonely soul in every human being – regardless of gender – is longing to become “sohagan” through union with “Kanth” the Husband, Creator Being. “Sohagan” remains in a state of harmonious bliss and equipoise (sehaj anand). The sohagan is the “first” in the human family as “Sabh parvaaray mahe shrest....”, the “batti sulakhni” with all those proverbial 32 qualities (see footnote **). The Lord’s attention (nadar) can only be sought by cultivating some of those qualities like humility, selfless service, sacrifice, compassion, inner beauty, and gentle nature.

A daughter brings deep spiritual joy to a Gursikh family. By contrast, boisterous and noisy celebrations announce the arrival of sons in Indian, and especially Punjabi, families. Frankly I find the loud wasteful parties quite boring and keep away from them. When patakas (fireworks) explode up to early morning in the neighbourhood in Southall (England), we know that “It is a boy !” We are also reminded that we remain “uncivilised”!

As she grows, through her many roles, especially as daughter and sister to her brothers, later as wife and mother, “she is able to change the destiny of a family.” Women, as mothers, can change the destinies of communities and nations.

To quote from an earlier article, “A woman must have own personality and must be bold and chivalrous when required. Otherwise, the situation described in Gurbani would arise when “Women have become submissive, while men have become tyrants.” (GGS p. 142) Sikh women like Mata Sundari ji (wife of the Tenth Guru, Guru Gobind Singh) who took a keen interest in Sikh polity after the Guru’s death, and Mata Bhago leading Sikh warriors in battle, have shown that women should be bold and take action when the situation arises.”

The brave Maharani Jinda(n) actually flung her skirt at the bickering Sikh generals who came to see her during the First Anglo-Sikh War (a symbolic gesture to wear it and sit at home, if they could not fight like men!).

The arrival of a baby girl in a Sikh family is a great blessing. The Guru smiles on the family. That is how we feel as grand parents. As we hold the little bundle of joy in our hands, we do feel that the Guru is smiling on the family.

Above: Palanandee - Our older gand-daughter.

The arrival of a baby girl in a Sikh family is a great blessing. The Guru smiles on the family. That is how we feel as grand parents. As we hold the little bundle of joy in our hands, we do feel that the Guru is smiling on the family.

Further reading:

(Articles also on this blog.)

**According to Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha’s “Mahan Kosh” the 32 qualities are: beauty, cleanliness, modesty, humility, concord, observance of religion, intelligence, knowledge, service, compassion, truth, dedicated love of spouse, purity of mind, patience, frugality, beneficence, sobriety, chivalry, active habits, house decoration, respect of elders, proficiency in music, poetry, painting, domestic science and embroidery, respectful attention to guests, and bringing up children.

Gurmukh Singh
Article may be published with acknowledgement.
Copyright: Gurmukh Singh

Friday, 21 June 2013

Historical Rawalsar

The great historoical significance of Rawalsar in the context of the Indian independence must not be forgotten by the Sikhs and the Indian people.

(Vaisakhi 1701: Rawalsar seminar to liberate the country)

(Item published by Sikhchic 
and Sikhnet )
In his “Mahankosh” (Panjabi encyclopaedia) Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha refers to Rawalsar as the place where Guru Gobind Singh ji addressed the hill rajas (in 1701). From gurdwara and open divaan stages, dhadhis and kavishars (folk singers and poets), including our father Giani Harchand Singh Bassian of Malaya, used to recite Guru Sahib’s revolutionary thunderous challenge to the assembled rajas in “parsang” (ballad) style.

The great historical significance of Rawalsar after Vaisakhi 1699, cannot be overstated.

Perhaps that is the reason why, like the revolutionary significance of Asa ki Vaar, which was heard daily in the villages of Punjab, the message of Rawalsar too has been incrementally forgotten through politically induced amnesia!  To my mind Asa ki Vaar was open revolt against Brahmanic practices (the priest), and Rawalsar was revolution against oppression by the rulers (the king).  Regrettably, the trend of Indian Sikhi under Hindutva influence, is to move away from the egalitarian independent Sikh thought and to even rewrite Sikh history. Today, many in India would like to believe that no one spoke of independence until the aimless and confused "Indian Mutiny" of 1857. 

Bipran biased ritualism, worship and religious politics have taken over Sikh affairs. The “Encyclopaedia of Sikhism” by Patiala University does not even mention Rawalsar! (One senior parbandhak, responsible for Mandi and Rawalsar Gurdwaras was scathing about the attitude of our funding and publicity institutions when we visited the gurdwara.)

Guru Gobind Singh ji’s message of liberation and freedom from tyranny of Moghul rule, fell on the deaf ears of the hill rajas assembled at Rawalsar, about 15 miles from the town of Mandi in Himachal Pardesh. It is not too far north from Anandpur Sahib. That was two years after Vaisakhi 1699, when the Khalsa was revealed as Akal Purakh ki Fauj (Immortal Army of the Timeless).

The morally bankrupt pahari rajas (hill chiefs) were content to continue their lavish and lazy life styles at the expense of the poorest people in the land. Even today, despite massive subsidies by the comparatively less corrupt state government of Himachal Pardesh, and by the central government through various schemes and mega-water diversion and hydro-electricity projects, these hill people continue to scrounge around at subsistence level.

The rajas were content to pay tributes and taxes to the jihadi marauders over the mountains of the north-west frontier; and to present their daughters to the invaders at the border, while pleading with them to be spared. In the meantime, they were continually at each other’s throats. The Guru was often invited to settle their internal petty disputes.

Declaration of Guru ji’s intention to liberate the downtrodden people at Rawalsar in 1701, marked the start of the battles pre-Anandpur siege (May 1705), the great sacrifices including the four Sahibzaada, and 100 years Sikh war against all who stood against the Khalsa objective of establishment of a people’s kingdom, in which “no one inflicted pain on another” – the halemi raj predicted by Guru Arjan Dev ji (Shabad: “Hun Hukam hoa Mehrban da....”.

Commercialised, bipran (Hindutva-Brahamanwadi) politics in India today becomes apparent not only from the condition of some important historical sites like Rawalsar with a powerful Khalsa miri (temporal) message, but also from the poor and highly biased drafting of the information boards at gurdwaras like the one at Rawalsar. The powerful reminder in Punjabi of “Desh noo sadia(n) di gulami to(n) mukt kraon leyee...” i.e. to free the country (Indian subcontinent) from centuries of slavery..., is lost in the English translation; which would be read by visiting non-Sikhs including politicians. Bipran politics takes over!

Yet, gurdwaras with a heavy Bipran ritualism bias like Manikaran (north of Rawalsar) are promoted and thronged by thousands of devout Sikhs each year.

Let us move away from the mythology preaching and pilgrimages of other-worldly Manikaran and Hemkund, to educational historical preservation of places like Rawalsar, virtually taken over as a Budhist pilgrimage centre in recent years. Yet, the Raja of Mandi had allocated many acres of land to the Sikhs to sustain and mark this great Sikh historical site marking the first declaration of independence. That declaration would lead on to the independence of the Indian sub-continent from foreign rule in the 20th century.

If the great contribution of Khalsa towards the independence of the people of the Indian subcontinent is to be made known to the Indian people and the world, then the true story of Rawalsar must be memorialised and told.

Every Sikh should visit Rawalsar and see the divine reflection of Guru Gobind Singh in the lake at Rawalsar. After all, unlike the mythological Hemkund, Guru Sahib did visit the sarovar, and himself saw the reflection of the future of those who would be his own “gareeb Sikhs” leading a people’s revolution as his Khalsa, to become the rulers of the land by the end of the 18th century.

(This is Bipran “Sikhi" today: Thousands of Sikhs visit Manikaran north of Mandi near Rawalsar.)

Sikh Education Welfare & Advancement (SEWA) network

©Gurmukh Singh
Article may be published with acknowledgement.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

A Sikh Diaspora Story

Introductory note: 
SEWA UK is a family blogspot with a Sikh heritage bias.  World renowned, SikhWorld Music pioneer, our youngest brother, Dya Singh of Australia, wrote my story on Sikhnet, "My "Bai"....." in May 2013.
It was  well received. 

When I read it, I was touched. 

At the age of 77 years, and after an angioplasty "plumbing job" around the heart, one begins to look at self from a distance, like another person.   

Despite glossing over many of my failings, "Dyalay" as he is affectionately called (but only by our mother and me !), has written a reasonably balanced account of my life and mission, . He is over 12 years younger than me and I never realised that he had read me so well over the years. I trust this short story of diaspora Sikhs, albeit, centred around the biographical account of one character, would help next generations to better understand the background and personalities of their migrant forefathers; and the compulsions which drove them to cover much ground in their lifetimes. 

Hopefully, unlike the shoddy journalism to date about diaspora Sikhs, this story by a non-journalist, will be regarded as a benchmark for research based biographical accounts of Sikh diaspora pioneers in future.   
Gurmukh Singh    

A Sikh diaspora story:
My 'Bai': Principal Gurmukh Singh of UK

By Dya Singh (Australia)

(Author: Dya Singh)
I recollect his story of one Geneva Conference on Tariffs in 1986, before the Uruguay World Trade Round, where, as he entered the conference hall and presented his credential, on seeing his white dastaar and beard he was led away by the European usher saying,"Meester Seeengh, theese vay please”,. to the distant Indian table and then led back with profuse apologies, to the British table when the mistake was discovered. This was perhaps the crowning moment of his career in the British Civil Service.

Taking Sikh identity to European forums:  The European Transonic Windtunnel multinational project at Cologne.
My oldest brother Principal Gurmukh Singh of UK, who I still refer to affectionately as 'Bai', and I, have grown up in different environments or different generations. Our middle brother Baldev Singh in South Australia, is the classic middle child - the sedate one, the one who steadies the boat, the quiet, thoughtful one who normally ends up having the last word, in his own quiet way. Our sister who was the eldest, passed away in February 2012 in San Jose, California at 77 years of age.

This is my story about Bai, who is not only my oldest brother, but my mentor, my peer, the harshest critique of my presentation of 'world music' style kirtan, but also the father figure after the passing away of Bapu Ji.

[ Note about "Principal Saab": When Bai retired as a "Principal" grade (First Division) Civil Servant, those who knew him in the Sikh community, referred to him as "Principal Saab". That is how he is popularly known to Sikh British media and organisations.] 

Bai grew up truly in the school of hard knocks right from birth.

He was born on 11 September, 1938 in the remote border state of Kutch, just north of Gujerat. Bapu Ji was at that time a royal guard in the Maharajah of Kutch's regiment.

A little bit about our venerable father, Giani Harchand Singh Bassian of Malaysia.
Bapu Ji (tall Gursikh in the centre) with Baba Sohan Singh Malaca (Malaysia) at foundation laying ceremony of a new Gurdwara.
(See article about Bapu ji, "Man with a Mission" by Gurmukh Singh at links:  )

(Note: copy paste URLs to read article.)

Bapu Ji was an only child and orphaned at about 5 years of age. His life was always in danger even from kith and kin as the village chieftainship (lambardari) of Dhailwals, belonged in the family and his death would have meant that someone else in the family could take over this normally hereditary and prestigious title and his land. He escaped murder attempts and even a poisoning by them. As you can see, we originate from a rather 'rough' neighbourhood: the historical Village of Bassian near Raikot in the Malwa district of Ludhiana in Punjab!

Due mainly to his dangerous environment and the fact that he was an orphan, Bapu Ji, as a youth, used to run away from his village and fell into the company of sadhus who looked after him and introduced him to their brand of spirituality and also taught him kirtan. Kirtan and spirituality (which was obviously dominated with Sikhi) gave Bapu Ji solace, and Bebe Ji's Sikhi leanings helped him along. (My Nana Ji saw great potential and had great affection for this orphan and gave one of his daughters, our dear Bebe Ji, in marriage to him.) Through all this, Bapu Ji managed to educate himself in Gurmukhi and Gurmatt.

So, Bai, being the eldest son, was brought up under strict constant supervision and discipline in this rather severe and dangerous environment.

The fact that he was also rather mischievous, meant severe ‘chastisements’ - at times physical. A scar on the ridge of his nose bears testimony to a direct hit of a utensil used as a projectile by Bebe Ji in frustration and anger. No parent those days spared the rod.

Bapu Ji was a natural Punjabi spiritual minstrel (kavishar, dhad-sarangi, kirtenia and percharak). But knowing the lot of a granthi or a religious minstrel in Punjab, he tried his hand at other vocations like the forces (royal guard in Kutch), and then the Engineering Corp in the British Army in Ambala Cantonment during WW2, but his calling was always of a religious nature.

Bapu ji in 1937 at Kutch where Bai was born in September 1938.

Bebay ji with Bai in 939 at Kutch

In the Engineering Corp he used to do kirtan amongst the Sikh army personnel before his formal duties. He was spotted and promoted, to become the Regimental granthi to serve at Badshahi Bagh Gurdwara, Ambala, built by the army.

Bapu ji at Gurdwara Badshahi Baag Ambala 1944.

Granthi was a highly respected position in the Armed Forces, but unfortunately not necessarily so, in civil life as it proved later, in Malaya.

Then came, perhaps, our break as a family. Baldev was already born.

The sangat of Raub in the Pahang State, British Malaya, sought Bapu Ji out to migrate to Malaya as a government paid Punjabi school teacher. The lure of going overseas was very attractive. My family migrated to Malaya soon after the end of WW2 and the partition of India reaching Malaya in early January 1948. Bai was about nine. Baldev was about four years old. I was born about four years later in Raub in Pahang State. Regrettably, our elder sister Sarandeep, who was about 12 years and at school was left behind with our elder Marsi ji at our Nanaka village Dhandra. Marsi ji never married and retired as a school teacher.

In no time at all, Bai learnt English and excelled in school. Being a rough and tough 'pendu jat' too, he was always in trouble - getting into fights but generally gaining a reputation for leadership potential, amongst school staff and students. I have heard plenty of stories of stopping school bullies with his own brand of physical persuasion and earning respect even from his teachers - one who even taught him how to box properly after observing Bai chastise a bully! Due to his leadership qualities and honesty, he was school prefect from a very young age.

Unfortunately he never had the luxury of schooling in one place as Bapu Ji, a disciplined and upright Sikh luminary, got into trouble with the gurdwara committee in Raub. They expected him to act subservient to them whereas Bapu Ji believed that he was answerable to his Guru and the sangat (holy congregation). From the severe background he came from, he was, naturally, not schooled in the art of diplomacy nor did he have the inclination of bending his Guru-given principles. He had a saying - 'I can break but I cannot bend.'

Bapu Ji was sacked from his position in Raub with a 24 hours notice to get out, because he refused to allow the gurdwara committee from flying an Indian national flag right beside the Nishan Sahib and not acting like a servant to the committee.

[The letter of 'sacking' and other documents are available in Bai's blog -
[ See lower down below memorable group/sangat photos, the heading, "Changing times half a century ago: Arrival of new generation gurdwara managers (teachers & baboos) with new ideas.
..................The sacking of a "Babay da Vazir" who refuses to allow the flag of a country to be hoisted on the same flag post as Gurdwara Nishan Sahib. The Giani/teacher, married with three children, two in school, given 12 days notice to leave Gurdwara accommodation. ]

Bapu ji, Giani Harchand Singh Bassian as he was in Malaya.

Bai played a very important role at this juncture because due to this bitter experience, Bapu Ji was ready to pack up and take the family back to Punjab. Bai (about 15 years old here), strongly backed by Bebe Ji put the case forward to Bapu Ji that as a family they would never be able to progress if they returned to Punjab, especially back to the rough neighbourhood of the village Bassian. (We normally joke that we three, or at least Bai and I, would probably have turned out as dacoits if we had gone back to the village!)

Bai and Bebe Ji felt that they needed to do everything possible to stay on in Malaya/Malaysia and struggle on. A momentous decision which in hindsight was the right decision for the family though it left Bapu Ji a rather sad, disillusioned man, but one who with his strong religious convictions and 'Chardhi Kala' spirit was prepared to struggle on for the sake of his sons and continue Sikhi perchar and kirtan – his first love. Struggle he did, all his working life.

Bapu Ji tried his hand at a couple of other vocations. He became a bus conductor but his health deteriorated. He then took up a partnership running a provision shop in the town of Taiping in Perak State (my favourite childhood town in Malaysia and where I began my schooling) but was taken to the cleaners by his partner - a Sikh, in fact a former granthi himself! Defeated once again, Bapu Ji went back to being a granthi on the island of Penang first, while the family stayed behind in Taiping.

Bai had to move from school to school but excelled anyway. I think he was embittered by the lowly status we were in - the family of a former jat lambardar, orphaned, and then belittled and humiliated by a gurdwara committee. He yearned to change all that - for himself, for Bapu Ji and for the family. But he was never one to seek a quick fix or short cut in his life. It is a family trait in hard, honest work (kirt kamayi) and moving forward through merit.

In school, inTaiping, Bai passed his (Senior Cambridge) final schooling exams in flying colours being amongst the top three students. He was accepted in Form 6 (pre-university) in the science stream but the family poverty meant that he could not continue his studies despite a Rotary Club scholartship. Bai also taught tuition to other Sikh youngsters to supplement the money sent to us by Bapu Ji from Penang.

Academically, Bai always excelled as he refused to ever be second best. In Gurmukhi, he wrote his first full article at age 15. It was about the unfair treatment that Bapu Ji received from his posting as Teacher/Granthi in Raub. No names were mentioned. He used a pen name to write it too. It was published in “Pardesi Khalsa Sewak”, the only Punjabi weekly newspaper published in the old Malaya. It was some time before even Bapu Ji uncovered that Bai at that young age had written it after some Sikh luminaries came to visit him wondering who had written this astute article which seemed to be about Bapu Ji, his lofty status as a Panthic savant, but ill-treated and humiliated by a gurdwara committee.

As time went by, Bai himself grew disillusioned of Malaya when he saw growing sycophancy and favouritism rather than meritocracy in the newly independent country (1957). The last straw was when he went for the written and physical examination to enter the prestigious Federation Military College (which was later renamed Royal Military College). Even though he was told that he had come out at second position (twelve were to be taken) within all the applicants, he was overlooked. Most of the entrants were the local Malays – under the so-called policy of affirmative action for the locals.

Bai decided to go to India to study further. He was readily admitted in Khalsa College Amritsar due to his excellent schooling results in Malaya, to do medicine.

He completed his pre-medical (F Sc) but, as fate would have it, due to family 'politics', once again, he decided to 'get away', this time to try and make his mark in the land of the 'white sahib' - United Kingdom. He had some interesting experiences during his 21 days ship journey from Bombay to Tilbury, London. He was in UK by the end of August 1960.

His struggles began anew in a country at a time when (1960's) Sikhs were expected to cut their hair to get a job, and most of them did. He persevered, doing menial jobs and studying for the Institute of Chartered Secretaries qualifications. He also applied to join the British Civil Service (Department of Trade & Industry) and succeeded to begin in a modest ranking. He was probably the first “sabat surat” (full Sikh identity) Sikh to be admitted to the British Civil Service on 10 December 1962.

Importantly he had secured permanent employment and was well on his way to becoming a Chartered Secretary. With his qualifications and personal qualities he naturally rose in rank – from Executive Officer ending as Principal (Policy). Thankfully, the British Civil Service works on a merit basis.

Meanwhile, he had been supporting us and then invited Baldev to join him in UK.  Baldev migrated and began his studies to become an engineer.

When Bai left for overseas I was about 8 years old. He meant the world to me. He was my hero. I missed him terribly. It all seemed so very unfair that he had left me and gone. Then Baldev left to join Bai in UK, when I was about 14. So, my most impressionable years, my teens, were without their company. We drifted apart, or perhaps I was finding my own identity.

Both Bai and Baldev found their wives (my Bhabi Jis) in UK. They married and raised their families.

Even when I went to UK in 1971 for higher studies after my schooling in Malaysia, we were not very close. I migrated to Australia ten years later finding it difficult to stay in UK due to its generally miserable cold weather. Coming from a tropical country I could not stand having to go to and come back from work in darkness and miserable cold in winter, leading to unreasonably long days and short nights in summer, which was still colder than a decent invigorating tropical day in Malaysia! I migrated to Australia – more my kind of a country.

So, from my childhood until perhaps my tours as “Dya Singh World Music Group” began in 1999 - a gap of about three decades, we were not close. I think I surprised Bai that I was doing something worthwhile and in Panthic sewa and our relationship rejuvenated.

Bai, attained the topmost ranking at the time for any non-white in the British civil service, the position of Principal (Policy) and became probably the first non-white civil servant to represent a UK department abroad. This was after his return to his department from the National Economic Developement Office, where he was on secondment as the head of Personnel and Training.

I recollect his story of one Geneva Conference on Tariffs in 1986, before the Uruguay World Trade Round, where as he entered the conference hall and presented his credential, on seeing his white dastaar and beard he was led away by the European usher saying,"Meester Seeengh, theese vay please”,. to the distant Indian table and then led back with profuse apologies, to the British table when the mistake was discovered. This was perhaps the crowning moment of his career in the British Civil Service.

The simple 'jat' son of a lowly orphaned granthi had fought through all adversity and reached the echelons of European administration - the EEC, probably the most powerful body leading the world, alongside USA then, and representing the United Kingdom, the country of the former 'white Sahibs'. He became well known to airline staff, and immigration officials at Brussels and Geneva, and met many senior-most people in European governments and the business communities during the post 1984 years. He gave trade talks at Chambers of Commerce and Export Clubs at main UK cities, and briefed a House of Lords committee about the world Harmonised System for tariffs. He spoke before trade delegations from abroad.  He managed multi-million pound budgets as a Paliamentary Vote Manager. He was the head of policy and administration in the Civil Aircraft Research and Development - a joint civil and defence programme.

Since the fateful 1984, Bai has worked tirelessly doing his part to try to bring together the various Sikh bodies as one community lobby group in Britain on matters which affect Panthic interests. Never one to look for the prominent posts like “jathedar” or “pardhan sahib”, he is content to play the vital advisory role. I have seen his frustrations as leaders in these diverse Sikh organisations refuse to look at community interests above their own vested organisational or personal interests.

(I remember the push by some Sikh organisations for census recognition of Sikhs as an ethnic minority for monitoring purpose. It was a House of Commons presentation that he put it in a nutshell – “If you are not counted, you do not count”! Even the jathedars understood and agreed with a loud jaikara ! Unbelievably, many prominent and leading Sikhs in UK could not see the very obvious benefit of it and insisted that Sikhs should be considered a ‘religious’ group, not an “ethnic” minority as defined by the House of Lords in the celebrated Mandla Case decision of 1983.)

But he battles on and always has an optimistic outlook for Sikhs and Sikhism.

Thankfully, despite recent angioplasty operation, he is, as we jokingly quip 'phiting phit at sebenty-phiphe with Baba’s phul kirpa’ (fighting fit at 75 with Baba Ji’s full kirpa).

If Bai has a fault, it is probably his obsession with Sikh Panthic unity and common direction worldwide. Time spent with him is like being with a walking-talking Sikhi encyclopaedia - Sikh theology, Sikh history, 'Guru-itihas' and anything else Sikh. He has little time for mundane things except doing his gardening, regular sauna and swim and long drives into the country. He hates visitors including relatives (except very close friends); time wasted in 'gup-shup' and formal visiting.

He is not overly accommodating towards those who hold themselves out as 'Sants', 'Babas' or 'Bhai Sahibs' and especially those who promote, encourage or create their own little kingdoms, 'deras' or sub-sects within Sikhism; especially if they encroach on mainstream Sikhi principles.

However, he even assists these ‘sects’ on occasion when he feels some Panthic objective is being achieved. For example, he translated, from Punjabi to English, the biography of Bhai Rama Singh, a very influential figure in the Akhand Kirteni Jatha movement in UK. (In Punjabi the title is ‘Roop Gobind ka. Raaj Khalsay ka. Sika Sonay ka’. In English Bai called it –‘In search of the True Guru’) It is the story of a Hindu who discovered Sikhi and lived it in his own brand of piety and sincerity within the Akhand Kirteni Jatha. It is a very good read for Sikhs. (Google - Bhai Rama Singh)

Bai lives mainstream Sikhi as a way of life and works hard through various avenues towards cooperation of Sikhs and Sikh organisations worldwide, especially in UK. Perhaps he is more a 'Miri' Sikh and less a 'Piri' Sikh - more about responsible social conduct and evolution and growing maturity as a 'quom' rather than coming up with more elaborate religious ceremonies, prayers, rituals, new sects or even more gurdwaras (unless a new community gets established). His passion is to interpret Gurbani in terms of 21st. century issues and sifting through and promoting latest research in line with the relevance of Sikhi today and into the future.

Since retirement in June 1996, he has become popular as a weekly column writer. He started with the UK’s first English weekly, “The Sikh Times”. In recent years, his English lead column in the weekly 'Panjab Times' (also available online), is read by thousands in the Sikh diaspora. He has written hundreds of articles on a whole range of Sikh issues. His blog is popular amongst those researching Sikhi or looking for information for presentations on mainstream Sikhi, especially current topics like environmental issues, abortion, ageing, mixed marriages, equality issues, caste law in the UK etc. His preference is for short articles, booklets and centennial publications for busy readers. He has contributed significantly to comparative studies of religion and to books by late Gurbachan Singh Sidhu including “Sikh Religion and Islam” which he co-authored.

Amongst his friends are the Sikh scholars like the world renowned historian, Dr. Jagtar Singh Grewal, and the inimitable Dr. I J Singh of New York.

Bai with renowned historiographer, Dr Jagtar Singh Grewal

With legendary S. Khushwant Singh and S. Jagjit Singh Ghungrana at Kasauli.

He is consulted by many Sikh organisations; and writers often ask him to write forewords and reviews for new publications on Sikh issues. Never one to align himself with any one movement amongst Sikhs, he is always there to help when needed.

He does lean towards Khalsa Aid for the phenomenal aid work that the organisation carries out worldwide with minimal support, and the Sikh Missionary Society, Southall, UK.

Khalsa Aid:  Founder Ravinder Singh doing Ardas with children before eating food 

Sikh institutions do approach him when his advice and drafting expertise is needed. He is, after all, an ex-British civil servant with over 33 years’ service, the last 15 or so in the higher echelons of the British Civil Service in policy divisions, with full knowledge and experience in diplomacy and governmental, intra-governmental and inter-governmental wheeling and dealing (‘Government-speak’, he calls it).

He is never one to seek accolades for himself and is always shying away from public 'social appearances' and functions. He keeps a low profile never seeking accolades.

Today, through Bai’s life-long effort driven by what our Bapu Ji went through, he has achieved his aim. He lives a comfortable retirement and works on in Panthic sewa. Baldev is an engineer, ex-town councillor and Justice of the Peace, also doing Panthic and community sewa in South Australia. He is a community representative there and very much involved in inter-cultural affairs. I play my modest part travelling with my group singing gurbani and whatever assistance I can give at Sikh youth camps and so on. Yes, we have come very far from a lowly, but highly talented, learned and very spiritually inclined granthi, to three brothers and a sister who, with Guru Ji's grace have come this far.

I cannot ask for a better Bai or a better middle older brother, Baldev Singh Dhaliwal JP (ex-Councillor Riverland, national award winner for community work.
Baldev Singh Dhaliwal JP honoured with a mult-cultural award at Adelaide.

Though we have not always agreed on all matters, and do not come from a very forgiving nature, we do have a unique relationship. Now (drawing a parallel to Aussie-rules football which is played in four quarters) we are in the fourth and final quarter of our lives and we have Baba Ji’s blessings. When we are together making merry with our venerable Bebe Ji in our midst, it feels like we have found our heaven upon this earth. We benefit from the 'kamayian' (good lives) of our elders, especially our Bapu Ji, and we are truly grateful to Akal Purakh.

Bapu Ji did not like having to answer to committees or anyone else except to his 'Guru' and God. Today, all three of us, too, have that gift from Waheguru. With His grace, we continue our 'sewa' to our faith, our Guru and Waheguru.

Finally, we ask for the best for our offsprings, whatever their attitudes and directions in life are. With generational change and changing environments come changes in attitude towards religion, family values, work ethic and relationships. They will deal with their challenges just like past generations did with theirs. However, one hopes that they learn something from our lives and the lives of our past generations.

For further information on Principal Gurmukh Singh and his articles and thoughts on Sikhi and Sikh Panthic matters, and our collection of old and new photographs, please visit his blog :

Dya Singh
5 James Street
Noble Park, Victoria 3174
Australia Tel: +613 95478958
Exploring the Spirit Thru Music

©Dya Singh
Article may be quoted from or published with acknowledgement

Sunset years

This is Sikhi today!  (at Mani Karan)

With Gurmat Gian Missionary College senior staff & Gurmat Gian Group (Classical Gurbani Kirtan): GGMC promote missionary training and charity work in rural Panjab.

Late Sardar Gurbachan Singh Sidhu - Founder Sikh Missionary Society UK and Sikh Sewak Society charity.

Khalsa Aid Annual reception 2015

Bebay ji & Bai