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Land of Five Rivers, Canal Colonies and Oceanic Flows to Southeast Asia - page 8 / 11

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serving as conduits.3 Other than Some Historical Notes by Lopo-Dhalliwal, Early Sikh Pioneers of Singapore by Sewa Singh Gandharb and From Village to City, Arunajeet Kaur’s unpublished thesis offers a valuable resource for constructing the narrative of the migration and settlement of Sikhs in Malaya and the Straits Settlements as policemen. (Lopo-Dhalliwal  1971 )

The different waves of Sikh movement to Southeast Asia problematize their inclusion either in the indentured diasporas of Rajesh Rai and Vijay Devadas, the convict diasporas of Claire Anderson or the police diasporas mentioned by Kaur.(Anderson, Rai Devadas in Lal   2006 )  Due to the confusion of Sikhs with Bengalis in Malaysia through the use of the term Bengalis used to describe all non-Tamil Hindu and Muslim migrants to Malacca at the end of the nineteenth century and the adoption of the ascription by Sikhs in their description in the 1911 census, it is difficult to estimate the exact number of Sikh migrants to Malaysia. But the 1921 census mentions 11,113 Punjabis and 1,845 Bengalis who might have included Sikhs.4 Malay language dictionaries still refer to them as ’orang Bengali’.  

Some Historical Notes(1971), a slim volume compiled by Malkiat Singh Lopo-Dhalliwal, celebrating a century of Sikh presence in Malaya and Singapore, gifted to the Sikh community contains valuable information about the Sikh presence prior to 1857 that is either undocumented or is relegated to a footnote in more authoritative sources.5 It begins by invoking janam sakhi references to Guru Nanak’s udasis or travels to “Suvarna Pur”(Suwarna Bhumi) and to Pasai in Sumatra to speculate that the Guru might have visited Malaca in the 16th century.  Speculating that the Sikh travels to Malaysia might have preceded those of Sikh workers who traveled to Australia with John Mackay in 1837, Lopo-Dhalliwal  relies on Khushwant Singh’s authority to date the arrival of Sikhs from Malwa to Malaysia as early as 1819 before turning to documentary evidence by Isabella Bird and Charles Burton Buckley to confirm the presence of Sikh - misspelt as ‘Sheikhs’ - detainees in Malaysia and Singapore including political prisoners such as Bhai Maharaj Singh(who died in 1856) and those like Kurrock Singh whose detention was part of the preventive measures taken by the British after the ‘Mutiny’ of 1857.(1971) The anecdotal evidence reproduced by Lopo-Dhalliwal by drawing on reports of colonial officers, diaries of women travellers and newspaper reports testifies to the presence of political prisoners prior to the period covered by Kaur’s thesis, the most celebrated being Nihal Singh or Bhai Maharaj Singh who was exiled to solitary punishment in Singapore following his capture in 1849 for his role in the Prema conspiracy involving Henry Lawrence and his subsequent blindness and death in 1856.  The report in the Singapore Free Press in September 1863 about the outbreak of one hundred “generally powerful, daring” Sikhs brought from the Alipore jail in India and the

3 For this reason, Rajvinder Singh’s unpublished undergraduate thesis “Migrants to Merchants: Dynamics of Sikh Entrepreneurship in Singapore” submitted to the Department of Sociology National University of Singapore is interesting in its framing Tatla’s argument about the rural roots of the Sikh Diaspora into journeys of eight Singapore Sikh entrepreneurs from Punjab to Singapore before and after the Indian partition of 1947.   

4“The generic name given by Malays to Indians other than Tamils is 'Bengali' and under his head come the Dogra, Sikh, Pathan, Panjabi Mussulman, Kashmiri, Waziri, Rajput, Afghan, Behari, and all other breeds of men from India who are either 'Kling Hindu' or 'Kling Islam'. (Malkiat Singh Lopo-Dhalliwal. Malaysia Lopo Ghar 1971 1-2)

5 The marginalization of Sikhs in the sections on Southeast Asia by Rai and Devadas in The Encyclopedia on The Indian Diaspora edited by Brij Lal dealing with indenturement must be attributed to their failure to account for the Sikh migration which was one of freeworkers.  

Third Critical Studies Conference, CRG, Kolkata

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