reported anecdote about an aborted plot to shoot the superintendent of the Singapore jail following a dispute between “Rawdasee” and “Majabee” Sikhs confirms the early Sikh presence in Malaysia and Singapore.(Lopo-Dhalliwal 1971) The exile of Sikhs who opposed British rule to Malacca and to Sarawak following their insurrection in 1857 confirms the first wave of Sikh settlement in the Straits, which is lost partially due to the Sikhs marrying local Malay and Chinese women whose children include pioneers such as Sardar Mohan Singh, Sardar Jaswant Singh and Sardar Samund Singh of Malacca and whose grandchildren acquired non-Sikh names such as Babu despite being raised in Indian traditions.
Lopo-Dhalliwal’s commemorative volume expresses a disagreement on details based on oral and undocumented Sikh sources. For example, he corrects the commonly held view of Speedy’s arrival in 1874 by predating it by a year on the authority of a Sikh chronicler. His advancing the Sikh arrival by nearly half a century based on Khushwant Singh’s dating of Sikh migration to Southeast Asia to 1819 complicates the narrative of the migration of policemen through movements of a different nature. While his suggestion about Sikhs aboard Mackay’s ship to Australia in 1837 and settling down in Malaya is uncorroborated by concrete evidence, the celebrated case of Bhai Maharaj Singh and the Sikh insurrections in the Singapore jail in 1868 and the settlement of Sikhs released before 1873 in Perak and other states is substantiated by oral evidence of the intermarriage of these Sikhs with local women and mention of names of specific individuals born of these unions.(1971)
Kaur’s thesis about the Sikh presence in these states to their construction as a martial race after 1857, however, must skip several pages of the Sikh travelogue that does not conform to her thesis. Though she mentions the Anglo-Sikh wars (1836-49), she uses it to buttress her argument about British admiration of Sikh military process failing to explore the link between these insurrections, the loyalty of 13420 men of the Punjab Irregulars from the Punjab Frontier force during the 1857 revolt and the formation of the military force of Sikh and Punjabi Muslims between May and December 1857. Relying on Abdul Karim Bagoo’s academic exercise The Origin and Growth of the Malayan States to trace the history of the colonial police force in the state of Perak to Speedy’s men in 1874, the Resident’s Guard and Larut Police from 1874-1876, the Perak Armed Police from 1877-1884, and the First Battalion Perak Sikhs from 1884-1896, Kaur corroborates the presence of Sikhs on the peninsular Malaya in Perak under the employment of Ngah Ibrahim, the Mentri of Larut on September 1873 under Captain Speedy mentioned by Lopo-Dhalliwal.(Bagoo 1954) While the symmetry of Kaur’s narrative is disrupted by the unruly presence of exiled details, she bypasses the earlier wave to substantiate her “martial race” argument. Her first phase whereby the British were trying to assert imperial authority during 1874-1896 and the second phase which entailed the British government reorganizing colonial policing to focus on civilian needs and crime control that coincides with the formation of the Malay States in Malaya in 1896 upto the Second World War and the third phase characterized by a mounting breakdown from 1948-60 excludes the prehistory of Sikh migration to Singapore for which one must turn to the less academic Some Historical Notes.(1971) The exile of political prisoners to Singapore jails after the Anglo-Sikh wars and the Mutiny of 1857 and the recruitment of Sikhs after 1857 through their construction as a martial race are not really contradictory because they are both based on the representation of Sikhs as warriors in pre-colonial and colonial narratives.
The movement of Sikhs in the Indian ocean is revealed to emerge from the colonial construction of ‘native’ populations as industrious or martial partially drawing on the self-identifications of castes and ethnicities but also reaffirming those stereotypes of particular
Third Critical Studies Conference, CRG, Kolkata