Story of Sikhs here 'the story of S'pore': PM

A bhangra dance performance at the dinner to celebrate Singapore's Golden Jubilee at Raffles Town Club last night. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the guest of honour, spoke about the Sikh community's contributions, noting how it has a tradition of s
A bhangra dance performance at the dinner to celebrate Singapore's Golden Jubilee at Raffles Town Club last night. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the guest of honour, spoke about the Sikh community's contributions, noting how it has a tradition of serving the larger community.ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN

As a father whose child has Down syndrome, Dr Bilber Singh found education opportunities for his daughter lacking.

Therefore, he rallied other like- minded parents and, together, they formed the Down Syndrome Association in 1996 to provide enrichment classes for children with Down syndrome, teaching them subjects such as independent living.

His daughter Jaspreet Kaur, now 35 and armed with the life skills she has learnt, has just left her job as a kindergarten assistant and is training to be a therapist at the association.

"The situation has evolved over time and the Government has been giving much more assistance over the years," said Dr Singh, 66, a medical practitioner.

Yesterday, he was among the members of the Sikh community whom Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong lauded at a dinner held to celebrate Singapore's Golden Jubilee. A book on 50 Sikhs and their contributions to nation building was also launched.

Mr Lee, who spoke of the Sikh community's progress, said: "The story of how Sikhs came to Singapore, settled down, and built their lives here, is very much the story of Singapore."

He said the largest group of Sikhs arrived here in 1881 to form the backbone of the police contingent. Today, Sikhs have distinguished themselves in diverse fields such as academia, the judiciary and uniformed services.

Speaking about the community's contributions, Mr Lee noted how it has a tradition of serving the larger community, such as through providing food and shelter at the gurdwaras, which are Sikh places of worship.

The Sikh community has also promoted religious harmony and multiculturalism by participating in the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles as well as the Inter-Religious Organisation, he said.

He added that the Government has supported the community in many ways over the years, such as officially recognising Punjabi along with four other minority Indian languages as second languages in schools.

Yesterday's event - which was attended by about 500 guests - also celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Singapore Sikh Education Foundation, which provides Punjabi language education.

Young Sikh Association president Malminderjit Singh, who also spoke at the event, said Singapore's multiracial and meritocratic policies have enabled Sikhs to do well in the country. He cited the individuals in the book, titled Singapore At 50 - 50 Sikhs And Their Contributions, as examples, saying they had overcome challenges and seized opportunities available to them.

"I believe that these traits were the product of both their inner Sikh values as well as core national ideals," he said.

Mr Singh also said that gurdwaras have gradually grown to provide not just spiritual guidance, but also social support. For instance, the Silat Road Gurdwara serves an average of 1,000 meals a day on weekdays and 2,000 on weekends to people of all races and religions.

But with gurdwaras now providing classes, workshops and camps, and with calls for them to provide even more services, they are under increasing pressure, he said.

Later, expressing support for the growing number of activities, Mr Lee said, to applause, that the Government was aware of the space constraints and would see how it can help.

He also called on the Sikh community to continue to live out the values of selfless service and optimism embodied in their faith.

Chong Zi Liang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 29, 2015, with the headline 'Story of Sikhs here 'the story of S'pore': PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe