February 8, 2013
Commentary on Azharudin M Dali’s Sejarah Masyarakat India di Malaysia
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. Allow me to share with your readers numerous factual errors pertaining to the Malaysian Sikh Community in Dr. Azharudin’s book as shown in the table below to avoid them being repeated in subsequent writings. To be fair, two of the factual errors can be traced to the sources cited by Dr. Azharudin.
Facts (Authoritative Sources)
|1.||Date the Order of the Khalsa was instituted (pg. 110) – 1619||1699|
|2.||Date Khalsa Diwan Malaya was established (pg. 113) – 1902||27 December 1903|
|3.||Sikhs have not objected to being referred to as “Bengalis” (pg. 14)||In April 2008, Sikhs objected strongly when Perak’s Menteri Besar, Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin wrongly referred to the Sikhs as “Bengalis”|
|4.||There was only one Sikh organization in Malaya in 1917 (pg. 112)||There were at least five Sikh organizations in Malaya in 1917: Khalsa Diwan Malaya, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Ipoh, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Pusing, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Larut and Sri Guru Singh Sabha Central Workshops (Sentul)|
|5.||Name of Sikh organization formed in 1926 (pg. 112) – Malaya Khalsa Diwan||Guru Khalsa Diwan Malaya|
|6.||Date Sikh commercial immigrants arrived in Malaya in significant numbers (pg. 106) – early twentieth century||Late 1920s|
|7.||Name of second MIC President (pg. 111) – Bodh Singh||Budh Singh|
|8.||Khalsa Diwan Malaya of Selangor was formed in May 1918 (pg. 113)||Khalsa Diwan Malaya of Selangor was registered in January 1918|
|9.||Wir Singh was in Singapore until December 1915 before leaving for Penang and Perlis (pg. 120)||Wir Singh was in Perlis in January 1915 and when Jagat Singh was arrested in May 1915, he fled to Sumatra to continue his anti-British activities|
|10.||Date Komagata Maru (ship) arrived in Vancouver (pg. 119) – 21 May 1914||23 May 1914|
Additionally, 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 hard 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 of the mutiny – 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 eleven (7 Sikhs and four Muslims) out of about 97 men of the MSG (Mountain Battery) stationed at Singapore were charged and convicted of complicity in the mutiny. The seven Sikhs were found in Tiong Bahru where shooting had taken place in the vicinity and two of their rifles having been recently fired. Six of the Sikhs were sentenced to nine months and the seventh sentenced to eleven 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. Both the rifles confirmed to have been fired were not used by the Sikhs against any British officers or troops loyal to them. It is highly likely that these rifles were thrust upon the Sikhs by the native officers of the 5th Light Infantry when the rebellion broke out. The four other Guides (non-Sikhs) were sentenced to imprisonment terms of between one and a half to two years “without hard labour” for being absent from their camp for three days and having arms in their possession, a few of which belonged to the 5th Light Infantry.
There was no evidence at all that the Mountain Battery of the MSG had participated in the outrages committed by the 5th Light Infantry. When the mutiny broke out, most of the Guides ran away to Singapore town and some surrendered themselves at the Central Police Station.
Later evidence revealed that some men of the MSG were intimidated to join the mutineers and that two Sikhs of the Mountain Battery of the MSG removed the breechblocks of two artillery guns and buried them in the ground. Both guns were later recovered after the mutiny.
The role of the MSG in the 1915 Mutiny has been aptly summarized by Dr. T. R. 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.