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Outsized contributions of Malaysian Sikhs

The Malaysian Sikh community, which currently totals about 80,000, constitutes less than 0.25 percent of the nation’s population. Nevertheless, the Sikhs have made significant contributions to the growth and development of the nation that far outweighs their tiny representation.

It is also remarkable to note that within one generation, the Sikhs rose from being policemen, bullock carters, watchmen, dairymen and mining labourers to become professionals such as doctors, lawyers and engineers as well as academics, high-ranking civil servants and top businessmen.

Not many people are fully aware of the significant contributions of Malaysian Sikhs towards nation building. Hence, this article seeks to highlight their significant role in nation building, ranging from maintaining law and order to promoting the early economic development of the nation. It also traces their historical background in Malaysia.

Ever since the 1870s, Sikhs started immigrating to Malaya from Punjab, India – their ancestral homeland – to serve in the police and paramilitary forces. With regard to the policing of British Malaya, the objective of the British government was, in the words of Thomas R Metcalf, “to make colonial police forces as much ‘Sikh’ as possible.” It should be noted that the Sikhs formed the backbone of the police and paramilitary forces of colonial Malaya at least until the First World War and were numerically second only to the Malays in the forces before World War II.

Interestingly, the origins of the Royal Malaysian Police can be traced to the pioneer recruits who were enlisted in 1873 by Captain Tristram Speedy in Lahore, Punjab for service in Perak.

Captain Speedy, a former Superintendent of Police in Penang, managed to recruit 95 discharged sepoys – Sikhs, Pathans and Punjabi Muslims – to help Ngah Ibrahim, the Malay chief of Larut, Perak to restore law and order. Trade and tin mining in Larut were disrupted by frequent fighting between two warring Chinese clans: Ghee Hin and Hai San. Incidentally, this is the same Captain Speedy whose name was associated recently with a controversial whisky brand…

Ranjit Singh Malhi
Malaysiakini | 07-Nov-2021