PM Lee Hsien Loong at launch of ‘Singapore at 50 — 50 Sikhs and their contributions’ and SSEF 25th anniversary dinner on 28 November 2015.
Good evening ladies and gentlemen
I am very happy to join you this evening for this very happy occasion. Both to launch a commemorative book on the Sikh community’s achievements and to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Singapore Sikh Education Fund.
The story of how Sikhs came to Singapore, settled down, and built their lives here, is very much like the story of Singapore itself. The largest known group of Sikhs to arrive in Singapore was from Punjab in 1881. There were 165 of them and they came as one group. They formed the backbone of the new police contingent. Over the years after that, many more came and not surprisingly, served in the security forces, the police as well as the armed forces. By the turn of the century, there was a small settlement here, mostly employed as policemen, security guards, care-takers and some dairy farmers and bullock drivers.
Today, Sikhs are making important contributions in many fields. Whether it is academia, business, civil service, education, judiciary, law, medicine, politics, sports, uniformed services and other professions. Sikhs are often well represented in the leadership. For example Mr Surjit Singh Wasan, who served for three terms as the Chairman of the Sikh Advisory Board, and is a member of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights and Presidential Council for Religious Harmony. Or Mdm Gurdial Kaur, who is nurturing the next generation of teachers NIE. She was the Principal of Qihua Primary School and Da Qiao Primary School and received the President’s Award for Teachers for three consecutive years (2012-2014). Both of them are here this evening.
These and many others examples can be found in the book we are launching today – “Singapore at 50 – 50 Sikhs and Their Contributions” which speaks of the progress that the Sikh community has made. I hope the book will inspire the next generation of Sikhs to excel and serve Singapore. Younger ones like Sarabjeet Singh, who is currently Vice President of the Young Sikh Association and a teacher with Jurong West Secondary School. He is also a tutor for SINDA's STEP Tuition Programme for kids from underprivileged families and has served on the SINDA Youth Club Executive Committee and its programs for the last two years. Or Ms Jaspreet Kaur who was born with Down’s syndrome but has an indomitable spirit. Her father, Dr Balbir, formed the Down’s Syndrome Association in Singapore. Jaspreet is undeterred by her disability, and is meaningfully employed and volunteers in her free time. She recently became a mentor at the Down’s Syndrome Association to guide others, particularly younger Singaporeans, cope and overcome their condition. Well done to them all!
The Sikh community has a long tradition of serving the community. In the early days, you provided free food and shelter to travellers and new arrivals in the langar halls of the Gurdwaras. The tradition has endured throughout the years. The Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road serves the most number of meals weekly, close to 9,000 meals. It is also well recognised. I posted a black and white picture of the Gurdwara taken one night on my Facebook yesterday and I said #guesswhere and a lot of people guessed right! All the Gurdwaras and not just this one, continue to serve the community around you. They also participate actively in our Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCC) and the Inter-Religious Organisation, promoting religious harmony and multiculturalism. For example in July this year, the Gurdwara Sahib Yishun was involved in the IRCC Heartlands @ Nee Soon GRC. They put up a scaled-down replica of the Gurdwara at the location of the event and the representatives from the Gurdwara took turns to share their faith and share the unique architecture of their place of worships to visitors.
The government has supported the Sikh community in many ways. We have enacted the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board Act to form the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board to look after the community’s needs. We have granted the Sikh Welfare Council the Institution of Public Character status to support its fund-raising. We have recognised Punjabi and four other minority Indian languages officially as second languages in schools to cater to the needs of these communities, including the Sikhs. We have also supported the formation of the Singapore Sikh Education Foundation through the Ministry of Education, to facilitate the teaching of Punjabi and it is now celebrating its 25th year.
I am very glad to see that the demand for these activities is also growing. I know you have some space constraints; Malminder mentioned them just now. In line with our consistent support for the community, we will look positively at the Sikh community’s growing needs to see what how we can be helpful.
It so happened that yesterday, I delivered the S Rajaratnam lecture at Fairmont Hotel on foreign policy. I said to the audience that for Singapore to succeed as a nation, in order for us to wield any influence abroad, we must stay united as one people. United in order to succeed domestically, united in order to count for anything internationally. In order to be united and achieve things, we have to be firm in our conviction so that Singapore will endure and prevail. This is our home and we will make the most of it.
The same can be said of Sikh community and other communities in Singapore. I hope that the Sikh community will continue to live out the values embodied in your faith. The concepts of selfless service and sharing the fruits of one’s labour. I am happy that many Sikhs are volunteering their time, talent and efforts by doing community service, serving philanthropic causes, and helping to strengthen the social sector. Another key Sikh value is the concept of Chardi Kala, being constantly in a positive state of mind. Therefore, having individuals constantly improving themselves and helping others around us, very much in line with the ethos of the wider Singapore society. These are values which makes sense not just for the Sikhs but for all us. I hope we will uphold them, develop them and the Sikh community continue to do well, and contribute to the nation building of Singapore.
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