Speech by Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew on the occasion of the opening of The Bhai Maharaj Singh Memorial, Saturday, 3 July 2010

3 July 2010

Mr Inderjit Singh, Member of Parliament for Ang Mo Kio GRC
Mr Karpal Singh, President, Central Sikh Gurdwara Board
Mr Surjit Singh, Chairman, Sikh Advisory Board,
and Sikh community leaders.

I am happy to join your community today for the auspicious opening of the Bhai Maharaj Singh Memorial.

Bhai Maharaj Singh, I understand, arrived in Singapore in 1850 as a prisoner of the British rulers from Punjab after the Third Anglo-Sikh War.  He was a pious man who stood up against British colonialism in India, and his local popularity and influence forced the British to banish him to Singapore where he was imprisoned with an orderly at the former Outram Jail.

This Memorial which your community has set up is testimony of your community’s respect for your pioneers and an adherence to the Sikh traditions and identity.  You have maintained your distinct cultural and religious identity through your Gurdwaras (Temples), clubs and societies, adding to Singapore’s cultural richness.

Your Gurdwaras and institutions have also kept up with the changing times.  You have set up youth wings, as part of the Sikh institutions, to support the work of the Sikh community like Sikh Sewaks and Young Sikh Association (Singapore) that includes other ethnic communities.

Your community’s contributions to the nation have been significant.  Sikhs have done well under our meritocratic system, in the uniformed services, the judiciary, like Justice Choor Singh, in the civil service and other professions.  We have two Sikh MPs.

Sikhs are also successful entrepreneurs and businessmen.

We are even-handed to all communities to practise their religions, their traditions and cultures.  The government has not disadvantaged any minority group.  

We are a multi-racial and multi-religious society.  We give everyone the opportunity to do well.  Thus, we have a harmonious society.

After the government in 1989 decided that Punjabi, Bengali, Hindi, Gujarati and Urdu could be offered as mother tongue languages, your community immediately set up the Singapore Sikh Education Foundation.  

You have also set up the Sikh Welfare Council in 1995 to work with various government agencies to help the needy in your community.  The Sikh community has extended its welfare to other Singaporeans.

A large majority of Sikhs are now born and bred locally.  English is their first language and families speak English at home.  Without good English, your career prospects are limited.  To master two languages is difficult.  We must be realistic on the standards our children can achieve.  

Make the teaching and learning of the mother tongue interesting and relevant to the present society they live in.      

Singaporeans can be assured that the government will give priority to our citizens.  We have moderated the inflow of foreign workers and new immigrants, and also widened the differentiation between citizens and non-citizens. 

However, with Singapore’s low birth rates, we need to attract immigrants to augment our population.  These immigrants are the better educated and professionals in various fields.  They bring new skills and enhance our connections with the world.  Singapore will be more competitive and dynamic.   This is critical to our long-term survival as a nation.  Without an influx of talented people from around the world, including well-educated Sikh expatriates and migrants, Singapore’s economy will stagnate and our population will gradually age and decline.   

I congratulate the Sikh community for its achievements and contributions to Singapore.

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