Sikh community may have to evolve and adapt


Dhillon Sa'aB™
Staff member
Sikh community institutions, organisations and gurdwaras which had traditionally defined Sikh culture may have to evolve and adapt, according to a Singapore Professor.

“They will find it increasingly more challenging to control and shape the narrative and markers of Sikh identity,” said Prof Tan Tai Yong, President of Yale-National University of Singapore College.

Tan, a Chinese-origin Singaporean, has studied Singapore Sikh community as an undergraduate and authored a book on the community in 1986.

“The question is: how to create spaces for a diversity of voices and new perspectives on how Sikh identities can be negotiated,” said Prof Tan at a lecture held on Saturday as a part of the larger celebrations here for the 550th birth anniversary celebrations of the Sikhism founder Guru Nanak Dev.

Engagement with the youths, with their different worldviews and priorities, will be the major challenge, according to Prof Tan.

“The key is to get them (Sikh youths) interested and take some form of ownership in the preservation of Sikh religion, traditions and culture,” he pointed out.

They may want to do so in certain ways that may cause discomfort. For instance, more could be done to acknowledge the arts and creative fields as much as the Sikh community has acknowledged and supported successes in politics, business and other professional fields, he explained.

“As much as gurdwaras and community institutions play important roles in the shaping of Sikh identity, so too can film, art and fiction created by Punjabi Sikhs,” elaborated Prof Tan on how the community could work on maintaining its identity.

Embracing the possibilities offered by outlets of creative expression can help expand the historical imagination of younger Sikhs, suggested the Chinese origin professor in multi-racial Singapore.

Cultivating in the Sikh youths the consciousness based on core beliefs and values, while allowing space for them to engage (sometimes critically) and adapt to the contexts and circumstances of their everyday lives may be the surest way of ensuring that “Sikhism and the Sikhi will continue to thrive in Singapore,” he suggested.

The definition and framing of Sikh identities in Singapore, as with similar communities all over the world, will inevitably face contestations because of changing social cultural environments, Tan said.

The Singapore Sikh Community Lecture Series, held on Saturday, is an initiative by the Singapore Khalsa Association, one of the 10 Sikh institutions along with seven gurdwaras as well as welfare body and Punjabi/Sikh education foundation.

Prof Tan described the Singapore’s Sikh community of 12,000 as a “minority within a minority” in a multiracial population of 5.64 million.

Historian records that 165 Sikhs arrived at the island (of Singapore) from the British Indian province of the Punjab to form the backbone of a new police contingent in 1881.

The community has since then prospered and has been leading participants in the public and private sectors with leadership positions.