By Prime Minister

SKA 75th Anniversary Celebration
Guest-of-Honour Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong


Mr Balbeer Singh Mangat, President of the Singapore Khalsa Association
Mr Charanjit Singh, Chairman of the Organising Committee

Ladies and gentlemen,

  1. I am very happy to join you tonight for the 75th anniversary of the Singapore Khalsa Association.
    The Sikh community, while small in numbers, has made many significant achievements and contributions to Singapore. You are a strong and united community, with a distinct sense of ethnic identity. Early Sikh pioneers and community leaders devoted their energy and efforts to nurturing and sustaining the rich Punjabi culture and Sikh traditions that they had brought with them from the Punjab. They rallied the community to build and maintain Sikh temples, teach the Punjabi language, and pass on traditional values to the younger generation. As a result, the community has preserved and developed its heritage while maintaining and growing its links with other Singaporeans.
  3. The Singapore Khalsa Association (or SKA) is a focal point for the entire Sikh community, for all to get together and participate in social, cultural and recreational activities. The SKA started from humble beginnings. In colonial Singapore in the 1930s, locals were not welcome in the established clubs on the Padang. Undeterred, a group of young Sikh schoolboys started a makeshift club in a wooden hut at a playing field near Sungei Bendemeer. Over time, membership in the club multiplied, and the activities grew. With the strong support of the community, a permanent clubhouse was eventually established. Successive Sikh leaders have continued to work hard to establish the SKA as a first-class institution providing excellent social, educational and recreational facilities for the community.
  4. Besides serving the Sikh community, the SKA has reached out to other groups and promoted inter-racial harmony. The SKA has collaborated with community organisations to organise social and sporting activities. It has also opened up its activities and programmes to more Singaporeans of other races. A growing number of non-Sikhs are already associate members of the SKA. Indeed, the SKA itself has evolved into a meeting place where Sikhs can meet and mingle with non-Sikhs, socialise, and make friends across racial and religious lines.
  5. Tonight’s exhibition and the book by Professor Tan Tai Yong on the history of the Sikhs in Singapore provide an illuminating account of the contributions of early Sikh pioneers and the development of the SKA over the last 75 years. These stories are links to our past and remind young Sikhs of the invaluable contributions that the community has made to this country. As we move forward and Singapore grows and transforms itself, we should make the effort to record and pass down these collective memories and experiences to our children and grandchildren. We will help future generations of Singaporeans to appreciate their history, and realise who we are, where we came from and how our forefathers have shaped this nation.
    In our multi-racial and multi-religious society, it is vital for each ethnic community to have the space to be different, to maintain its own heritage and culture. Hence in Singapore, we celebrate the ethnic, cultural and religious diversity that is an essential feature of our social fabric. Amidst this diversity, we find common ground in the shared experiences, values, vision and purpose that hold us together as one people. Had we forced the minorities to play second fiddle to the majority or to give up their individual customs, language and traditions, resentment and resistance would have set in. There would be an undercurrent of racial and religious tension and the minorities would feel like they do not belong. Their children will soon leave, never to return. Our society would be weakened.
  7. We built this country on a different model: one based on multi-racialism and meritocracy; a country where every Singaporean regardless of race or religion is an equal to his fellow citizen.
  8. We set out on this path because of lessons painfully learnt, by living through difficult and sometimes bloody experiences in the 1950s and 1960s. Through many years of patient effort, Singaporeans of all races have learnt to trust one another, to give and take, and to accommodate each another’s different customs and ways of life. No one clamours for or receives special privileges. This is something special which we must cherish and safeguard for ourselves and our children. We must continue to work hard to nurture this spirit of mutual tolerance, and to preserve the peace and harmony in our society.
  9. Closely linked to the ideal of racial harmony is the fundamental principle of meritocracy and equal opportunity for all. As a multi-racial society, we are made up of several ethnic and religious communities. No society can discriminate in favour of any ethnic or religious group and avoid deep trouble.
  10. ence it is crucial for us to continue to organise our society on a basis which all accept as being fair and just. This is why in Singapore every citizen enjoys equal opportunities. Each individual advances through his own efforts and hard work. Everyone is judged on his ability and rewarded on his contributions, and not on which ethnic or religious group he belongs to.
  11. Sikhs in Singapore have thrived under our system of meritocracy. The first wave of Sikhs came to Singapore in the last quarter of the 19th century. They were mainly policemen and watchmen recruited from India to help maintain law and order here. Over the years, Sikhs have taken advantage of the abundant opportunities to move up in society. Today, Sikhs can be found in all the professions. Many occupy senior positions. Many have distinguished themselves in public service, in government or the armed forces. Despite being a very small minority community in Singapore, Sikhs have been able to succeed in their respective career choices, a testimony to the benefits which our meritocratic system has brought to every single Singaporean.
  12. Of course, meritocracy must not degenerate into cut-throat competition, where each person selfishly looks out only for his own interests, and disregards the needs of his fellow citizens or the broader interests of society. It must be moderated by a sense of community and a strong commitment to give back to society. In particular, those who have done better than others under our system must care for their fellow citizens, and do more to help those who are less successful, not just financially but also through participation in community and social work. This is especially crucial now when incomes are stretching out and those at the lower-end are finding it more difficult to cope. All Singaporeans must feel that the system is working for them and will work for their children, and that the most able are not only benefiting from the opportunities but creating more opportunities for the rest. Only then can we all move forward together, and all benefit from nation’s success.
  13. The Sikhs appreciate and understand the need for mutual support within the community. Your religious culture and philosophy emphasise mutual help, respect for others, and community service. Sikhs have been involved with SINDA in an effort to improve the educational standards of their children. When several years back Sikh leaders became worried about their less successful brethren and about the decline of the understanding of their mother tongue, the community took prompt steps to tackle this problem. With the support of the Government, you set up schemes to improve the teaching of your mother tongue through the Singapore Sikh Education Foundation. Today around 1,700 of your children are learning Punjabi. The Sikh Welfare Council and SINDA are assisting the less fortunate in your community. Youth activists are organising themselves to reach out to the younger generation, imbue in them the right values, and invest in their future. These self-help initiatives have taken off because of your strong spirit of solidarity and mutual help. This is the way to tackle problems within the community, and strengthen our cohesion as a society.
    Let me congratulate the leadership of the SKA – past and present – and all its members and partners, as you commemorate this historic milestone. I am confident that the same indomitable and pioneering spirit that has sustained the Sikhs and the Association over the last 75 years will see you through many more years of future achievements and success.