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Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, at the 159th Bhai Maharaj Singh Anniversary Celebrations

04 Jul 2015

My Parliamentary colleague, Mr Inderjit Singh,

Mr Gurcharan Singh, President, Central Sikh Gurdwara Board

Mr Gurdip Singh Usma, Vice President CSGB & Chairman, Sikh Centre

Mr Baljit Singh, Chairman, Silat Road Sikh Temple

Ladies and Gentlemen,


1. Sat Sri Akal! Thank you for giving me this privilege of being here with you at this special occasion to commemorate the 159th anniversary of the passing of Bhai Maharaj Singh. As we have just heard, he was far from an ordinary person. We have just had a brief summary of his life as a freedom fighter against the British and his other contributions. Suffice for me to say that his influence was such that the British considered it was too dangerous for him to be imprisoned in India, which is why they sent him to be imprisoned at the Outram Prison in Singapore.

2. The Sikh community is a small community in Singapore. It is a minority within a minority. Despite being a small community, the Sikhs have stood tall in Singapore, and continue to stands tall. In many areas: business, the Army and Police, in the professions such as the law, in politics, and in other areas such as sports (especially in the heyday of hockey in Singapore).

3. So it is not surprising that nationally, our leaders have always had a great deal of respect for the community and its leaders. It is not at all surprising that Mr SR Nathan, when he was president, opened the Sikh Centre building, and Mr Lee Kuan Yew, just five years ago, opened the Bhai Maharaj Singh Memorial.

4. The Sikh story is, however, not just about one community. The Sikh story also says something about our Singapore identity. It is a story of how we can keep our pride in our heritage and culture, whilst interacting freely with each other in the broader Singapore community and contributing actively in every area of Singapore life.

5. There are not many countries where this is possible. There are some countries where everyone merges into everyone else but you lose your sense of cultural identity over time; and there are some countries where they keep their sense of cultural identity by looking inward, where they seek refuge in their own identity and are often also excluded from the mainstream by the majority communities.

6. What we have done here and what the Sikh story is about is a story of retaining real pride in heritage, whilst contributing broadly in national life, and being seen as equals. That defines us as Singaporeans.

7. That, too, is the way forward. It’s about a majority community that doesn’t seek to dominate over the minorities or to restrict their space. But very importantly too, it’s about the minority communities not having a minority complex – embracing national life, wanting to contribute and to earn their success, and retaining our cultural identities without looking inward or seeking to be separate from others.

8. And importantly, it’s about all of us as Singaporeans seeing it in our interest that each community should succeed, and feeling that each community adds our identity as Singaporeans. Everyone taking an interest in each community, and wanting minorities to do well as Singaporeans.

9. So it’s about the majority not wanting to dominate over the minorities, it’s about the minorities avoiding a minority complex, and it’s about all of us wanting each community to succeed.

10. And as we go forward, it means that our identity is not just a combination of distinct identities, it’s not just about the Sikh community taking pride in its own culture and heritage, a Malay-Muslim community taking pride in its own culture and heritage, a Tamil community doing so and so on. It’s about each of us as Singaporeans taking pride in diversity, and having a real interest in each other’s cultures and heritage, and feeling that it is part of our own Singaporean identity. Not just accommodating each other well and living peacefully – which is itself an achievement because it’s not common internationally – but going beyond that, to take real pride in each other’s cultures, and seeing them as part of our identity too.

11. That is something which cannot be done in many countries, but it can be done in Singapore. Deep interactions as we grow up, and a sense of pride that we each gain in each other’s cultures, besides a reverence for our own, so that our Singaporean identity becomes even stronger.

12. I’m happy to be standing here as a Singaporean like you, who is optimistic about that future.

13. Thank you.