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Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Minister for Finance, at the Vesakhi Celebrations and Launch of the 300th Anniversary of Gurgaddi Day, on 13 April 2008, 10am, Central Sikh Temple

13 Apr 2008

Dr Lee Boon Yang,
Minister for Information, Communications & the Arts,

Dr Balaji Sadasivan,
Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs,

Mr Karpal Singh Mehli,
President Central Sikh Gurdwara Board,

Mr Dilbagh Singh,
VP, CSGB and Chairman Sikh Centre,

Mr Harbans Singh Gholia,
Chairman Central Sikh Temple,

Mr Gurdip Singh Usma,
Chairman, Silat Road Sikh Temple,

2 A very good morning to one and all. It is my pleasure to join the Sikh Community today in celebrating Vesakhi. Today we also launch 6 months of activities to commemorate the 300th Anniversary this year of Gurgaddi Day, which marks the inauguration of the Sikh holy scripture, Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji, as the Spiritual Guru of the Sikhs.

3 It is a matter of pride for all Singaporeans that the Sikh faith and culture remains alive and well in our country, more than a century after the first wave of Sikhs came to Singapore from India.

4 It is not by chance that this has happened. It could only have come about because Sikh leaders in Singapore, from the early Sikh pioneers to current day temple and community leaders, have devoted great energy towards sustaining Sikh traditions and nurturing a reverence for these traditions in each new generation. They have rallied the community, built and maintained temples, organised Punjabi classes for the young and promoted Sikh cultural practices at every opportunity.

5 That the Sikh community thrives here is also a statement about Singapore. We are a secular state that provides opportunity for people of all cultures to practice what they hold to be true, and to advance in life based on merit alone, regardless of race or religion. Many countries make this claim. But the true test of a multi-cultural and meritocratic society is not what it professes or aspires to achieve, but what its people and especially its minority communities observe in practice in their daily lives. What makes Singapore different is what our minorities experience in practice in their lives - the fact that they have not had to abandon their distinct identities and practices in order to feel completely at home in Singapore, or have not had it wrested away from them by a state acting on behalf of a majority community; the fact that their young can learn their mother tongues and be supported in doing so, while growing up feeling as Singaporean as any of their school-mates; and the fact that they have the same chances to advance in education and at work as other citizens.

6 These facts about our minorities are what make Singapore a special place. It is our minorities that define Singapore as different from many other countries. And the Sikh community is an especially vivid expression of why Singapore is different. That the Sikhs have not had to shed or betray their heritage, and that many Sikh individuals are distinguishing themselves in business, in the professions and in public service, and in politics, reflects multiculturalism and meritocracy that is real.

7 But keeping a multicultural society going, where people can practise their own religions and customs side by side with each other and very amicably, is continuous work. Our religious and community leaders deserve credit for their continuing efforts to keep up this unique state of harmony in Singapore.

8 There are numerous initiatives every month to foster closer understanding amongst our communities. For example, the People's Association (PA), Residents' Committees (RC) and other grassroots organisations have planned visits to the two Sikh Temples. During these visits, the groups are briefed on the beliefs and practices of the Sikh faith and exposed to the various activities and ceremonies performed. Not surprisingly, there is considerable enthusiasm in visiting the community kitchen and public dining hall in the Temples, where the choice of light or a full vegetarian meal would be served.

9 Likewise representatives from the Sikh Temples have visited various schools and organisations, including the mosques, churches, synagogues, Hindu and Buddhist temples, as well as the Harmony Centre, to make presentations on Sikh faith and also to better understand and appreciate other faiths.

10 Besides religious activities, other Sikh organisations like the Singapore Khalsa Association and Young Sikh Association, conduct various sporting, cultural and community-based activities both locally and overseas to forge closer relations and understanding with members of other communities.

11 The role of the Sikh Temple has also evolved. It is no longer just a place for worship or community gathering. The Central Sikh Centre and Silat Road Sikh Temple complex have a library, auditorium, computer centre, traditional music learning centres and classrooms. They cater for the increasing non-religious needs of the community for tuition, learning music with traditional instruments, sports, and even IT lessons. Furthermore, the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board (CSGB) is planning to set up a Sikh Harmony Centre in this very building as a part of its upgrading programme. I would like to commend the community and its leaders for their proactive approach towards promoting racial harmony in Singapore.

12 The Sikh community has planned a series of activities as part of its auspicious 300th Gurgaddi Day Celebrations. These celebrations will also provide an opportunity for other Singaporeans to understand the values and practices of the Sikh community and join in the celebrations.

13 These activities, small and big, all matter in bringing our people closer together. They allow us to keep Singapore a place where every individual can lead a life that is decent and fulfilling, without losing their sense of identity and community, and with every opportunity to contribute to our country.

14 I wish you happiness as you go through the Vesakhi Celebrations.