Singapore at 50 - 50 Sikhs And Their Contributions

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<strong>Singapore</strong> At<br />

<strong>Sikhs</strong> <strong>And</strong> <strong>Their</strong><br />


In Celebr<strong>at</strong>ion of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s <strong>50</strong>th Birthday<br />

SINGAPORE AT <strong>50</strong> –<br />

<strong>50</strong> SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS<br />

was officially launched by<br />

Mr Lee Hsien Loong<br />

Prime Minister<br />

Republic of <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

on 28 November 2015


Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>)<br />


Mr Malminderjit Singh<br />

President<br />

Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>)<br />

Mr Sarabjeet Singh<br />

Vice President (Corpor<strong>at</strong>e Rel<strong>at</strong>ions)<br />

Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>)<br />

Ms Harsimar Kaur<br />

Committee Member (Corpor<strong>at</strong>e Communic<strong>at</strong>ions)<br />

Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>)<br />

Mr Hernaikh Singh<br />

Associ<strong>at</strong>e Director<br />

South Asia and Southeast Asia<br />

Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Office<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Management University<br />


Ms Sheena Gill<br />

Secretary<br />

Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>)<br />

Ms Sukvinderpal Kaur<br />

Assistant Secretary<br />

Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>)<br />


Mr Angad Singh, Ms Dilshaad Kaur Lonj, Mr Gurpal Singh, Ms Harkir<strong>at</strong> Kaur, Mr Pavandeep Singh Dhaliwal, Ms Ramandeep Kaur,<br />

Mr Rashminder Singh Chohan, Mr Ravinderpal Singh, Ms Ravinjeet Kaur Khosa, Ms Roopinder Kaur, Ms Sharanjeet Kaur Dhaliwal,<br />

Ms Shinderjeet Kaur Masson and Ms Tarandip Kaur<br />


Mr Angad Singh, Mr Baldev Singh, Mr Manoaj Mohan and Mr Navin Chandra<br />


Khalsa Printers Pte Ltd<br />

First Published in November 2015 by Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>), c/o Sikh Centre, 8 Jalan Bukit Merah, <strong>Singapore</strong> 169543<br />

SINGAPORE AT <strong>50</strong><br />

<strong>50</strong> SIKHS AND THEIR CONTRIBUTIONS<br />

All rights reserved. No part of this public<strong>at</strong>ion may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means,<br />

electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission in writing from Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

(<strong>Singapore</strong>).<br />

For enquiries and requests, please contact Ms Harsimar Kaur <strong>at</strong> simar28@hotmail.com.<br />

Printed and bound in <strong>Singapore</strong>.

Contents<br />

5<br />

Preface<br />

7 Message from Mr Lee Hsien Loong<br />

Prime Minister, Republic of <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

8 Message from Professor Tan Tai Yong<br />

Chairman, Panel of Reviewers,<br />

Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs), Yale-NUS College, and<br />

Former Nomin<strong>at</strong>ed Member of Parliament, <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

9 Message from Mr Malminderjit Singh<br />

President, Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>)<br />

10 Panel of Reviewers<br />

13 The <strong>Sikhs</strong> in <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

The <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong><br />

18 Ajit Singh<br />

22 Amarjit Kaur<br />

26 Avtar Singh<br />

30 Balbeer Singh Mang<strong>at</strong><br />

34 Balbir Singh<br />

38 Berinderjeet Kaur<br />

42 Bhajan Singh<br />

46 Bhopinder Singh<br />

<strong>50</strong> Bilveer Singh<br />

54 Choor Singh<br />

58 Daljeet Singh<br />

62 Davinder Singh<br />

66 Gurcharan Singh Sekhon<br />

70 Gurcharanjit Singh<br />

74 Gurdip Singh Usma<br />

78 Gurinder Singh Shahi

82 Harbans Singh<br />

86 Harbhajan Singh<br />

90 Harbhajan Singh Loomba<br />

94 Harjeet Singh<br />

98 Harnek Singh<br />

102 Harpajan Singh Dhillon<br />

106 Hernaikh Singh<br />

110 Inderjit Singh<br />

114 Jagjit Singh<br />

118 Jagjit Singh Sekhon<br />

122 Jagrup Singh<br />

126 Jarmal Singh<br />

130 Jaswant Singh Gill<br />

134 Jeswant Singh Bandal<br />

138 Kanwaljit Soin<br />

142 Karan Singh Thakral<br />

146 Kartar Singh Dalamnangal<br />

1<strong>50</strong> Kartar Singh Thakral<br />

154 Kernial Singh Sandhu<br />

158 Kirpal Singh<br />

162 Mancharan Singh Gill<br />

166 Manmohan Singh<br />

170 Mehervan Singh<br />

174 Pakir Singh<br />

178 Param Ajeet Singh Bal<br />

182 Ravinder Singh<br />

186 Sarbjit Singh<br />

190 Sarjit Singh<br />

194 Sarjit Singh<br />

198 Sarvindar Singh Chopra<br />

202 S<strong>at</strong>want Singh<br />

206 Sukhvinder Singh Chopra<br />

210 Surjan Singh<br />

214 Vear Singh Gill<br />

218 Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>)<br />

220 In Appreci<strong>at</strong>ion

Preface<br />

S<br />

ingapore’s leaders have often and aptly described the Sikh community as one th<strong>at</strong> punches well<br />

above its weight. Although a minority community, the <strong>Sikhs</strong> in <strong>Singapore</strong> have been integral to<br />

the island st<strong>at</strong>e’s development and progress through represent<strong>at</strong>ion and significant contributions<br />

in many sectors. This coffee-table book highlights <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> who have contributed to <strong>Singapore</strong> <strong>at</strong><br />

the n<strong>at</strong>ional level or to n<strong>at</strong>ion-building. While it recognises and celebr<strong>at</strong>es their contributions, it<br />

is also a testament to the values and ethos of a society. It will not be lost on a reader th<strong>at</strong>, only in<br />

the meritocr<strong>at</strong>ic and pluralistic environment into which <strong>Singapore</strong> has developed, was it possible<br />

for these individuals to be able and want to contribute to the n<strong>at</strong>ion. In this way, this book also<br />

celebr<strong>at</strong>es a defining aspect of the <strong>Singapore</strong> story in this momentous year th<strong>at</strong> marks our <strong>50</strong>th<br />

independence.<br />

The task <strong>at</strong> hand – to arrive <strong>at</strong> <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> from the more than 2<strong>50</strong> nomin<strong>at</strong>ions submitted by<br />

members of the public and mainly from within the community – quite expectedly entailed a<br />

year-long effort on the part of several groups of individuals. This included an independent Panel<br />

of Reviewers to assess nomin<strong>at</strong>ions and make the final decision on the <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> to be fe<strong>at</strong>ured;<br />

an extensive team of researchers whose work is presented in the following pages and which<br />

truly brings to life the stories of the selected individuals; and a secretari<strong>at</strong> team comprising<br />

represent<strong>at</strong>ives of Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion <strong>Singapore</strong> (<strong>Singapore</strong>) [YSA] th<strong>at</strong> coordin<strong>at</strong>ed all<br />

efforts to bring this project to fruition. The community as a whole reflected and felt it timely to<br />

undertake a project to showcase the contributions of <strong>Sikhs</strong> in <strong>Singapore</strong>. It was a delight for the<br />

YSA team and served as an added impetus to embark on the project when it received n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

endorsement and funding through the SG<strong>50</strong> Celebr<strong>at</strong>ions Fund – the first and only initi<strong>at</strong>ive from<br />

the Sikh community to receive such support from the SG<strong>50</strong> Committee.<br />

An independent Panel of Reviewers was convened, given the imper<strong>at</strong>ive of ensuring objectivity<br />

and adding professionalism to the process of assessing all nomin<strong>at</strong>ions received. Additionally,<br />

members on the panel were chosen on the basis th<strong>at</strong> they represented different segments of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> society and had knowledge, familiarity and understanding of the Sikh community.<br />

The critical role and importance of the panel cannot be overst<strong>at</strong>ed as the numerous nomin<strong>at</strong>ions<br />

received included <strong>Sikhs</strong> who are represented in business, academia, politics, media, arts and<br />

culture, uniformed groups, government and non-government organis<strong>at</strong>ions, civil society and<br />

sports, among others. Nomin<strong>at</strong>ions were also received from <strong>Singapore</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> living overseas.<br />


In total, readers will appreci<strong>at</strong>e th<strong>at</strong> the panel spent<br />

more than six months deliber<strong>at</strong>ing each and every<br />

nomin<strong>at</strong>ion. This also alludes to the careful and thorough<br />

selection process based on an agreed selection criteria<br />

proposed by the YSA Secretari<strong>at</strong> for the purposes of fair<br />

consider<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

The panel agreed on the three selection criteria for<br />

nomin<strong>at</strong>ions in order to judiciously determine the <strong>50</strong><br />

<strong>Sikhs</strong> to be fe<strong>at</strong>ured in this book. First, these <strong>Sikhs</strong>’<br />

contributions have made an impact <strong>at</strong> the n<strong>at</strong>ional-level<br />

or to n<strong>at</strong>ion-building. Second, they have contributed in<br />

this regard for <strong>at</strong> least five years. Third and finally, since it<br />

marks <strong>50</strong> years of <strong>Singapore</strong>'s independence, the focus<br />

will be on the contributions of <strong>Sikhs</strong> in the post-1965 era.<br />

These criteria put into context the level of contributions<br />

made by all the nominees considered as well as the<br />

impact of their contributions on the n<strong>at</strong>ional landscape.<br />

The most utility from such an exercise in retrospection is<br />

intended for and derived by posterity. For this reason, the<br />

YSA Secretari<strong>at</strong> consciously and deliber<strong>at</strong>ely decided to<br />

engage youth as researchers for the project. The research<br />

team consists of a diverse mix of Sikh undergradu<strong>at</strong>es<br />

and young working adults. It was especially heartening<br />

th<strong>at</strong> these young researchers readily came forward to<br />

contribute to the project, fully realising the challenges<br />

of research and the expect<strong>at</strong>ions of academic rigour<br />

in the work they were expected to produce. Each of<br />

them, in turn, hopefully, found the experience extremely<br />

rewarding as they went on several journeys down<br />

memory lane. The researchers conducted interviews<br />

with the selected nominees, or arranged for meetings<br />

with family and friends of nominees who are deceased<br />

to gain as much inform<strong>at</strong>ion as possible on their lives.<br />

In addition to referring to archival m<strong>at</strong>erials, personal<br />

meetings and interactions with as many of the <strong>50</strong><br />

<strong>Sikhs</strong> as possible were sought in order to glean insights<br />

th<strong>at</strong> are more nuanced, making the accounts of their<br />

lives captured here more real, authentic and personal.<br />

On the note of stylistic (re)present<strong>at</strong>ion in this collection<br />

of profiles of the <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong>, the researchers were given<br />

considerable autonomy to construct these profiles in<br />

the form of ‘narr<strong>at</strong>ive histories’. A typical chronology of<br />

events would belie and obscure emotions, critical events<br />

and even turning points in their lives – it would not be a<br />

true reflection of their contributions and achievements.<br />

The researchers’ diverse backgrounds are also reflected<br />

in their respective approaches and styles adopted in<br />

writing each of the profiles of the <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong>. As such,<br />

readers can expect an eclectic mix of narr<strong>at</strong>ives th<strong>at</strong><br />

capture the stories of these <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> in interesting and<br />

unique ways. These are also accompanied by cit<strong>at</strong>ions<br />

for each of these <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> from individuals they have<br />

worked closely or interacted with and, in all cases, from<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>ans who are non-<strong>Sikhs</strong>. In its totality, this book<br />

will also bring to bear th<strong>at</strong> many of the <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> had<br />

humble beginnings and for the most part, very ordinary<br />

life experiences. In fact, their personal profiles reveal<br />

experiences th<strong>at</strong> are common to an entire gener<strong>at</strong>ion of<br />

post-independence <strong>Singapore</strong>ans. Wh<strong>at</strong> makes these <strong>50</strong><br />

<strong>Sikhs</strong> extraordinary are some common threads in each<br />

of their life stories – tremendous resolve in the face<br />

of adversity, the tenacity and drive to succeed and the<br />

earnest desire to make contributions to the n<strong>at</strong>ion and<br />

community.<br />

Finally, it is hoped th<strong>at</strong> this book will be a useful record<br />

of the role the <strong>Sikhs</strong>, as a community, have played in<br />

n<strong>at</strong>ion-building. In showcasing the Sikh community’s<br />

involvement in <strong>Singapore</strong>’s n<strong>at</strong>ion-building, an aim is<br />

also to further enhance bonds between the <strong>Sikhs</strong> and<br />

the rest of <strong>Singapore</strong>. Such document<strong>at</strong>ion is necessary<br />

so th<strong>at</strong> current and future gener<strong>at</strong>ions of <strong>Singapore</strong>ans,<br />

not just <strong>Sikhs</strong>, continue to be inspired and play their part<br />

<strong>at</strong> the wider level. We hope th<strong>at</strong> the stories of these<br />

<strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> will serve to further strengthen <strong>Singapore</strong>’s<br />

social fabric by underscoring the important roles each<br />

community has, to ensure the continued success and<br />

progress of our n<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />


Message<br />

The year 2015 is a special one for <strong>Singapore</strong>. We celebr<strong>at</strong>e <strong>50</strong> years of<br />

independence and achievements as one united people. Our society comprises<br />

many races and religions. Multi-racialism and meritocracy are key principles<br />

th<strong>at</strong> underpin <strong>Singapore</strong> and have enabled us to build a strong n<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Every ethnic group in <strong>Singapore</strong> has progressed with the n<strong>at</strong>ion, including<br />

the <strong>Sikhs</strong>. Because the Sikh numbers are small, they have particularly benefitted from our multiracialism<br />

and meritocracy. <strong>Sikhs</strong> have distinguished themselves and made important contributions<br />

in many fields – academia, business, educ<strong>at</strong>ion, law, medicine, politics, uniformed services and<br />

other professions. This is a testament both to the Sikh community and the <strong>Singapore</strong> system th<strong>at</strong><br />

has enabled them to succeed through their own efforts and talents, without being oppressed or<br />

discrimin<strong>at</strong>ed against.<br />

The Sikh culture and religion emphasise values shared by <strong>Singapore</strong>ans of other races and religions<br />

– mutual help, community service, equality, tolerance and respect for others. These values have kept<br />

our society united and remain fundamental to <strong>Singapore</strong>’s survival and progress.<br />

I am glad th<strong>at</strong> Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>) and the Sikh community have put together<br />

this public<strong>at</strong>ion. It helps readers to appreci<strong>at</strong>e <strong>Singapore</strong>’s past and present through the lives and<br />

contributions of the <strong>Sikhs</strong>. May the stories in the book inspire a younger gener<strong>at</strong>ion of <strong>Sikhs</strong> to<br />

chase its aspir<strong>at</strong>ions and serve the wider community <strong>at</strong> the same time.<br />


Prime Minister<br />

Republic of <strong>Singapore</strong><br />


Message<br />

I am pleased to write this message for the Sikh community’s public<strong>at</strong>ion on<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> <strong>at</strong> <strong>50</strong> – <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> and their <strong>Contributions</strong>.<br />

The year 2015 marks an important and significant occasion in <strong>Singapore</strong>’s history<br />

– our <strong>50</strong> years of independence. Without any n<strong>at</strong>ural resources, <strong>Singapore</strong> has<br />

pulled off a dram<strong>at</strong>ic transform<strong>at</strong>ion to rise from a Southeast Asian backw<strong>at</strong>er after<br />

independence from Malaysia in 1965 to become one of the world’s most<br />

developed countries. Today, <strong>Singapore</strong> stands proudly as a global commerce, transport<strong>at</strong>ion and<br />

financial hub.<br />

While the <strong>Singapore</strong> government has taken the lead to celebr<strong>at</strong>e this momentous event in a number<br />

of ways, members of the public have also been contributing their ideas on community initi<strong>at</strong>ives.<br />

The effort by Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>) [YSA] and the Sikh community to celebr<strong>at</strong>e this<br />

major milestone in our n<strong>at</strong>ion’s history through this public<strong>at</strong>ion is highly laudable.<br />

I am honoured to be invited to chair the Panel of Reviewers for the public<strong>at</strong>ion. I have been a<br />

friend of the Sikh community in <strong>Singapore</strong> for the last 30 years. The <strong>Sikhs</strong> are an important part<br />

of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s multi-religious and multi-cultural fabric. A dynamic, hardworking, enterprising and<br />

vibrant community, it has made significant contributions to the socio-economic and political arenas<br />

over the last <strong>50</strong> years, despite being a minority within a minority.<br />

The process for the identific<strong>at</strong>ion, deliber<strong>at</strong>ion and selection of the <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> for the public<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

was detailed and comprehensive. The panel went through each and every nomin<strong>at</strong>ion carefully<br />

and thoroughly. We spent many hours deliber<strong>at</strong>ing on all nomin<strong>at</strong>ions as we wanted to give every<br />

nominee fair and careful consider<strong>at</strong>ion based on the criteria for selection. I am confident th<strong>at</strong> we<br />

have selected the most deserving <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> based on the nomin<strong>at</strong>ions received by the YSA Secretari<strong>at</strong>.<br />

I commend YSA and the Sikh community on this important and meaningful effort. The contributions<br />

of these <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> are indeed represent<strong>at</strong>ive of the significant roles played by the <strong>Singapore</strong> Sikh<br />

community in the country’s overall development and progress.<br />


Chairman, Panel of Reviewers,<br />

Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs), Yale-NUS College, and<br />

Former Nomin<strong>at</strong>ed Member of Parliament, <strong>Singapore</strong><br />


Message<br />

On behalf of Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong> [YSA], I am pleased to present to<br />

you an important public<strong>at</strong>ion, <strong>Singapore</strong> <strong>at</strong> <strong>50</strong> – <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> and their <strong>Contributions</strong>.<br />

YSA launched this project in July 2014 to put wheels into motion to celebr<strong>at</strong>e<br />

the marriage of two abstract and, seemingly separ<strong>at</strong>e, ideas – to commemor<strong>at</strong>e<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s jubilee year and to document the Sikh community’s contributions to<br />

the n<strong>at</strong>ion. We believed th<strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong>’s <strong>50</strong>th anniversary celebr<strong>at</strong>ions would<br />

see many ground-breaking initi<strong>at</strong>ives spanning across different aspects of the n<strong>at</strong>ion’s history and<br />

development. <strong>And</strong> indeed, by the time I pen this message into the third quarter of 2015, we witnessed<br />

a plethora of activities during the course of the year, marking a truly remarkable year for the social<br />

fabric of the n<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Amidst such festivities, YSA felt th<strong>at</strong> if we were to embark on any celebr<strong>at</strong>ory project, it had to be<br />

truly meaningful and reflective of our sentiments and beliefs – the ethos th<strong>at</strong> shaped us collectively<br />

as <strong>Singapore</strong>ans. We cannot celebr<strong>at</strong>e the notion of <strong>Singapore</strong> without recognising the values of<br />

meritocracy and multi-racialism, both of which have become synonymous with the core of the island<br />

st<strong>at</strong>e. As represent<strong>at</strong>ives of a minority group, these are the virtues of <strong>Singapore</strong> th<strong>at</strong> we would like to<br />

highlight and, in so doing, celebr<strong>at</strong>e.<br />

We felt th<strong>at</strong> there would be no better way to do this than to highlight the contributions of members of<br />

the Sikh community, a visible minority in the country’s diverse social make-up, to <strong>Singapore</strong>’s n<strong>at</strong>ionbuilding.<br />

Undoubtedly, the Sikh community has benefited from both the policies of meritocracy and<br />

multi-racialism and the individuals fe<strong>at</strong>ured in this book reflect th<strong>at</strong>. For a small community to be able<br />

to produce leading and notable members of the government, uniformed services, judiciary, academia,<br />

sports, and business and professional communities, among other sectors, is as much a reflection of the<br />

strength and success of <strong>Sikhs</strong> here as it is of the openness and willingness of a system th<strong>at</strong> recognises<br />

their capabilities and allows them to thrive in it, regardless of race, language or religion.<br />

We hope the public<strong>at</strong>ion will not only serve as a celebr<strong>at</strong>ion of the past but also a c<strong>at</strong>alyst for the<br />

future. We believe th<strong>at</strong> the public<strong>at</strong>ion will be an inspir<strong>at</strong>ion for future gener<strong>at</strong>ions of <strong>Singapore</strong>ans –<br />

for <strong>Sikhs</strong> and other minorities to know th<strong>at</strong> their aspir<strong>at</strong>ions need not know any bounds and for the<br />

wider society to recognise and continuously preserve the virtues of meritocracy and multi-racialism in<br />

our beloved n<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />


President<br />

Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>)<br />


Panel of<br />

Reviewers<br />

F<br />

ive individuals were invited by Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>) to be on the Panel of Reviewers.<br />

These members represented the different segments of <strong>Singapore</strong> society and with knowledge and<br />

understanding of the Sikh community.<br />

The Chairman of the panel was Professor Tan Tai Yong, Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs),<br />

Yale-NUS College, and Former Nomin<strong>at</strong>ed Member of Parliament, <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

The key role and responsibility of the panel members was to identify, deliber<strong>at</strong>e and decide on<br />

the final list of <strong>50</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> for the public<strong>at</strong>ion. They also advised the YSA Secretari<strong>at</strong> on the research<br />

and prepar<strong>at</strong>ion of the public<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Professor Tan Tai Yong<br />

Professor Tan Tai Yong is a historian and currently Executive Vice President<br />

(Academic Affairs) of Yale-NUS College. Prior to this, he was Vice Provost<br />

(Student Life) <strong>at</strong> the N<strong>at</strong>ional University of <strong>Singapore</strong> (NUS) from 2010 to<br />

2014. He is also a former Nomin<strong>at</strong>ed Member of Parliament.<br />

Professor Tan has written extensively on South Asian history as well as on Southeast Asia and<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>. His recent books include <strong>Singapore</strong> – A 700 Year History (2009), Cre<strong>at</strong>ing ‘Gre<strong>at</strong>er<br />

Malaysia’: Decolonis<strong>at</strong>ion and the Politics of Merger (2008); Partition and Post-Colonial South<br />

Asia: A Reader (co-edited, 2007); The Garrison St<strong>at</strong>e (2005), The Afterm<strong>at</strong>h of Partition in South<br />

Asia (co-authored, 2000) and The Transform<strong>at</strong>ion of Southeast Asia: Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Perspectives<br />

on De-colonis<strong>at</strong>ion (co-edited, 2003).<br />


Mr Surjit Singh s/o Wazir Singh<br />

Mr Surjit Singh retired from the N<strong>at</strong>ional Library Board, <strong>Singapore</strong>, as Director, Properties Division,<br />

in 2006. He continued to work as a consultant <strong>at</strong> the Board until 2011, having by then served some<br />

40 years in the <strong>Singapore</strong> civil service.<br />

His involvement in the Sikh community in <strong>Singapore</strong> began as a member of the Sikh Advisory Board (SAB) in 1993. He<br />

was appointed SAB’s Secretary from 1993 to 1995 and from 1997 to 2001. He was then appointed Chairman of the<br />

SAB from 2005 to 2014.<br />

Mr Surjit has been a member of the N<strong>at</strong>ional Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony since its inception<br />

in 2006. He actively garnered support from the Sikh community to contribute towards n<strong>at</strong>ional community engagement<br />

efforts such as particip<strong>at</strong>ing in the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles and organising the Harmony Games in<br />

2013. He also represented <strong>Singapore</strong> and profiled her story in a number of intern<strong>at</strong>ional interfaith dialogues.<br />

Mr Surjit was appointed to the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony in <strong>Singapore</strong> for a three-year term in<br />

September 2014 and to the Presidential Council for Minority Rights also for a three-year term in April 2015. He also<br />

serves on the Pioneer Package Appeals Panel, having been appointed for a two-year term in May 2014. More recently,<br />

he was appointed Justice of the Peace for a five-year term on 2 September 2015.<br />

Dr Narinder Kaur<br />

Dr Narinder Kaur is currently working <strong>at</strong> the N<strong>at</strong>ional Library Board (NLB), <strong>Singapore</strong>. During her<br />

eight years <strong>at</strong> NLB, she has chalked up experience in diverse areas and currently oversees the<br />

Quality Service Management and Organis<strong>at</strong>ional Excellence portfolios.<br />

Prior to joining the public service, Dr Kaur worked in the priv<strong>at</strong>e sector for more than 15 years,<br />

specifically in the areas of Corpor<strong>at</strong>e Planning, Human Capability Development and Corpor<strong>at</strong>e Governance. She has<br />

always been interested in the dynamics of human rel<strong>at</strong>ionships and has been able to pursue her lifelong interest in this<br />

area through her various career p<strong>at</strong>hs.<br />

Dr Kaur, who has a Doctor of Philosophy in Corpor<strong>at</strong>e Governance, also lectures part-time on Ethics and Corpor<strong>at</strong>e<br />

Governance <strong>at</strong> the <strong>Singapore</strong> Institute of Management.<br />

In spite of her active work schedule, Dr Kaur is a firm believer in giving back to society. She is actively engaged in<br />

community work and is a founding board member of the 'I Love Children' movement as well as a member of the Sikh<br />

Advisory Board since 2008.<br />

Outside of work, her hobbies include walking and trekking – being with n<strong>at</strong>ure clears her mind and recharges her<br />

energy levels so th<strong>at</strong> she can better deal with the rigours of life.<br />


Mr T Raja Segar<br />

An Economics and Finance teacher by training, Mr T Raja Segar has spent 16 years in the educ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

sector teaching and as a management staff. In th<strong>at</strong> period, he has been with both government and<br />

priv<strong>at</strong>e institutions. He also spent three years with MediaCorp as head of a channel and six years<br />

in the social services sector, namely, with <strong>Singapore</strong> Indian Development Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (SINDA). His<br />

last appointment <strong>at</strong> SINDA was th<strong>at</strong> of Chief Executive Officer.<br />

Currently Director of Academic Analysis and Planning <strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong> Institute of Technology, Mr Raja Segar has a deep<br />

understanding of the Indian community in <strong>Singapore</strong>. He volunteers with youth programmes <strong>at</strong> a community club. He<br />

is a Management Committee member with <strong>Singapore</strong> Indian Educ<strong>at</strong>ion Trust.<br />

His current interests are in the areas of educ<strong>at</strong>ional technology and new ways of teaching and learning.<br />

Mr Navin Pal Singh<br />

Mr Navin Pal Singh is a Quality Control Engineer <strong>at</strong> Solstar Intern<strong>at</strong>ional, a leading home appliances<br />

and consumer electronics brand based in <strong>Singapore</strong> and with global oper<strong>at</strong>ions. As part of the<br />

engineering team, he designs and monitors the quality of products which are manufactured in<br />

factories in different parts of the world.<br />

Mr Navin has been actively involved in various Sikh youth activities through Sikh Sewaks <strong>Singapore</strong> since 1996. He<br />

started as Treasurer of the Sewaks in 2001 before going on to hold the position of President from 2004 to 2007. Even<br />

today, he enjoys working with the youth to promote personal development through Sikhi-based activities and he is<br />

actively involved in samelans and camps in <strong>Singapore</strong>, Malaysia and, more recently, Brisbane.<br />

Mr Navin is keenly interested in photography and engages in it during his leisure time. He is also an avid football fan<br />

and a loyal supporter of Liverpool Football Club.<br />

Mr Navin is husband to a wonderful wife and f<strong>at</strong>her of two beautiful children.<br />


The <strong>Sikhs</strong><br />

in <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Professor Tan Tai Yong 1<br />

I<br />

n 1881, following a recommend<strong>at</strong>ion by a Commission of Enquiry of the Straits Settlement<br />

Police Force in <strong>Singapore</strong>, 165 <strong>Sikhs</strong> arrived on the island from the British Indian province of<br />

the Punjab to form the backbone of a new police contingent. 2 This was the first recorded<br />

case of an influx of <strong>Sikhs</strong>, in any significant number, into <strong>Singapore</strong>. Prior to this d<strong>at</strong>e, there<br />

was little evidence to indic<strong>at</strong>e the presence of a sizeable local Sikh community in the island,<br />

although it was likely th<strong>at</strong> soon after the establishment of a British settlement in <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

in the early nineteenth century, some <strong>Sikhs</strong> had come as sepoys (`n<strong>at</strong>ive’ soldiers of the<br />

British Indian Army), domestic servants and convicts. 3<br />

Sikh emigr<strong>at</strong>ion out of their traditional homeland in the Punjab g<strong>at</strong>hered momentum not<br />

long after the region was annexed to the British Indian empire in 1849. This outward move<br />

was motiv<strong>at</strong>ed primarily by economic conditions following the imposition of British rule in the<br />

Punjab. British annex<strong>at</strong>ion had brought order and stability to the Punjab, which hitherto had<br />

been plagued by internecine conflicts. Political annex<strong>at</strong>ion was followed quickly by economic<br />

reforms – mainly the systemis<strong>at</strong>ion of land ownership and tax<strong>at</strong>ion – which in turn ushered<br />

in a period of prosperity to the new British province. 4 The economic fortunes of the Punjabis<br />

were further enhanced when many of them, particularly the J<strong>at</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong>, were recruited into the<br />

British Indian Army in the wake of the Mutiny and Revolt of 1857.<br />

In the 1870s, the effects of economic changes brought about by British rule began to be<br />

felt, and ironically, one of the results of political stability and a settled economy was peasant<br />

indebtedness. With the increased profitability of agricultural output, cultivable land, especially<br />

in the densely popul<strong>at</strong>ed Manjha area of central Punjab, became a valued commodity, and<br />

peasants began using land as coll<strong>at</strong>eral to borrow cash from moneylenders. The money<br />


obtained was then used to purchase more land, pay off<br />

land revenue due to the st<strong>at</strong>e or to support ostent<strong>at</strong>ious<br />

lifestyles. Thus indebted, with the risk of eventually losing<br />

their land if loans were not repaid, Sikh agriculturists had<br />

to turn to non-agricultural activities for supplementary<br />

income. Military service became a very popular voc<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

among the <strong>Sikhs</strong>, as military pay and pension provided<br />

a steady source of additional income. However, not all<br />

who were interested could get into the Indian Army, as<br />

the military authorities in India were very selective in<br />

their recruitment and showing a marked, and almost<br />

exclusive, preference for J<strong>at</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> from certain districts<br />

in the Manjha region. Those who could not find places<br />

in the regiments but were determined to earn added<br />

income resorted to migr<strong>at</strong>ion. Some started by moving<br />

into the newly opened canal-colony lands in western<br />

Punjab. Others, as opportunities presented themselves,<br />

went further afield. By the l<strong>at</strong>er half of the nineteenth<br />

century, there was a steady flow of <strong>Sikhs</strong> migr<strong>at</strong>ing out<br />

of the Punjab in search of employment in different parts<br />

of the world. Many went as far away as Canada and<br />

America while others travelled eastwards to Thailand,<br />

Malaya and the Straits Settlements.<br />

Most of the <strong>Sikhs</strong> who came to <strong>Singapore</strong> in the l<strong>at</strong>er<br />

half of the nineteenth century served in the local police<br />

and security forces. These pioneers paved the way for<br />

the subsequent influx of more <strong>Sikhs</strong> to <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Several of the early émigrés who returned to their n<strong>at</strong>ive<br />

Punjab while on vac<strong>at</strong>ion spoke enthusiastically about<br />

the opportunities available in <strong>Singapore</strong>. They were<br />

thus able to <strong>at</strong>tract several of their fellow villagers who<br />

subsequently followed them back to <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Not all who came to <strong>Singapore</strong> managed to get enlisted<br />

into the police force. Many aspirants were rejected<br />

due to filled quotas or the failure to meet stringent<br />

physical requirements laid down by the police force.<br />

The police force stipul<strong>at</strong>ed, for example, th<strong>at</strong> recruits<br />

should be below 25 years old with a minimum height<br />

of five feet six inches and a measurement of <strong>at</strong> least 33<br />

inches for the chest. They were also expected to pass<br />

a rigorous medical examin<strong>at</strong>ion. 5 Those who made the<br />

trip to <strong>Singapore</strong> but failed to find employment with<br />

the government security service, nevertheless, found it<br />

rel<strong>at</strong>ively easy to secure jobs with priv<strong>at</strong>e employers.<br />

The `tall and sturdy’ <strong>Sikhs</strong>, with their martial reput<strong>at</strong>ion,<br />

were eagerly sought after by priv<strong>at</strong>e employers as<br />

security guards and w<strong>at</strong>chmen. 6<br />

By the turn of the century, there was a more or less<br />

settled, albeit very small Sikh community in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

The majority of them were employed as policemen,<br />

security guards or caretakers. There were also some Sikh<br />

dairy farmers and bullock drivers who kept a few heads<br />

of c<strong>at</strong>tle on the outskirts of town. 7<br />

Driven by the need to send regular remittances home,<br />

as well as the dream of eventually returning rich and<br />

successful to their homeland in the Punjab, the lives of<br />

these early Sikh migrants were characterised by hard work<br />

and thriftiness. It was not uncommon for these migrants<br />

to take on two or three jobs simultaneously. W<strong>at</strong>chmen,<br />

who found their duties fairly sedentary, were often able<br />

to carry out secondary activities. This often took the form<br />

of moneylending which subsequently became such a<br />

popular and lucr<strong>at</strong>ive activity th<strong>at</strong> many policemen took<br />

early retirement to become w<strong>at</strong>chmen-cum-moneylenders<br />

to supplement their pensions and savings. 8<br />

This employment p<strong>at</strong>tern meant th<strong>at</strong> the early Sikh<br />

community was concentr<strong>at</strong>ed in the town areas. Those<br />

employed by the Straits Settlements Police Force were<br />

housed in barracks <strong>at</strong> Pearl’s Hill. The w<strong>at</strong>chmen<br />

or security guards had to live near their places of<br />

employment – go-downs, banks, offices – which were<br />

all within the municipal area. The 1931 Census of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> indic<strong>at</strong>ed th<strong>at</strong>, of the 2,988 <strong>Sikhs</strong> living in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>, 2,666 were living within the municipal area,<br />

while only 322 were living outside the town areas. 9<br />


At the turn of the century, the Sikh community<br />

in <strong>Singapore</strong> was predominantly male; its female<br />

popul<strong>at</strong>ion was very small and comprised mainly<br />

wives of Sikh policemen. The kinds of work available in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>, living conditions and the uncertainty of life in<br />

an alien environment restricted the migr<strong>at</strong>ion of females<br />

in any significant numbers. Most importantly, however,<br />

the early Sikh migrants were of the transitory type who<br />

had no intention of settling permanently in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

It was a common practice for those who came in search<br />

of work to leave their wives behind, and for the single<br />

ones, once they had earned enough money, to return to<br />

India to get married.<br />

Although many of the Sikh migrants who came to<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> were J<strong>at</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> from the peasant classes,<br />

<strong>Sikhs</strong> from the business community also made their way<br />

here in the 1920s and 1930s as petty traders, pedlars,<br />

shopkeepers and merchants. Sikh commercial migrants<br />

successfully established themselves as wholesalers<br />

and retailers in the textile trade by c<strong>at</strong>ering mainly to<br />

the Indian and European communities in <strong>Singapore</strong>. 10<br />

The post-war period also saw a significant increase in<br />

the number of Sikh commercial migrants coming to<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> and Malaya. This was due to several factors:<br />

the partition of the Punjab in 1947, which led to the<br />

displacement of many <strong>Sikhs</strong> from their homes and<br />

businesses in the urban centres of west Punjab; and the<br />

trade boom gener<strong>at</strong>ed by the Korean War in the early<br />

19<strong>50</strong>s. 11 Many Sikh families affected by the partition<br />

chose to migr<strong>at</strong>e overseas to <strong>Singapore</strong>, Malaya and<br />

Thailand where they had family and friends already<br />

settled there. 12<br />

As the community settled in <strong>Singapore</strong>, gurdwaras (Sikh<br />

temples) began appearing. The early gurdwaras were<br />

set up in areas where the community was concentr<strong>at</strong>ed.<br />

These temples performed a very important social and<br />

religious function for the early community. In addition<br />

to serving as places of religious worship, these<br />

gurdwaras functioned as community centres where<br />

social, educ<strong>at</strong>ional and other charitable activities were<br />

carried out. Neighbourhood gurdwaras were popular<br />

rendezvous points, where <strong>Sikhs</strong> would converge to<br />

discuss events in the Punjab or the affairs of their<br />

community. There, they would also g<strong>at</strong>her to meet new<br />

arrivals and assist them with settling into their new<br />

environment. 13 This l<strong>at</strong>ter function was easily provided<br />

for as the gurdwara has, as part of its set-up, a langar<br />

(communal meal) hall, which provided free food and<br />

shelter to travellers.<br />

The earliest known gurdwara in <strong>Singapore</strong> was<br />

established by the Sikh Police contingent <strong>at</strong> Pearl’s Hill.<br />

Religious services were initially held <strong>at</strong> the barracks as<br />

the gurdwara’s congreg<strong>at</strong>ion was originally limited to<br />

the Sikh policemen and their families. 15 However, as<br />

the community grew, the temple facilities in the police<br />

barracks became increasingly inadequ<strong>at</strong>e. The civilian<br />

section of the community wanted their own gurdwara<br />

and a decision was subsequently taken to establish<br />

another temple outside the police premises. In 1912,<br />

a committee of <strong>Sikhs</strong>, led by a Mr Wassiamull, a Sindhi<br />

merchant, bought a small bungalow with a large<br />

compound on Queen Street. 2 Within a few months, the<br />

bungalow was converted into a gurdwara and named<br />

the Central Sikh Temple. By the middle of the decade,<br />

nearly all <strong>Sikhs</strong> in <strong>Singapore</strong> had begun congreg<strong>at</strong>ing<br />

<strong>at</strong> this temple.<br />

Meanwhile, <strong>Sikhs</strong> from the Tanjong Pagar Dock Police<br />

Contingent decided to establish another gurdwara,<br />

partly with the intention of using its premises to provide<br />

assistance to newly arrived <strong>Sikhs</strong> or those in transit<br />

through <strong>Singapore</strong>. In the past, it was customary for<br />

Sikh migrants already here – these were mainly Sikh<br />

policemen – to house their rel<strong>at</strong>ives or friends who<br />

had newly arrived from India until they could find<br />

altern<strong>at</strong>ive accommod<strong>at</strong>ion or a permanent job. As<br />

the volume of migrants increased, Sikh policemen,<br />


themselves housed in government barracks, found this<br />

arrangement increasingly inconvenient, as there were<br />

several restraints with regard to having visitors in the<br />

barracks. 16 The need was thus expressed for a new<br />

`half-way house’. The Sikh contingent finally decided to<br />

establish this half-way house <strong>at</strong> Sil<strong>at</strong> Road, a site chosen<br />

in view of its proximity to the harbour and railway<br />

st<strong>at</strong>ion. The project was financed by don<strong>at</strong>ions from the<br />

Sikh policemen – many of whom pledged a month’s<br />

pay to the establishment of this institution – as well<br />

as from Sikh communities from Hong Kong, Shanghai,<br />

Thailand and Malaya. A temple was l<strong>at</strong>er incorpor<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

into the premises for worship. Initially called the Police<br />

Gurdwara, the Sil<strong>at</strong> Road temple was subsequently<br />

renamed Gurdwara Sahib Sil<strong>at</strong> Road. 17<br />

During the first two decades of the twentieth century,<br />

the gurdwaras <strong>at</strong> Queen Street and Sil<strong>at</strong> Road fe<strong>at</strong>ured<br />

prominently in the lives of the local Sikh community. They<br />

fulfilled most of the social and religious roles discussed<br />

earlier: free food and shelter for travellers and the<br />

unemployed were always provided <strong>at</strong> the Central Sikh<br />

Temple; even non-<strong>Sikhs</strong> benefitted from such services.<br />

As an elderly member of the community recalls, “In the<br />

early years, anybody who came from India would visit<br />

the temple <strong>at</strong> Queen Street first. There, he would get<br />

assistance in terms of food, shelter until he was selfsufficient.”<br />

18<br />

Besides serving as places of worship and fr<strong>at</strong>ernity for<br />

the local Sikh community, these gurdwaras also doubled<br />

as centres of learning for the young and old. The Punjabi<br />

language, particularly its written form, Gurumukhi, was<br />

taught <strong>at</strong> these gurdwaras. Knowledge of Gurumukhi<br />

was considered imper<strong>at</strong>ive for all <strong>Sikhs</strong> as it enabled<br />

them to read and understand the contents of the<br />

holy scriptures of Sikhism – the Granth Sahib. It was<br />

little wonder th<strong>at</strong> priests or scriptures readers <strong>at</strong> the<br />

gurdwaras often doubled as teachers to provide Punjabi<br />

lessons for the community.<br />

The primacy of these two gurdwaras was soon<br />

undermined by `temple politics’ which stemmed from<br />

factional differences in the local Sikh community. 19<br />

These differences, which had their origins in regional<br />

rivalries in central Punjab, had been further reinforced<br />

by British colonial recruitment policies th<strong>at</strong> saw Sikh<br />

regiments grouped according to region and caste. There<br />

was intense rivalry between the Malwa J<strong>at</strong>s and Manjha<br />

J<strong>at</strong>s in the security forces as the two groups competed<br />

against each other for privileges, promotions and<br />

military honours. This regional rivalry extended beyond<br />

the security forces as rival factions started to contest for<br />

the control of key institutions, particularly the Central<br />

Sikh Temple. This rivalry came to a head in 1925, when<br />

each group broke away to form its own gurdwara with<br />

their separ<strong>at</strong>e congreg<strong>at</strong>ions. 20<br />

In <strong>Singapore</strong>, the Sri Guru Singh Sabha <strong>at</strong> Wilkie Road had<br />

a Manjha-domin<strong>at</strong>ed following while the Malwa group<br />

built its own gurdwara, the Malwa Khalsa Dharmak<br />

Sabha, <strong>at</strong> Niven Road. The numerically smaller Doaba<br />

group formed the Pardesi Khalsa Dharmak Sabha <strong>at</strong><br />

Kirk Terrace. 21 This factional split notwithstanding, the<br />

Central Sikh Temple remained the institutional centre of<br />

the whole Sikh community and continued to function as<br />

the symbolic focal point of the early Sikh community in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Sikh migr<strong>at</strong>ion to <strong>Singapore</strong> and Malaya petered out in<br />

the 19<strong>50</strong>s as a result of post-war political developments<br />

in Southeast Asia. Strict immigr<strong>at</strong>ion laws passed by the<br />

Malayan government in 1953 and again in 1959 led to<br />

a marked reduction in immigrant numbers. The post-war<br />

years also saw the rise of n<strong>at</strong>ionalist movements and the<br />

cre<strong>at</strong>ion of new n<strong>at</strong>ion-st<strong>at</strong>es in Asia. <strong>Sikhs</strong> who were<br />

based in <strong>Singapore</strong> had to choose between returning<br />

home to India and making <strong>Singapore</strong> their country<br />

of domicile. Those who decided to stay on eventually<br />

became citizens of an independent <strong>Singapore</strong>. For the<br />

earlier gener<strong>at</strong>ion of <strong>Singapore</strong>-domiciled <strong>Sikhs</strong>, regional<br />


loyalties formed a key aspect of their identities and this<br />

was manifested in the establishment of gurdwaras based<br />

on historically rooted regional and caste affili<strong>at</strong>ions.<br />

However, with the coming of age of the Sikh community<br />

in <strong>Singapore</strong> in the l<strong>at</strong>er half of the twentieth century,<br />

efforts have been made to steer the community away<br />

from regional and caste-based divisions. The younger<br />

gener<strong>at</strong>ion of <strong>Singapore</strong> <strong>Sikhs</strong> who have assumed<br />

leadership positions in the community have turned<br />

their <strong>at</strong>tention to building a progressive and unified<br />

Sikh identity. The community has also focused on the<br />

transmission of the Punjabi-Sikh tradition and the<br />

revival of Sikhism among Sikh youth since the 1990s.<br />

The image of the turbaned Sikh policeman has been<br />

and continues to be a prominent fe<strong>at</strong>ure in historical<br />

narr<strong>at</strong>ives on <strong>Singapore</strong> and its colonial past. After<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s independence, <strong>Sikhs</strong> remained closely<br />

associ<strong>at</strong>ed with the military service in <strong>Singapore</strong> and this<br />

has often been highlighted as an important contribution<br />

made by the community to the country. <strong>Sikhs</strong> have also<br />

established their presence in politics and the professional<br />

services in <strong>Singapore</strong>. With <strong>Singapore</strong> celebr<strong>at</strong>ing <strong>50</strong><br />

years of its independence this year, it is timely th<strong>at</strong> the<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Sikh community too is commemor<strong>at</strong>ing the<br />

achievements made by its members.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Professor Tan is Executive Vice President (Academic Affairs), Yale-NUS<br />

College. He works on South and Southeast Asian history. A gradu<strong>at</strong>e of<br />

the N<strong>at</strong>ional University of <strong>Singapore</strong> and Cambridge University, he has<br />

researched and written on the Sikh diaspora, civil-military rel<strong>at</strong>ions, the<br />

social and political history of colonial Punjab, the partition of South Asia,<br />

and the history of <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

2<br />

Walter Makepeace, Gilbert E Brooke and Roland St J Braddell (eds.), One<br />

Hundred Years of <strong>Singapore</strong>, Vol. 1 (London, 1921), pp 2<strong>50</strong>-51.<br />

3<br />

K S Sandhu, Indians in Malaya: Some Aspects of their Immigr<strong>at</strong>ion and<br />

Settlement 1786-1957, Cambridge, 1969, pp 40-5.<br />

4<br />

During the first three years of British rule, the Punjab produced an<br />

annual surplus budget of Rs. 400,000. See Khushwant Singh, The <strong>Sikhs</strong>,<br />

London, 1953, p 83.<br />

5<br />

Amarjit Kaur, `North Indians in Malaya: 1870-1947’, unpublished MA<br />

thesis, University of Malaya, 1974, p.112.<br />

6<br />

K S Sandhu, Indians in Malaya, p 124.<br />

7<br />

Interviews with Choor Singh, June 26, 1985, and Seva Singh, October<br />

23, 1985).<br />

8<br />

Amarjit Kaur, `North Indians in Malaya’, pp.66-71. This inform<strong>at</strong>ion is<br />

also based on an interview with Seva Singh (October 23, 1985).<br />

9<br />

C A Vlieland, British Malaya: A Report on the 1931 Census and Certain<br />

Problems of Vital St<strong>at</strong>istics, London, 1932, p 208.<br />

10<br />

K S Sandhu, Indians in Malaya, p 121.<br />

11<br />

K S Sandhu, “Sikh Immigr<strong>at</strong>ion into Malaya during the period of British<br />

rule”, in Jerome Ch’en and Nicholas Tarling, eds., Studies in the Social<br />

History of China and Southeast Asia (Gre<strong>at</strong> Britain: Cambridge University<br />

Press, 1970, p. 345.<br />

12<br />

Khushwant Singh, A History of the <strong>Sikhs</strong>, Vol. 2: 1839 – 1988, Delhi:<br />

Oxford University Press, 1991, pp 270 – 287.<br />

13<br />

Amarjit Kaur, `North Indians in Malaya’, p 226.<br />

14<br />

H S Tan, `The Cultural Landscape of <strong>Singapore</strong>: A Study of the Growth<br />

and Distribution of Religious Institutions in <strong>Singapore</strong>’, unpublished<br />

Academic Exercise, University of Malaya, 1962, p 35.<br />

15<br />

Interview with Choor Singh, October 22, 1985.<br />

16<br />

D<strong>at</strong>t Soam, `A Sikh Community in <strong>Singapore</strong>’ , unpublished Academic<br />

Exercise, University of <strong>Singapore</strong>, 1964, p 16.<br />

17<br />

Mehervan Singh, Sikhism East and West, <strong>Singapore</strong>, 1979, p 45; D<strong>at</strong>t<br />

Soam, `A Sikh Community in <strong>Singapore</strong>’, p 16.<br />

18<br />

Interview with Seva Singh, October 23, 1985.<br />

19<br />

The Sikh migrants in <strong>Singapore</strong> came mostly from three different<br />

localities in Central Punjab – the Manjha (the lower plains tract of the<br />

Beas and Ravi Rivers), Malwa (roughly the areas south and east of the<br />

Sutlej River) and Doaba (the plains tract of Beas and Sutlej Rivers). <strong>Sikhs</strong><br />

from these three different localities, divided by caste and geographical<br />

cleavages, had traditionally been antagonistic to each other. It has been<br />

said th<strong>at</strong> Malwa J<strong>at</strong>s have tended to look down on the Manjha J<strong>at</strong>s, and<br />

both in turn tended to look down on the Doabis. See W. H. Mcleod, The<br />

Evolution of the Sikh Community, Delhi, 1975), p 97.<br />

20<br />

Bibijan Ibrahim, `A Study of a Sikh Community’, unpublished M.Soc.Sci<br />

thesis, N<strong>at</strong>ional University of <strong>Singapore</strong>, 1982, p 36.<br />

21<br />

H S Tan, `The Cultural Landscapes of <strong>Singapore</strong>’, p 35.<br />


Ajit<br />

Singh<br />

"<br />

T<br />

ry your best, be a good person and the rest will sort itself out.” 1 This is indeed sound advice,<br />

especially coming from a man who rose from humble beginnings to become <strong>Singapore</strong>’s<br />

longest-serving Sikh diplom<strong>at</strong>. Today, Mr Ajit Singh is <strong>Singapore</strong>’s Consul-General in Mumbai,<br />

with jurisdiction over the Indian st<strong>at</strong>es of Maharashtra, Gujar<strong>at</strong>, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha,<br />

Chh<strong>at</strong>tisgarh and Goa.<br />

Born in 1949, Ajit spent all of his childhood and teenage years <strong>at</strong> the former British Naval<br />

Base in Sembawang. His f<strong>at</strong>her was a policeman. Like any other military cantonment, Ajit<br />

remembers the family’s quarters to be clean and orderly. The government compound comprised<br />

accommod<strong>at</strong>ion for several hundred Asian workers. Ajit st<strong>at</strong>ed: “Although life was basic and<br />

simple, and money was scarce, like so many others in the compound, my family made the best<br />

of wh<strong>at</strong>ever was available and the experience was fun.” 2 During this time, his family moved<br />

several times – from a large one-bedroom with a section marked out as ‘kitchen’ to a small<br />

two-bedroom fl<strong>at</strong> with a balcony which, for him was a luxury.<br />

The government compound was more of a village and the whole community was closely knit. As<br />

a student, Ajit walked to school with his friends from the compound and played games whenever<br />

and wherever the opportunities allowed. There was genuine warmth. Like many others, he knew<br />

the parents, brothers and sisters of friends and could walk into a friend’s home unannounced. It<br />

was normal back then. Those personal bonds of friendship have continued to this day. For him,<br />

childhood brings forth many happy memories. Most of those memories revolve around Naval<br />

Base School, where he forged some of the most enduring life-long friendships with schoolm<strong>at</strong>es<br />

from different races, religious and social backgrounds.<br />


for Malaysia and Brunei, and Deputy Director in the<br />

Policy Planning and Analysis Director<strong>at</strong>e IV (South Asia,<br />

Middle East, Africa, L<strong>at</strong>in America and Intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

Organis<strong>at</strong>ion). Ajit served in <strong>Singapore</strong> missions in<br />

Moscow, Washington, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, New<br />

Delhi, Pekan Baru and Chennai. He also held the post<br />

of Deputy High Commissioner in the <strong>Singapore</strong> High<br />

Commission in New Delhi and Consul General of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> in Chennai. Ajit also particip<strong>at</strong>ed in various<br />

regional and intern<strong>at</strong>ional meetings. These included<br />

various Associ<strong>at</strong>ion of Southeast Asian N<strong>at</strong>ions<br />

ministerial meetings, the Non-Aligned Movement<br />

Summit in Jakarta in 1991, the Commonwealth Heads<br />

of Government Meeting in 1982 and the Indian Ocean<br />

Rim Ministerial Meeting in 1997.<br />

The schooling system did not have the same pressures<br />

and stress frequently alluded to by most <strong>Singapore</strong>ans<br />

nowadays. However, Ajit remembers the students being<br />

extremely competitive and determined to succeed.<br />

There was a spirit of competition in the classroom and<br />

school, not to mention the pressure of staying in the<br />

same compound as many other students from the same<br />

school. Naval Base School produced several students<br />

who <strong>at</strong>tained n<strong>at</strong>ional recognition over the years. In<br />

fact, many Sikh boys and girls from the school went<br />

on to pursue tertiary educ<strong>at</strong>ion and became doctors,<br />

lawyers, teachers and senior professional staff. Ajit<br />

was one such individual. He did well in his studies and<br />

gradu<strong>at</strong>ed with a Bachelor of Arts from the University<br />

of <strong>Singapore</strong> in 1971. Twelve years l<strong>at</strong>er, Ajit obtained a<br />

Master of Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Public Policy from Johns Hopkins<br />

University in the United St<strong>at</strong>es.<br />

In 1974, Ajit joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He<br />

has held various posts, including Assistant Director<br />

Ajit st<strong>at</strong>ed: “I have been fortun<strong>at</strong>e to serve my career as<br />

a diplom<strong>at</strong> and represent<strong>at</strong>ive of <strong>Singapore</strong>. Living away<br />

from <strong>Singapore</strong> for so many years does lead to fresh<br />

perspectives.” 3 The regular postings also meant having<br />

to uproot his family every few years and starting all over<br />

again in a new country or city and a new environment. His<br />

wife and three children probably felt it far more than he<br />

did since his posting did have an impact on his children’s<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion. However, he accepts such disruptions in the<br />

life of a diplom<strong>at</strong> and in the service of the n<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

In the last four decades in <strong>Singapore</strong>’s foreign service, Ajit<br />

has played an important role in promoting <strong>Singapore</strong>’s<br />

political and economic interests abroad. He expressed<br />

particular delight and contentment th<strong>at</strong> his work has led<br />

to many other governments, business and community<br />

officials developing positive <strong>at</strong>titudes towards, and<br />

building stronger rel<strong>at</strong>ionships with <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

The role and life of a diplom<strong>at</strong> is no stroll in the park – it is<br />

in fact quite far from it. However, Ajit’s work ethics have<br />

played a key role in ensuring th<strong>at</strong> he has succeeded in<br />

wh<strong>at</strong>ever he has set out to do. During his student days,<br />

and in his professional career as a diplom<strong>at</strong>, Ajit has<br />

adopted the mantra of doing his best and never giving<br />


“<br />

Ajit has been a good friend and a good colleague of mine for more than three<br />

decades. I have always known him as someone who is trustworthy and can be relied<br />

on to do his best wh<strong>at</strong>ever the task. At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he has served<br />

in a wide variety of postings from Moscow to India, none easy. However, he has never<br />

faltered or given up no m<strong>at</strong>ter how difficult the situ<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

As a friend, Ajit is gre<strong>at</strong> company and a gre<strong>at</strong> raconteur with an inexhaustible fund<br />

of stories. I suspect th<strong>at</strong> these qualities of steadfastness, determin<strong>at</strong>ion and joie de<br />

vivre have something to do with Ajit’s deep commitment to Sikhism. No m<strong>at</strong>ter where<br />

he is posted, he always keeps his links with the <strong>Singapore</strong> Sikh community. I am<br />

very happy th<strong>at</strong> Ajit’s contributions to his community and his country have been<br />

recognised. There is no more deserving person.<br />

Mr Bilahari Kausikan<br />

Ambassador-At-Large and<br />

Former Permanent Secretary<br />

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

“<br />

up. He sees setbacks as challenges and as opportunities<br />

to make a comeback. He has revolved his life around<br />

p<strong>at</strong>ience and humility in order to remain grounded in<br />

his lifestyle and interactions with friends. He also places<br />

significant stress on the importance of family values<br />

and orient<strong>at</strong>ion and believes th<strong>at</strong> our daily lives must<br />

be based on strong personal values and principles. In<br />

this regard, he sees his faith in Sikhism as a pillar of<br />

strength. He is able to turn to this pillar of strength in<br />

times of need.<br />

It may surprise many th<strong>at</strong> despite being out of the country<br />

for much of his career, Ajit has been able to make a<br />

telling contribution to the Sikh community in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

It boils down to desire. Ajit was actively involved in<br />

the Sikh Naujawan Sabha based in Sembawang. He<br />

spearheaded the organising of many activities th<strong>at</strong><br />

cre<strong>at</strong>ed religious, social and cultural awareness for all. He<br />

was also Chairman of the Organising Committee when<br />

the Sikh Naujawan Sabha organised a Vesakhi concert<br />

in Sembawang as a n<strong>at</strong>ional event. <strong>Singapore</strong>ans saw<br />

the event as an important marker in the promotion of<br />

the Sikh community in <strong>Singapore</strong>. While in university, Ajit<br />

was Chairman of the committee of Sikh undergradu<strong>at</strong>es<br />

th<strong>at</strong> organised a seminar on issues rel<strong>at</strong>ing to the<br />

Sikh community. This allowed Sikh undergradu<strong>at</strong>es to<br />

deb<strong>at</strong>e on the challenges for and responses by the Sikh<br />

community in <strong>Singapore</strong>. The purpose of this event was<br />

to cre<strong>at</strong>e a spark in the undergradu<strong>at</strong>es so th<strong>at</strong> they<br />

would further contribute positively to the issues once<br />

they gradu<strong>at</strong>ed.<br />

When Ajit became the Vice President of the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Khalsa Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (SKA), he saw the unfulfilled<br />

potential th<strong>at</strong> Sikh youth and women had in contributing<br />

culturally, socially and religiously to the community.<br />

He spearheaded the initi<strong>at</strong>ive to set up the youth and<br />

women wings <strong>at</strong> SKA. These two wings continue to<br />

be an important part of the Associ<strong>at</strong>ion. Despite being<br />

in India, Ajit continues his rel<strong>at</strong>ionship with the Sikh<br />


community in <strong>Singapore</strong>. He is a member of the Trustee<br />

Boards <strong>at</strong> SKA and Yishun Sikh Temple.<br />

Ajit strongly believes th<strong>at</strong> while there will be challenges<br />

for the Sikh community in <strong>Singapore</strong>, there will continue<br />

to be new opportunities as well for them to strive and<br />

excel. The <strong>Sikhs</strong> are hardworking and entrepreneurial<br />

people. His posting to India provided a chance for him<br />

to witness the <strong>Sikhs</strong> in India punching well above their<br />

weight in many fields despite the fact th<strong>at</strong> they account<br />

for less than two per cent of India’s popul<strong>at</strong>ion. For him,<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>an <strong>Sikhs</strong> should look beyond the traditional<br />

professions and move into new areas linked with the<br />

new economy. The Sikh community can and should<br />

remain progressive and relevant.<br />

An important factor in the Sikh community’s and<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s success is the youth. As a <strong>Singapore</strong>an<br />

who witnessed the tumultuous years of the 19<strong>50</strong>s and<br />

1960s, and the uncertain 1970s, Ajit fully appreci<strong>at</strong>es<br />

the need for young <strong>Sikhs</strong> and young <strong>Singapore</strong>ans not<br />

to take our vibrancy and harmony or even our survival<br />

as a n<strong>at</strong>ion for granted. He has every faith th<strong>at</strong> the<br />

younger gener<strong>at</strong>ion will not do so. As long as the next<br />

gener<strong>at</strong>ion stays true to and builds on the core values as<br />

a society and n<strong>at</strong>ion, the future of <strong>Singapore</strong> will indeed<br />

be a bright one. However, he cautions the youth against<br />

the consequences of being too complacent and insists<br />

th<strong>at</strong> a right blend of confidence and humility is the<br />

ingredient for success. Ajit spent much time in his youth<br />

contributing to the betterment of the Sikh community<br />

and is therefore well-placed to provide such advice.<br />

Despite being on the road for much of his life, Ajit has<br />

no plans to slow down just yet. He has many plans<br />

for the future. When he returns to <strong>Singapore</strong> from his<br />

overseas assignment, he plans to particip<strong>at</strong>e in social<br />

and community work with a n<strong>at</strong>ional body. He also<br />

sees himself contributing further to the Sikh community<br />

by joining hands with his long-standing friends in the<br />

Sikh institutions. Finally, post-retirement, he hopes to<br />

make use of his extensive knowledge and experience<br />

in Malaysia, Indonesia and, particularly, India to assist<br />

and advise <strong>Singapore</strong> businesses in making inroads into<br />

these countries.<br />

It is a fallacy to assume th<strong>at</strong> one must remain in <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

to contribute to one’s community and society. Ajit spent<br />

much of his working life on overseas postings and<br />

travelling on the job. Yet, he has been able to contribute<br />

to the n<strong>at</strong>ional and intern<strong>at</strong>ional arenas as well as the<br />

Sikh community. Ajit is indeed a true personific<strong>at</strong>ion of<br />

the saying: ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Mr Ajit Singh, August 6, 2015.<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />

3<br />

Ibid.<br />


Amarjit<br />

Kaur<br />

M<br />

adam Amarjit Kaur’s life did not follow any conventional educ<strong>at</strong>ional or professional route. Her<br />

achievements – as a student, a teacher and an educ<strong>at</strong>ional administr<strong>at</strong>or – have been multi-fold<br />

and obtained not through the standard or established manner. In spite of taking the p<strong>at</strong>h less<br />

travelled, she succeeded, <strong>at</strong> the end of the day, in building a successful leadership career in the<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion sector th<strong>at</strong> culmin<strong>at</strong>ed in a 15-year stint as a Senior Quality Assessor in the School<br />

Appraisal Branch <strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong>’s Ministry of Educ<strong>at</strong>ion (MOE). She was one of the pioneers<br />

in the office <strong>at</strong> a time when <strong>Singapore</strong> decided to focus on a comprehensive review of the<br />

assessment process in local schools.<br />

Born in India in 1949, Amarjit hailed from an English-educ<strong>at</strong>ed Delhi family of professionals and<br />

business persons. She moved to <strong>Singapore</strong> with her parents <strong>at</strong> the tender age of three years. Her<br />

f<strong>at</strong>her, a former Indian army officer, found work in a textile company while her mother busied<br />

herself as a homemaker bringing up four children in their newly-adopted country. She credits<br />

her parents for always emphasising the importance of educ<strong>at</strong>ion to their children. Amarjit has<br />

two sisters and a brother. She went to Raffles Girls’ Primary School and Saint Margaret’s Primary<br />

School, and then to Saint Margaret’s Secondary School. She was a playful and sporty child. It<br />

was her Primary Six teacher who was one of the biggest role models in her life and helped her<br />

understand the importance of working hard and doing well in school.<br />

Amarjit considers herself to be blessed to have been given the unique opportunities in her life.<br />

She started teaching with just an ‘O’ Level certific<strong>at</strong>e after her mother encouraged her to go<br />

into the profession, which she had been brought up to believe was a highly honourable one.<br />

She then went on to the Teacher Training College, where she began learning how to teach<br />

while teaching <strong>at</strong> the same time. Her chance to obtain an ‘A’ Level certific<strong>at</strong>e only presented<br />


her a good grounding for developing teaching content,<br />

pedagogy and methodology.<br />

Amarjit went on to serve three years <strong>at</strong> MOE’s<br />

Curriculum Planning and Development Division as a<br />

writer. She came up with m<strong>at</strong>erials for students labelled<br />

as ‘slow learners’ as part of the monolingual curriculum<br />

programme, which is now defunct. According to her, it<br />

was a challenging assignment as she had to prepare<br />

interesting and stimul<strong>at</strong>ing content th<strong>at</strong> would be<br />

tailored to their specific needs and capabilities. 1 She<br />

then <strong>at</strong>tended a one-year leadership training course,<br />

following which she fulfilled a two-year stint as Vice<br />

Principal of Yu Neng Primary School, before being<br />

appointed Principal of Haig Girls’ School, renowned<br />

in the eastern part of <strong>Singapore</strong> as one of the top<br />

primary schools in the vicinity. Amarjit st<strong>at</strong>ed th<strong>at</strong> her<br />

gre<strong>at</strong>est moment was stepping into the school as it was<br />

an honour being chosen to lead a prestigious all-girls<br />

premier government school. 2 She had done her family<br />

and friends proud. She would be the stalwart head of<br />

the school for the next eight years.<br />

itself much l<strong>at</strong>er. She studied priv<strong>at</strong>ely for the n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

examin<strong>at</strong>ions only after she had gotten married and had<br />

two children. She was also well-settled in her career by<br />

then. However, she had the desire and motiv<strong>at</strong>ion to<br />

further develop herself personally and professionally.<br />

Amarjit’s teaching career began <strong>at</strong> the then-Raymond<br />

Primary School and she l<strong>at</strong>er went on to spend several<br />

years teaching <strong>at</strong> various schools which included Opera<br />

Est<strong>at</strong>e Primary School, Raffles Girls’ Primary School<br />

and Telok Kurau East Primary School. During th<strong>at</strong> time,<br />

there was no specialis<strong>at</strong>ion for primary school teachers.<br />

As such, she taught all subjects, ranging from English,<br />

M<strong>at</strong>hs and Science to Arts and Craft. This broad-based<br />

experience as a generalist held her in good stead during<br />

her l<strong>at</strong>er years in curriculum development in th<strong>at</strong> it gave<br />

In 1996, Amarjit was invited by the then-Director of<br />

MOE to become an Inspector of Schools. She held th<strong>at</strong><br />

position for three years before moving to England to<br />

further her studies. Upon her return three years l<strong>at</strong>er,<br />

she joined the School Appraisal Branch <strong>at</strong> MOE as a<br />

Senior Quality Assessor. Her primary task was to valid<strong>at</strong>e<br />

the schools’ processes based on their self-assessment<br />

reports and assess the quality of their systems and<br />

processes. Her responsibilities also involved training the<br />

school leaders and Heads of Departments on the use of<br />

the School Excellence Model, training assessors for the<br />

valid<strong>at</strong>ion process, providing consultancy to schools and<br />

the writing of m<strong>at</strong>erials for the assessment process.<br />

After 15 years as a Senior Quality Assessor, Amarjit<br />

retired in December 2014. However, as a result of<br />


“<br />

As the leader of a team of assessors and school leaders, Amarjit contributed<br />

significantly to the development and subsequent refinements of the model used by schools<br />

for their self-assessment to check on their progress. Through the process, Amarjit played<br />

an important role in helping schools to analyse their areas for improvements and build on<br />

their strengths for continued growth.<br />

Amarjit demonstr<strong>at</strong>ed a high level of professionalism through her commitment and<br />

high standards. She has always been generous in sharing her knowledge and her time<br />

to support others. Schools and officers will share of how they had benefitted as a result<br />

of being valid<strong>at</strong>ed by Amarjit or being part of her valid<strong>at</strong>ion team. It was indeed a joy<br />

to work with Amarjit and we will always value her as a colleague and friend.<br />

Mr Tham Kine Thong<br />

Director/School Appraisal and Director<br />

Programme Coordin<strong>at</strong>ion Office, Schools Division<br />

Ministry of Educ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

“<br />

new areas. Having previously conducted assessments of<br />

primary and secondary schools, junior colleges, as well<br />

as companies, she is now gaining familiarity with early<br />

childhood educ<strong>at</strong>ion by learning to assess pre-schools.<br />

her passion for and commitment to educ<strong>at</strong>ion, she<br />

continues to engage in consultancy work for the<br />

ministry, conducting training sessions to pass on her vast<br />

knowledge and experience to the educ<strong>at</strong>ion fr<strong>at</strong>ernity.<br />

Even post retirement, she continues to venture into<br />

When most people look towards winding down as they<br />

reach the <strong>50</strong>-year mark in their lives, Amarjit decided<br />

to pursue a degree. She was 48 years old when she<br />

opted for an Honours degree in English Liter<strong>at</strong>ure, with<br />

a specialis<strong>at</strong>ion in The<strong>at</strong>re Studies, <strong>at</strong> the University of<br />

Nottingham in the United Kingdom. Although she had<br />

a slew of professional development course certific<strong>at</strong>es<br />

behind her, it had continued to irk her th<strong>at</strong> she did not<br />

complete her educ<strong>at</strong>ion. This motiv<strong>at</strong>ed her to apply<br />

for professional development leave and seek out a<br />

degree qualific<strong>at</strong>ion in England. Despite her initial<br />

apprehensions about being a m<strong>at</strong>ure student among<br />

the 18- and 19-year-olds in her cohort, her experience<br />

of university as an adult learner was pleasant and<br />

rewarding. Other than the learning th<strong>at</strong> occurred in<br />


gre<strong>at</strong>ly to her desire to succeed. 4 She is proud of all<br />

her achievements, especially in her roles in curriculum<br />

development, as a leader <strong>at</strong> Haig Girls’ School and as<br />

an assessor in the educ<strong>at</strong>ion system.<br />

As one of the rare Punjabi-Sikh working women of her<br />

gener<strong>at</strong>ion in <strong>Singapore</strong>, Amarjit acknowledged th<strong>at</strong><br />

there were challenges in juggling the dual roles of both<br />

a homemaker and carving out a career. She considers<br />

herself fortun<strong>at</strong>e for the amount of support she has<br />

always received from her family. Amarjit divided the<br />

household responsibilities into shifts with her husband,<br />

where they both played their parts. Her l<strong>at</strong>e f<strong>at</strong>her-inlaw,<br />

also a former Inspector of Schools, always supported<br />

her in her work choices. Amarjit’s husband is a retired<br />

teacher and her personal legacy includes two children<br />

and four grandchildren.<br />

Amarjit continues to place her faith in the intrinsic<br />

worth of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s educ<strong>at</strong>ion system, as evidenced by<br />

the fact th<strong>at</strong> educ<strong>at</strong>ors from many other countries, such<br />

as the United St<strong>at</strong>es and China, are keen to learn from<br />

us. She believes our finished products – our students –<br />

are also well-respected intern<strong>at</strong>ionally. “When you go<br />

abroad, it is there th<strong>at</strong> you value our educ<strong>at</strong>ion system.” 5<br />

classes, she developed fulfilling reciprocal rel<strong>at</strong>ionships<br />

with other students of all ages and considers those<br />

“the best three years of my life”. 3 Taking advantage of<br />

course flexibility <strong>at</strong> Nottingham, she was able to sit in<br />

and contribute to some Master’s courses in Educ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

as well, which added value to her time there. Amarjit<br />

st<strong>at</strong>ed th<strong>at</strong> those around her had high expect<strong>at</strong>ions of<br />

her and th<strong>at</strong> motiv<strong>at</strong>ed her to deliver and contributed<br />

Amarjit is indeed proud to have benefitted from<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s educ<strong>at</strong>ion system. Perhaps even more<br />

pleasing for her is the fact th<strong>at</strong> she has played an<br />

important role, as one of the pioneer assessors, in the<br />

development of the educ<strong>at</strong>ion landscape in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Madam Amarjit Kaur, August 6, 2015.<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />

3<br />

Ibid.<br />

4<br />

Ibid.<br />

5<br />

Ibid.<br />


Avtar<br />

Singh<br />

H<br />

e ran and broke records. He ran and won many medals. In the process, he received several<br />

accolades. However, for 72-year old Mr Avtar Singh, his glittering track record in <strong>at</strong>hletics was<br />

not about the fanfare, glory or honour. He took up running for a purely rudimentary reason – to<br />

keep fit!<br />

Avtar’s medal haul for long-distance running is indeed impressive – one silver medal <strong>at</strong> the<br />

1967 Southeast Asian Peninsular (SEAP) Games (1,<strong>50</strong>0 metres) and another silver medal <strong>at</strong><br />

the 1969 SEAP Games (5,000 metres). 1 He also broke several n<strong>at</strong>ional records during his time,<br />

most notably in the 800-metre, 1,<strong>50</strong>0-metre and 5,000-metre events.<br />

Ironically, it was Avtar’s humble childhood th<strong>at</strong> prepared him for his illustrious life of achievements<br />

on the running track. He was born in 1943 in Ipoh, where his grandf<strong>at</strong>her worked as a priest in<br />

the Sikh temple and so young Avtar stayed with his family <strong>at</strong> the temple premises. From there,<br />

his family moved to the Johor town of Pekan Nanas, where his f<strong>at</strong>her worked as a Special<br />

Constabulary Officer for the Lee Pineapple factory. However, in 1953, his family sent Avtar to<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> due to his desire to get a good educ<strong>at</strong>ion and learn English. He <strong>at</strong>tended Canberra<br />

School and eventually Naval Base Secondary School. 2<br />

Avtar fondly remembers this period for it gave him the found<strong>at</strong>ion for his running career, albeit<br />

unknowingly. Ever since his move to <strong>Singapore</strong>, he lived <strong>at</strong> Her Majesty's naval base, where<br />

his grandf<strong>at</strong>her had by then moved to in order to become a priest <strong>at</strong> the Sembawang Sikh<br />

temple. He also had three uncles who lived <strong>at</strong> the base and two who lived outside it. Part of his<br />

daily routine saw him cycling to deliver food from his home to his grandf<strong>at</strong>her and uncles, two<br />


His big break came when Avtar took part in the Khalsa<br />

Sports Meet to mark the opening of the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Khalsa Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (SKA) in 1962. The Associ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

had then moved from its premises <strong>at</strong> Whampoa to<br />

Jalan Bahagia. 4 He came in first in the race and was<br />

approached to ascertain if he would be willing to<br />

train with the n<strong>at</strong>ional coach, Mr Tan Eng Yoon. As he<br />

explained this episode during the interview, the glint in<br />

his eyes reflected th<strong>at</strong> he relished the opportunity to<br />

be groomed by the very best in <strong>Singapore</strong>. Avtar never<br />

looked back as he grabbed the proverbial bull by its<br />

horns and went on to ace the local tracks. His love for<br />

running became a n<strong>at</strong>ional pursuit.<br />

of whom had a shop outside the base. He also walked<br />

to school in the mornings. For a young boy, running<br />

errands and playing with friends was a common thing.<br />

However, all of these activities, explained Avtar, helped<br />

build his stamina. 3<br />

Avtar did not, however, begin running competitively until<br />

he was in secondary school. When he did, he was quick<br />

to make his mark, coming in second in the combined<br />

schools cross-country race in 1961 and also winning a<br />

track race <strong>at</strong> the combined schools level. After his ‘O’<br />

level examin<strong>at</strong>ions, Avtar joined the Customs and Excise<br />

Department as a clerk to seek an income. However, he<br />

did not give up his <strong>at</strong>hletic pursuits and ran <strong>at</strong> the Farrer<br />

Park football fields in the evenings after work. He was<br />

committed to and passion<strong>at</strong>e about running.<br />

During this time, Avtar also made a more permanent<br />

career decision as he applied for the teaching service in<br />

1962 and underwent training to be posted to Towner<br />

Primary School. This move was a boon for Avtar for two<br />

reasons. Firstly, primary schools oper<strong>at</strong>ed two sessions<br />

and this allowed Avtar to tend to teaching during the<br />

day and focus on his <strong>at</strong>hletic training sessions in the<br />

evening. Secondly, Avtar explained, during those times,<br />

all teachers were also assigned Physical Educ<strong>at</strong>ion classes<br />

in schools. Being a n<strong>at</strong>ional runner, this responsibility<br />

was a walk in the park for him and allowed him to also<br />

keep fit while <strong>at</strong> work. 5<br />

Throughout his track career, Avtar’s biggest motiv<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

was to continue to do better and break records, both of<br />

which he amply did. He quipped: “The running also kept<br />

me fitter and it was not about winning medals. They<br />

were an added bonus but they were not my primary<br />

motiv<strong>at</strong>ion for running.” 6<br />

In 1963, Avtar surprised the <strong>at</strong>hletics fr<strong>at</strong>ernity in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> when he clocked a time of 11 minutes and<br />

39 seconds to be<strong>at</strong> a field of 64 runners to win the Swift<br />

Athletics Associ<strong>at</strong>ion’s two-and-a-quarter mile race. The<br />


ace included seasoned runners from the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Police Force, Royal Air Force Changi, Gurkhas and<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Armed Forces. Together with Major Singh,<br />

who finished second in the race, Avtar helped his team,<br />

Swifts, win the team relay race <strong>at</strong> the event. 7 It was a<br />

remarkable fe<strong>at</strong> for someone who had only decided to<br />

take running seriously less than two years earlier.<br />

Avtar continued to train hard and he was soon rewarded<br />

when he represented <strong>Singapore</strong> <strong>at</strong> the SEAP Games in<br />

Malaysia in 1965. He went on to wear the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

badge in two more SEAP Games in 1967 and 1969. At<br />

his first regional competition in 1965, Avtar came back<br />

home without a medal. He was n<strong>at</strong>urally disappointed<br />

as he wanted to do well for his newly-independent<br />

country. However, he pointed out th<strong>at</strong> <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> point in<br />

time, he had only been training with the n<strong>at</strong>ional squad<br />

for two years and so, “it was perhaps too soon” 8 for<br />

him to excel regionally. Avtar intensified his training<br />

routine and pushed himself extremely hard. He worked<br />

on his weaknesses and overcame his running flaws. His<br />

fortunes changed significantly in the next SEAP Games<br />

in Thailand. He brought home the silver medal for<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> in the 1,<strong>50</strong>0-metre race with a time of four<br />

minutes, which was a n<strong>at</strong>ional record <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> time. 9 Two<br />

years l<strong>at</strong>er, he repe<strong>at</strong>ed his silver medal fe<strong>at</strong> in Burma<br />

(now Myanmar) when he clocked an impressive personal<br />

time of 15 minutes 20.2 seconds in the 5,000-metre<br />

event. 10 While Avtar particip<strong>at</strong>ed in and won numerous<br />

local events, he treasured his particip<strong>at</strong>ion in the SEAP<br />

Games – it allowed him to pit his running skills against<br />

the very best from the region.<br />

After the 1969 SEAP Games, Avtar decided to hang up<br />

his spikes. It was a difficult decision for him as he was,<br />

<strong>at</strong> 26 years of age, <strong>at</strong> the peak of his running career. He<br />

would have loved to continue running and bring more<br />

medals for and glory to <strong>Singapore</strong>. However, he realised<br />

th<strong>at</strong> he needed to focus on several priorities in his life.<br />

He decided to settle down and got married in 1971. He<br />

“<br />

I have known Avtar since 1963<br />

when I started running. His running<br />

ability was discovered by his teachers<br />

in Naval Base Secondary School where<br />

he excelled in the 1,<strong>50</strong>0-metre event.<br />

After leaving school, he was invited<br />

to join Swift Athletes Associ<strong>at</strong>ion and<br />

went on to shine <strong>at</strong> the SEAP Games<br />

in 1967 and 1969.<br />

Avtar is a straightforward, down to<br />

earth and humble human being as<br />

well as a man of integrity. He is a<br />

credit to the Sikh community and the<br />

<strong>at</strong>hletics fr<strong>at</strong>ernity of <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Mr Mirza Namazie<br />

Ex-N<strong>at</strong>ional Record Holder and<br />

Double SEAP Games Medalist<br />

“<br />

also decided to place gre<strong>at</strong>er emphasis on his career in<br />

teaching.<br />

Avtar has seen the changing <strong>at</strong>hletics scene in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> in the last forty years or so. Back then, one of<br />

the challenges he faced in his n<strong>at</strong>ional <strong>at</strong>hletic pursuits<br />

was th<strong>at</strong> the training regimes in <strong>Singapore</strong> were not<br />

up to world standards. Since overseas training stints<br />

were rare, it was difficult for local runners to excel<br />

beyond a point. Today, the scenario is totally different.<br />

Athletes have the best equipment for training and<br />

are sent overseas for regular training stints. However,<br />

Avtar admitted th<strong>at</strong> he does have a tinge of regret in<br />

not pursuing his running career a little longer. He could<br />

have won a few more medals and broken more records.<br />

Perhaps, due to this, he went back to run with the<br />


veteran runners <strong>at</strong> intern<strong>at</strong>ional tournaments for a few<br />

more years thereafter.<br />

Today, Avtar and his wife are proud grandparents with<br />

both their sons in successful careers in the United<br />

St<strong>at</strong>es. Avtar and his wife, both retired teachers, now<br />

spend their time between <strong>Singapore</strong> and their sons’<br />

families in the United St<strong>at</strong>es, and running a successful<br />

website, which was set up to help parents worldwide in<br />

the learning of <strong>Singapore</strong> M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics methods.Avtar<br />

also keeps himself preoccupied with his other passion<br />

in robotics and cre<strong>at</strong>ivity – he spends time working on<br />

Lego-based compressed air-motors and other cre<strong>at</strong>ions.<br />

It started as an effort to keep fit but it soon developed<br />

into a passion. Avtar competed hard and became<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s best middle-distance runner in the 1960s.<br />

He stood tall among the region’s gre<strong>at</strong> middle-distance<br />

runners and brought glory to <strong>Singapore</strong>. His trailblazing<br />

pursuits have found their right place in the annals of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s <strong>at</strong>hletics history.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

www.singaporeolympics.com.<br />

2<br />

Interview with Mr Avtar Singh, October 7, 2015.<br />

3<br />

Ibid.<br />

4<br />

SKA was set up in 1931. It was the brainchild of a few boys from Raffles<br />

Institution who wanted to have sports and cultural activities for the<br />

Sikh community. It was forced to reloc<strong>at</strong>e on several occasions due to<br />

land acquisition by the government. It finally moved to its current site<br />

along Tessensohn Road in 1969. See http://www.singaporekhalsa.org.<br />

sg.<br />

5<br />

Interview with Mr Avtar Singh, op. cit.<br />

6<br />

Ibid.<br />

7<br />

Avtar be<strong>at</strong>s 64 runners, The Straits Times, January 14, 1963.<br />

8<br />

Interview with Mr Avtar Singh, op. cit.<br />

9<br />

http://www.singapore<strong>at</strong>hletics.org.sg/.<br />

10<br />

Ibid.<br />


Balbeer<br />

Singh Mang<strong>at</strong><br />

W<br />

here does one begin to talk about Mr Balbeer Singh Mang<strong>at</strong>? Should one discuss his professional<br />

foresight and business acumen, which has seen him take his Chartered Accountancy qualific<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

and turn it into a multi-million dollar educ<strong>at</strong>ion and training business? Or should one start with<br />

his civic consciousness th<strong>at</strong> has seen him do more than his fair share of society and community<br />

work? Yet still one could talk about how this man walks the talk by not just being a raving<br />

football fan<strong>at</strong>ic but actually investing time and money to manage a local football team in the<br />

S-League. These are just some of the things th<strong>at</strong> make Balbeer the highly respected member of<br />

society th<strong>at</strong> he is today.<br />

This self-made man is a long way from the little Malaysian town th<strong>at</strong> he once called home.<br />

Balbeer grew up on a farm in Kluang where his parents reared cows and sold fresh milk for a<br />

living. As such, his early educ<strong>at</strong>ion right up to the GCE ‘O’ Levels were completed there, followed<br />

by the GCE ‘A’ Levels in English College in Johor Bahru. Life changed in a big way when his<br />

parents decided to send him abroad to complete his GCE ‘A’ Levels in Newcastle Upon Tyne, in<br />

North England, instead. University, of course, followed shortly after and here is where we begin<br />

to see this captain of industry take the helm and steer himself towards a p<strong>at</strong>h th<strong>at</strong> sets the<br />

course for the rest of his life. After a false start doing one year of mechanical engineering <strong>at</strong> the<br />

University of Newcastle Upon Tyne, Balbeer decided th<strong>at</strong> it just was not his cup of tea. R<strong>at</strong>her<br />

than languishing quietly in th<strong>at</strong> department or dropping out abjectly, young Balbeer went to the<br />

Economics Department and made an impassioned plea to the Dean on being allowed to change<br />

courses. It worked. The Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Accounting was followed with a<br />

Chartered Accountant accredit<strong>at</strong>ion from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and<br />

Wales and the rest, as they say, is history.<br />


singled out by the the l<strong>at</strong>e Justice Choor Singh for being<br />

a “very successful medium-sized local practice”. 3<br />

Professionally, Balbeer has had a long and thriving<br />

career, the heights of which are still being charted. As<br />

a freshly qualified Chartered Accountant in 1982, he<br />

joined Arthur Young & Co. 1 In addition to being good<br />

<strong>at</strong> his principal job, Balbeer explained th<strong>at</strong> he always<br />

had an interest in training and research. Whenever he<br />

could, he would be involved in imparting knowledge<br />

to colleagues in his team. For instance, whenever there<br />

was an audit or accounting problem, he would be the<br />

one to conduct the research to find a solution to the<br />

problem, and then conduct a seminar for the rest of<br />

the team. However, three-and-a-half years l<strong>at</strong>er, upon<br />

being promoted to the position of principal of training, 2<br />

Balbeer decided to strike out on his own and become<br />

the sole proprietor of an accounting firm in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

The firm which bore his name, B S Mang<strong>at</strong> & Co, was<br />

Around th<strong>at</strong> time as well, the entrepreneurial Balbeer<br />

realised th<strong>at</strong> there was a “big gap in accountancy training<br />

in <strong>Singapore</strong> and in the region” and as he explained in<br />

an earlier interview: “People used to go to the United<br />

Kingdom to study accountancy. It was expensive. The<br />

training available in this part of the world was of lowquality.<br />

We thought we could fill the gap.” 4 FTMS was<br />

thus born in 1986, the brainchild of Balbeer and three of<br />

his friends and fellow Chartered Accountants. However,<br />

after a restructuring, his three partners left the business.<br />

The accolades th<strong>at</strong> FTMS has chalked up since then speak<br />

of one man’s determin<strong>at</strong>ion to succeed. Some of the<br />

highlights included FTMS being awarded the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Quality Class for Priv<strong>at</strong>e Educ<strong>at</strong>ion Organis<strong>at</strong>ions first<br />

in 2003 which has been renewed repe<strong>at</strong>edly, and most<br />

recently in 2014. A Business Times article 5 counts FTMS<br />

as being one of the world’s top four providers of the<br />

popular Associ<strong>at</strong>ed of Chartered Certified Accountants<br />

(ACCA) courses. In addition, in the spirit of innov<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

and in pursuit of their vision to be a World-Wide<br />

Premier Educ<strong>at</strong>ion and Training Provider, FTMS was the<br />

first in the world to introduce e-learning for the ACCA<br />

courses 6 in 1999. Going from strength to strength,<br />

FTMS has expanded from its initial outfit in <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

to 13 campuses in 10 countries in Asia and Africa 7 with<br />

15,000 students annually. 8<br />

The role of a Chief Executive Officer of a dynamic,<br />

fast-growing organis<strong>at</strong>ion such as FTMS may have<br />

preoccupied a lesser man to such a degree th<strong>at</strong> he may<br />

have been unable or unwilling to spend time on other<br />

worthy pursuits. It was certainly not the case for Balbeer<br />

who has been a key member of the Sikh community for<br />

the last three decades. In addition to being President of<br />

the <strong>Singapore</strong> Khalsa Associ<strong>at</strong>ion for nearly six years,<br />

Balbeer was part of a committee of like-minded Sikh<br />


“<br />

I have known and worked with Balbeer for about 30 years. He broke the<br />

mould some 30 years ago, when he saw a pioneering opportunity to provide priv<strong>at</strong>e<br />

sector higher educ<strong>at</strong>ion services <strong>at</strong> a time when the public sector, even in <strong>Singapore</strong>,<br />

had a virtual monopoly. Now his organis<strong>at</strong>ion has 13 campuses in 10 countries from<br />

Uganda to Hong Kong. His oversight of this empire remains unab<strong>at</strong>ed.<br />

It is a m<strong>at</strong>ter of some curiosity th<strong>at</strong> many, but by no means all, business leaders find<br />

the time to play an active role in society. Balbeer certainly does. He is the Chairman<br />

of a successful <strong>Singapore</strong>an football club. He has chaired the <strong>Singapore</strong>an associ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

of British Alumni and remains active in th<strong>at</strong> organis<strong>at</strong>ion which has required him to<br />

liaise closely with the British High Commission in <strong>Singapore</strong>. He is a well-known<br />

figure within the <strong>Singapore</strong> Sikh community. His adult life has coincided with<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s society building and he continues to be an effective contributor to this<br />

determined drive.<br />

“<br />

Professor <strong>And</strong>rew Chambers<br />

Former Dean<br />

Cass Business School, London<br />

professionals who were drawn together to take charge<br />

of the need for Punjabi educ<strong>at</strong>ion in <strong>Singapore</strong> and<br />

volunteer their skills for the good of the community. He<br />

recalls the team meeting regularly to formul<strong>at</strong>e plans to<br />

institutionalise the teaching of Punjabi. 9 This was the<br />

genesis of the <strong>Singapore</strong> Sikh Educ<strong>at</strong>ion Found<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Another major local institution th<strong>at</strong> Balbeer helped to<br />

spearhead is the Sikh Welfare Council. According to<br />

Balbeer, the beauty of the Sikh community in <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

is th<strong>at</strong> whenever there is a need, everyone focuses his<br />

or her energies and pitches in to help. He saw this first<br />

hand when the pioneering team started raising funds to<br />

set up the two aforementioned organis<strong>at</strong>ions. Balbeer<br />

was struck by individuals in the community whom the<br />

team had never met before coming forward with not<br />

just encouragement, but also resources to contribute to<br />

the worthy cause. This civic-mindedness and eagerness<br />

to involve and be involved in the community is a trait<br />

th<strong>at</strong> is deeply ingrained in Balbeer and stems from the<br />

days of his youth back in Kluang. A very important part<br />

of his family’s visits to the temple was sewa (service)<br />

which would commence <strong>at</strong> two in the morning. One<br />

moment he remembers very vividly was being asked<br />

by the president of the Kluang temple to set up the<br />

Sikh Naujwan Sabha of Kluang. Balbeer gladly took<br />

on the responsibility and proceeded to raise funds for<br />

its purpose. Balbeer hopes to ignite the same spark of<br />

volunteerism in the Sikh youth of today and is constantly<br />

thinking of ways to encourage particip<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

The other thing th<strong>at</strong> has followed him from youth<br />

through to adulthood is his love for the game of football.<br />

Although he never played football himself, Balbeer said<br />

th<strong>at</strong> being in the United Kingdom for 10 years brought<br />


him to enjoy the game. The Co-Chairman for Balestier<br />

Khalsa in the S-League shares his position with two<br />

other men and they rot<strong>at</strong>e the chairmanship. To Balbeer,<br />

the football fr<strong>at</strong>ernity is a big family. During his time as<br />

team manager, he recalls being in the thick of things<br />

encouraging team spirit by fostering strong working<br />

rel<strong>at</strong>ionships through post-m<strong>at</strong>ch meetings, g<strong>at</strong>herings<br />

and providing motiv<strong>at</strong>ion and support for the players<br />

and their families. Balbeer enjoys the whole experience<br />

of camaraderie and human interaction and explains<br />

th<strong>at</strong> this is why he continues to be involved in the local<br />

football scene.<br />

Balbeer is undoubtedly an upright member of society<br />

and, as he pointed out, his gre<strong>at</strong>est contribution to<br />

society may well be his <strong>at</strong>titude to life. Indeed, there<br />

is a lot to be learned from this go-getter who seems to<br />

have cracked the code on having a work-life balance<br />

and giving back to society and his community.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

J Singh, The Sikh Community’s Contribution to the Development of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> (Khalsa Printers Pte Ltd, 2007).<br />

2<br />

G Ramesh, FTMSGlobal has 13 campuses in 10 countries loc<strong>at</strong>ed in the<br />

city centre, Tabla!, September 12, 2014.<br />

3<br />

Supra note 1 <strong>at</strong> 147.<br />

4<br />

P M Chuang, Making the grade, The Business Times, October 28, 2003.<br />

5<br />

Ibid.<br />

6<br />

Ibid.<br />

7<br />

Ibid.<br />

8<br />

FTMSGlobal Academy family of website, Corpor<strong>at</strong>e Profile, 2015.<br />

9<br />

Interview with Mr Balbeer Singh Mang<strong>at</strong>, June 24, 2015.<br />


Balbir<br />

Singh<br />

T<br />

he two most distressing words from an Obstetrician to parents of a new-born child would possibly<br />

be ‘Down Syndrome’, coloured with the bleakest of inform<strong>at</strong>ion about the condition. Even after<br />

years of research, advances in tre<strong>at</strong>ment options and improvements to public educ<strong>at</strong>ion, Down<br />

Syndrome remains one of those chromosomal accidents of genetics th<strong>at</strong> continues to occur in<br />

about 0.1 per cent of the popul<strong>at</strong>ion. <strong>Singapore</strong> has come a long way in recognising and tre<strong>at</strong>ing<br />

this condition, due in large part to the work of Dr Balbir Singh, his family and peers.<br />

Balbir has devoted much of the past 33 years advoc<strong>at</strong>ing for a better quality of life for the<br />

intellectually challenged, particularly people with Down Syndrome. In 1980, his daughter,<br />

Jaspreet Kaur, was born with Down Syndrome. Although his wife, Rabinder, their younger<br />

daughter, Parveen, and him consider themselves lucky to have had the full support and<br />

understanding of their extended families right from the time of Jaspreet’s birth, they faced many<br />

challenges <strong>at</strong> a time when not many resources were available in <strong>Singapore</strong> on finding str<strong>at</strong>egies<br />

and inform<strong>at</strong>ion for bringing up a child with an intellectual disability, in an environment where<br />

damaging myths and misconceptions about the condition abounded. This propelled Balbir to<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>e himself and g<strong>at</strong>her resources by <strong>at</strong>tending conferences abroad, where he was able<br />

to meet educ<strong>at</strong>ors, researchers, therapists and clinicians, many of whom would l<strong>at</strong>er help him<br />

enrich the lives of <strong>Singapore</strong>ans living with intellectual disabilities beyond the personal sphere<br />

of his immedi<strong>at</strong>e family.<br />

Balbir went to medical school in Amritsar, in India, as an Indian government nominee, and has<br />

worked as a corpor<strong>at</strong>e physician <strong>at</strong> the avi<strong>at</strong>ion g<strong>at</strong>eway services and food solutions provider,<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Airport Terminal Services, for decades. He credits the travel benefits of his job for having<br />

allowed him the leeway to make valuable overseas contacts who have gre<strong>at</strong>ly aided his work.<br />


over by the N<strong>at</strong>ional Council for Social Service (NCSS)<br />

and developed into the Rainbow Centre of today. Balbir<br />

was also the founding Chairperson of Down Syndrome<br />

Associ<strong>at</strong>ion, established in 1995 with the guidance of one<br />

of his overseas contacts – Mrs Penny Robertson, President<br />

of the Australian Down Syndrome Society <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> time.<br />

Balbir joined a parents’ group <strong>at</strong> the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Associ<strong>at</strong>ion for Retarded Children (SARC) [now known<br />

as the Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>] when Jaspreet was growing up and started a<br />

new support group called Helping Our Parents Emerge.<br />

These groups served as a valuable starting point from<br />

which parents and caregivers of children with intellectual<br />

disabilities could come together for not just support,<br />

but also to begin serving as lobby groups to convince<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> society th<strong>at</strong> better services and programmes<br />

were needed for persons with Down Syndrome and<br />

other intellectual disabilities.<br />

Balbir eventually became an Executive Committee<br />

member of SARC and played a key role in helping SARC<br />

launch the ‘Early Intervention Programme for Infants<br />

and Young Children’ in 1990, which was l<strong>at</strong>er taken<br />

Some of the initi<strong>at</strong>ives Balbir has lobbied and advoc<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

for, and achieved include the form<strong>at</strong>ion of a n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

social service agency dedic<strong>at</strong>ed to enabling persons<br />

with disabilities called SG Enable, the implement<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

of special educ<strong>at</strong>ion training courses for teachers and<br />

the setting up of the Special Needs Trust Company. His<br />

efforts <strong>at</strong> getting recognition for people with intellectual<br />

disabilities <strong>at</strong> the n<strong>at</strong>ional level have resulted in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> now being a sign<strong>at</strong>ory to the United N<strong>at</strong>ions<br />

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities<br />

(UNCRPD). Among his gre<strong>at</strong>est accomplishments is the<br />

introduction of the World Down Syndrome Day, which<br />

he and other intern<strong>at</strong>ional disability advoc<strong>at</strong>es had<br />

been proposing since 2005, and which was r<strong>at</strong>ified <strong>at</strong><br />

a United N<strong>at</strong>ions (UN) conference in 2011. World Down<br />

Syndrome Day is now marked on 21 March every year.<br />

“This has really made a difference in other countries,”<br />

Balbir says. “For instance in Myanmar, it has really helped<br />

disability advoc<strong>at</strong>es there in gaining recognition and<br />

resources from the government.” 1 On 21 March 2014,<br />

Balbir represented Down Syndrome Intern<strong>at</strong>ional and as<br />

a champion of the UNCRPD <strong>at</strong> the UN on World Down<br />

Syndrome Day and made a present<strong>at</strong>ion on ‘Health and<br />

Well-being of Persons with Down Syndrome’. It was a<br />

milestone event, with support from such organis<strong>at</strong>ions as<br />

the UN and the World Health Organiz<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

As a third gener<strong>at</strong>ion <strong>Singapore</strong>an Sikh hailing from a<br />

family of c<strong>at</strong>tle traders, Balbir draws much inspir<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

from his family which has been involved in the community<br />

and ingrained in him a certain kind of stubbornness or<br />

refusal to be held back by a few minor failures. One of<br />


“<br />

Balbir is passion<strong>at</strong>e in advoc<strong>at</strong>ing a better life for persons with disabilities.<br />

This is evidenced in his dedic<strong>at</strong>ion and contribution as President of Down Syndrome<br />

Associ<strong>at</strong>ion and with MSF. Since 2012, Balbir has been a member of the Enabling<br />

Masterplan Implement<strong>at</strong>ion Committee 2012-16, which was set up by MSF to monitor<br />

the progress of the recommend<strong>at</strong>ions of the Masterplan. He provided good ideas such<br />

as the use of technology in early intervention and the need to improve support for<br />

parents and caregivers through better access to inform<strong>at</strong>ion and training. He also<br />

co-chairs a workgroup with MSF on improving healthcare access for persons with<br />

disabilities. Balbir helped steer the work group with fresh perspectives and initi<strong>at</strong>ed a<br />

course on improving the awareness of healthcare for persons with disabilities with the<br />

College of Family Physicians <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Balbir is a keen supporter of the United N<strong>at</strong>ions Convention on the Rights of Persons<br />

with Disabilities which <strong>Singapore</strong> r<strong>at</strong>ified in 2013. He has been an active advoc<strong>at</strong>e<br />

for persons with Down Syndrome for around 25 years. He has helped to make a<br />

difference both locally and intern<strong>at</strong>ionally through his leadership and foresight.<br />

Ms Wong Kuan Ying<br />

Director, Disability Division<br />

Ministry of Social and Family Development, <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

“<br />

the biggest challenges he faced in the early advocacy years<br />

was hearing a constant stream of “no” answers from the<br />

government every time it was approached for assistance,<br />

funding or suggestions on disability-rel<strong>at</strong>ed programmes.<br />

Despite initial resistance, Balbir’s commitment to<br />

empiricism, his willingness to share and preparedness<br />

to sometimes be laughed <strong>at</strong> and yet persevere was wh<strong>at</strong><br />

helped eventually change the government’s thinking and<br />

approach towards the disability sector.<br />

The government is not the only entity th<strong>at</strong> has required<br />

a mindset change. When asked about the stereotyping<br />

people with Down Syndrome face, Balbir was candid<br />

about the fact th<strong>at</strong>, culturally, <strong>Singapore</strong>'s society<br />

continues to hold neg<strong>at</strong>ive views. He remembers making<br />

a conscious effort to bring Jaspreet out with the family<br />

when she was a child as he believes exposure outside<br />

the home contributes significantly to development but<br />

recalls th<strong>at</strong> Jaspreet and others like her often bear the<br />

brunt of stares and gaping on the streets. However,<br />

Balbir was more taken aback by neg<strong>at</strong>ive reactions<br />

from the medical community. He remembers hearing<br />

a lot of neg<strong>at</strong>ivity and ‘doom and gloom’ messages<br />

from medical practitioners in the past about caring for<br />

children with Down Syndrome. He believes the medical<br />

community has come a long way in its receptiveness to<br />

new tre<strong>at</strong>ment options, especially with the increasing<br />

focus on early intervention.<br />

In 2009, Balbir received the Pingk<strong>at</strong> Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong><br />

(Public Service Medal) 2 from the President of <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

in recognition of his service in the disability field and<br />


social service sector. In 2011, United Kingdom-based<br />

charity Down Syndrome Intern<strong>at</strong>ional awarded Balbir the<br />

President’s Special Recognition Award in recognition of<br />

his lifetime contributions in strengthening and enriching<br />

the lives of people with Down Syndrome. This year,<br />

Balbir was presented with the Ministry of Social and<br />

Family Development (MSF) Volunteer Award (Friend of<br />

MSF) for his valued contributions to the disability sector.<br />

He is a past President and existing Board member of<br />

Down Syndrome Intern<strong>at</strong>ional. He has also served as a<br />

Board member of NCSS.<br />

Balbir often quips th<strong>at</strong> with <strong>Singapore</strong>’s propensity for<br />

constantly wanting to be on the top of ‘best of’ lists and<br />

a ‘hub’ for lots of things, it is surely reasonable for it to<br />

also be a top player in the disability sector. Although many<br />

challenges remain, such as funding and lengthy waiting<br />

lists for accessing early intervention programmes, Balbir<br />

feels th<strong>at</strong> these are being addressed and is thankful th<strong>at</strong><br />

outcomes are now measurable in the sector. In addition,<br />

he acknowledges th<strong>at</strong> labelling and stereotyping do still<br />

exist but he is hopeful th<strong>at</strong> there will be much more<br />

space for th<strong>at</strong> to be overcome in the future.<br />

For Balbir, it started as a personal m<strong>at</strong>ter some 30 years<br />

ago but he has made it his mission to put the issue<br />

of Down Syndrome on the n<strong>at</strong>ional and intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

agendas. He overcame adversity and succeeded. With<br />

disability advoc<strong>at</strong>es like him <strong>at</strong> the forefront of this<br />

movement, we are bound to see more positive changes<br />

in this area over the next <strong>50</strong> years.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Dr Balbir Singh, March 29, 2015.<br />

2<br />

The Ping<strong>at</strong> Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> was instituted in 1973. It is awarded to<br />

any person who has rendered commendable public service in <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

or for his or her achievement in the field of arts and letters, sports,<br />

the sciences, business, the professions and the labour movement. See<br />

http://www.pmo.gov.sg/n<strong>at</strong>ionaldayawards.<br />


Berinderjeet<br />

Kaur<br />

A<br />

bright and responsible child from the very beginning, her parents held the strong belief th<strong>at</strong><br />

children, even girls, should focus on their studies and be given every opportunity to succeed<br />

in life. Her f<strong>at</strong>her was one of the Sikh pioneers of post-World War Two <strong>Singapore</strong>. Through<br />

interactions with colleagues and friends, her f<strong>at</strong>her picked up wh<strong>at</strong> he believed were best values<br />

– these were values th<strong>at</strong> he wanted his children to inherit. It comes, therefore, as little surprise<br />

th<strong>at</strong> Professor Berinderjeet Kaur emerged to become a successful academician.<br />

Born in the 19<strong>50</strong>s, Berinderjeet was schooled <strong>at</strong> Cedar Girls' Secondary School. Here, she<br />

developed a strong liking for M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics, which would eventually become her calling in life.<br />

She was an active student, taking part in several school activities. She performed exceptionally<br />

well and gained entry into N<strong>at</strong>ional Junior College (NJC) in 1972. By the time she completed<br />

her college educ<strong>at</strong>ion, Berinderjeet fell further in love with M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics and was determined to<br />

read the subject <strong>at</strong> university. Before enrolling into the University of <strong>Singapore</strong>, Berinderjeet did<br />

a stint as a relief teacher and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. She made up her mind th<strong>at</strong><br />

she would become a teacher when she gradu<strong>at</strong>ed. In a sense, her career p<strong>at</strong>h was set for her.<br />

When she gradu<strong>at</strong>ed from university, she joined the Ministry of Educ<strong>at</strong>ion (MOE) as a teacher<br />

and trained <strong>at</strong> the Institute of Educ<strong>at</strong>ion to be a secondary school M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics teacher.<br />

In 1980, Berinderjeet was posted as a trained teacher to Macpherson Secondary School.<br />

She faithfully and earnestly taught in the school till 1985. During th<strong>at</strong> time, she met many<br />

colleagues who had returned to school after having completed their Master’s degree. She too<br />

felt th<strong>at</strong> she would be able to better help mould the future of the n<strong>at</strong>ion if she furthered her<br />

own educ<strong>at</strong>ion. Her school principal was supportive of her decision and helped her significantly<br />

with the applic<strong>at</strong>ion process. Though of marriageable age, her f<strong>at</strong>her was very clear th<strong>at</strong> she<br />


her to leave her young family behind. With the support<br />

of her parents and husband, she managed to pursue<br />

her passion and complete her doctoral studies in less<br />

than three years <strong>at</strong> Monash University in Australia. In<br />

1995, Berinderjeet was back <strong>at</strong> the N<strong>at</strong>ional Institute<br />

of Educ<strong>at</strong>ion and resumed her mission of moulding the<br />

future of <strong>Singapore</strong> by training quality M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics<br />

teachers. She credits her development and success to<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> being a meritocr<strong>at</strong>ic society, where hard<br />

work and excellence are recognised, celebr<strong>at</strong>ed and<br />

rewarded. In addition, she is very proud of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s<br />

achievements in the field of M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics and credits<br />

it to the hard work and dedic<strong>at</strong>ion of the people <strong>at</strong> all<br />

levels of the system.<br />

should pursue her passions. With the blessings of her<br />

parents, she left for the United Kingdom where she<br />

specialised in M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics educ<strong>at</strong>ion <strong>at</strong> the University<br />

of Nottingham. During her time <strong>at</strong> the university, she<br />

did her dissert<strong>at</strong>ion on the achievement of <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

students in M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics. She received a distinction for<br />

her thesis and was offered an opportunity to pursue her<br />

doctor<strong>at</strong>e on a University of Nottingham scholarship.<br />

However, she reluctantly turned it down due to her<br />

commitments back home with MOE.<br />

Soon after her return to <strong>Singapore</strong>, Berinderjeet met her<br />

husband and they got married. In 1989, Berinderjeet<br />

joined the Institute of Educ<strong>at</strong>ion as a lecturer in the<br />

M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics department and, three years l<strong>at</strong>er, she<br />

was awarded a scholarship to pursue her Doctor<strong>at</strong>e<br />

in M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics educ<strong>at</strong>ion. It was a tough decision for<br />

Apart from playing the critical role of training M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics<br />

teachers for <strong>Singapore</strong> schools, Berinderjeet continues<br />

to find ways to improve the quality of instruction. In<br />

this respect, she helped establish the Associ<strong>at</strong>ion of<br />

M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics Educ<strong>at</strong>ors (AME). She is the founding<br />

Chairperson of the annual Conference for M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics<br />

Teachers in <strong>Singapore</strong> which has been going on for<br />

the last decade. Numerous renowned intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

academics and researchers are invited annually to speak<br />

on a range of topics <strong>at</strong> the conference. Berinderjeet is<br />

also the founding editor of the AME Yearbook published<br />

by the World Scientific press, an annual public<strong>at</strong>ion since<br />

2009, focusing on research for practitioners.<br />

Berinderjeet’s work has also seen her building<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s and her reput<strong>at</strong>ion beyond the island<br />

st<strong>at</strong>e’s shore. Intern<strong>at</strong>ionally, she has been working<br />

with various M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics educ<strong>at</strong>ors. Among others,<br />

she was appointed as M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics consultant for the<br />

Trends in Intern<strong>at</strong>ional M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics and Science Study<br />

(TIMSS) 2011. TIMSS is an intern<strong>at</strong>ional benchmark<br />

study for countries to evalu<strong>at</strong>e the outcomes of their<br />

schooling systems. Here, she played a significant role<br />

in the design of M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics tests for the particip<strong>at</strong>ing<br />


countries in TIMSS 2011. In addition, she was<br />

appointed a M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics Expert for the Programme<br />

for Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Student Assessment in 2015, a<br />

study conducted by the Organiz<strong>at</strong>ion for Economic<br />

Co-oper<strong>at</strong>ion and Development on M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics<br />

Literacy. She is also <strong>Singapore</strong>’s represent<strong>at</strong>ive to the<br />

Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Commission for M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics Instruction<br />

(ICMI). Devoted to the development of m<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ical<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion <strong>at</strong> all levels, the ICMI is a commission<br />

of the Intern<strong>at</strong>ional M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ical Union (IMU), an<br />

intern<strong>at</strong>ional non-governmental and non-profit scientific<br />

organis<strong>at</strong>ion whose purpose is to promote intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

cooper<strong>at</strong>ion in M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics. 1<br />

Berinderjeet is also a much sought-after speaker <strong>at</strong><br />

local and intern<strong>at</strong>ional conferences on M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion. She has delivered some 40 keynote lectures<br />

<strong>at</strong> conferences in countries such as <strong>Singapore</strong>, Malaysia,<br />

Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, China, South Korea,<br />

Denmark, Australia and the United St<strong>at</strong>es. In July 2016,<br />

she will deliver a plenary lecture <strong>at</strong> the Intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

Congress for M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics Educ<strong>at</strong>ion (ICME) 2 in<br />

Hamburg, Germany. This conference will witness a<br />

g<strong>at</strong>hering of a diverse group of global participants such<br />

as teachers and researchers in M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics educ<strong>at</strong>ion,<br />

teacher trainers and m<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>icians, among others.<br />

Berinderjeet is the first <strong>Singapore</strong>an to be invited to<br />

deliver one of the four plenary lectures <strong>at</strong> the conference.<br />

In addition to being involved in these events, Berinderjeet<br />

has spent time as a visiting professor <strong>at</strong> Boston College<br />

in the United St<strong>at</strong>es.<br />

In 2006, Berinderjeet was recognised n<strong>at</strong>ionally for her<br />

contributions to the field of M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics educ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

and awarded the Pingk<strong>at</strong> Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> (Public<br />

Administr<strong>at</strong>ion Medal) 3 by <strong>Singapore</strong>’s President, Mr S<br />

R N<strong>at</strong>han, on <strong>Singapore</strong>’s 41st N<strong>at</strong>ional Day. In 2010,<br />

Berinderjeet was appointed a full professor in the field<br />

of M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics educ<strong>at</strong>ion. She is the first full professor<br />

“<br />

Berinderjeet is best described as a<br />

doyenne of M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics educ<strong>at</strong>ion in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>. Many students in the schools<br />

have benefited and will continue to<br />

benefit from her work which motiv<strong>at</strong>es<br />

them to learn M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics in the most<br />

engaging ways. In addition, her work<br />

is intern<strong>at</strong>ionally recognised and has<br />

brought many honours to <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

The Sikh community can be proud<br />

th<strong>at</strong> it has a member in Berinderjeet,<br />

who has contributed significantly to<br />

M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics educ<strong>at</strong>ion in <strong>Singapore</strong>,<br />

as the community celebr<strong>at</strong>es the<br />

n<strong>at</strong>ion’s <strong>50</strong>th birthday.<br />

“<br />

Professor Lee Sing Kong<br />

Managing Director<br />

N<strong>at</strong>ional Institute of Educ<strong>at</strong>ion Intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

to be appointed in <strong>Singapore</strong> for M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics educ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

and remains to be the only one so far.<br />

While Berinderjeet has made many sacrifices to achieve<br />

success n<strong>at</strong>ionally and globally, she immedi<strong>at</strong>ely credits<br />

much of her success to her husband, parents and<br />

siblings, without whom she would not have made it as<br />

far. They provided much-needed support to her in all<br />

her academic endeavours. She is also pleased th<strong>at</strong> she<br />

adopted her f<strong>at</strong>her’s thinking and pushed her daughter<br />

to excel in school and life as well. Her daughter has<br />

blossomed into a fine young doctor in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

In addition to being actively involved in the field of<br />

M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics educ<strong>at</strong>ion, Berinderjeet is a strong<br />


eliever in giving back to society, a value she inherited<br />

from her parents who were always willing to help<br />

anyone who came knocking on their door. Having<br />

achieved her goal in life, Berinderjeet decided to<br />

spend more of her time giving back to the community<br />

and society. She is actively involved in the grassroots<br />

organis<strong>at</strong>ions in Kebun Baru, the constituency in<br />

which she lives.<br />

Within the Sikh community, she is currently the<br />

Chairperson of the <strong>Singapore</strong> Khalsa Associ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

Ladies Wing. The group organises regular social,<br />

cultural and health-rel<strong>at</strong>ed activities for ladies of<br />

the Sikh community. It also works with external<br />

organis<strong>at</strong>ions on initi<strong>at</strong>ives th<strong>at</strong> benefit the larger<br />

community.<br />

Berinderjeet’s n<strong>at</strong>ional and intern<strong>at</strong>ional success<br />

owed much to her f<strong>at</strong>her’s enlightened and forwardthinking<br />

approach <strong>at</strong> a time when girls were generally<br />

given lesser opportunities to educ<strong>at</strong>e themselves and<br />

excel in life. Coupled with her family’s support and her<br />

hard work and sacrifices, Berinderjeet is today one of<br />

the most respected and prominent women in the field<br />

of M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics educ<strong>at</strong>ion locally and globally.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

The ICMI offers a forum to promote reflection, collabor<strong>at</strong>ion and the<br />

exchange and dissemin<strong>at</strong>ion of ideas on the teaching and learning<br />

of M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics from primary to university level. The ICMI works to<br />

stimul<strong>at</strong>e the cre<strong>at</strong>ion, improvement and dissemin<strong>at</strong>ion of recent<br />

research findings and of the available resources for instruction, for<br />

example, curricular m<strong>at</strong>erials, pedagogical methods, the appropri<strong>at</strong>e<br />

use of technology, etc. See http://www.m<strong>at</strong>hunion.org/icmi.<br />

2<br />

The ICME is held every four years under the auspices of the ICMI of the<br />

IMU. The ICME presents the current st<strong>at</strong>es and trends in m<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion research and in the practice of m<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics teaching <strong>at</strong> all<br />

levels. See http://www.icme13.org/.<br />

3<br />

The Ping<strong>at</strong> Bakti Masyayak<strong>at</strong> was instituted in 1973. The medal is<br />

awarded to any person who has rendered commendable public service<br />

in <strong>Singapore</strong> or for his or her achievement in the field of arts and letters,<br />

sports, the sciences, business, the profession and the labour movement.<br />

See http://www.pmo.gov.sg/n<strong>at</strong>ionaldayawards.<br />


Bhajan<br />

Singh<br />

I<br />

n its advances to join the ranks of developed countries around the world, <strong>Singapore</strong> selected<br />

English language as one of the main languages of the st<strong>at</strong>e. Due to the multitude of cultures<br />

present in the various industries, English was emphasised as being the primary language th<strong>at</strong><br />

business would be conducted in. However, in the cultural melting pot th<strong>at</strong> is <strong>Singapore</strong>, on<br />

top of the four main languages, there were many different languages and dialects spoken<br />

throughout the city st<strong>at</strong>e on a daily basis. Recognising the need for future gener<strong>at</strong>ions to<br />

be able to appreci<strong>at</strong>e their culture and language, several <strong>Sikhs</strong> rose up to the challenge of<br />

promoting the Punjabi language and giving it gre<strong>at</strong>er prominence in the Sikh community<br />

and within the n<strong>at</strong>ion as well. One of the most prominent <strong>Sikhs</strong> to champion this cause is<br />

Mr Bhajan Singh.<br />

Born in Punjab in India in 1944, Bhajan lived with his mother and three siblings while his<br />

f<strong>at</strong>her was in <strong>Singapore</strong> working as a w<strong>at</strong>chman. In 1953, due to the unfortun<strong>at</strong>e passing of<br />

his mother, Bhajan and his siblings joined their f<strong>at</strong>her in <strong>Singapore</strong>. Although Bhajan topped<br />

his exams and was eligible to <strong>at</strong>tend the top <strong>Singapore</strong> schools <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> time, he decided to<br />

join Gan Eng Seng School so th<strong>at</strong> he could work as a night w<strong>at</strong>chman for a go-down just<br />

across the school. Despite the many hardships during this period, Bhajan worked hard and<br />

completed his GCE ‘A’ Level examin<strong>at</strong>ions. It was during this time th<strong>at</strong> Bhajan started his<br />

involvement with the Sikh community. He helped out <strong>at</strong> the old Central Sikh Temple along<br />

Queen Street during his free time. 1<br />

After qualifying as a teacher from the Teacher’s Training College while concurrently teaching<br />

part time in Raffles Institution (1966-1968) and completing his n<strong>at</strong>ional service (1969-1971),<br />

Bhajan taught <strong>at</strong> Raffles Institution for another year. He eventually obtained a Bachelor of Arts<br />


four years, he had gotten rid of most of the problems<br />

and restored a sense of pride in the school. Where<br />

once it was regarded as a backw<strong>at</strong>er school, it was<br />

now a better-than-average neighbourhood school. 2<br />

Using this same approach, Bhajan moved on to helping<br />

the many Sikh students in Si Ling Secondary School.<br />

Some students came from broken homes while others<br />

had parents addicted to alcohol or narcotics. Bhajan<br />

assisted as many as he could. During this time, he<br />

noticed th<strong>at</strong> many Sikh youth could no longer identify<br />

with their Sikh culture. They were staying away from<br />

the gurdwaras (Sikh temples), and consuming alcohol<br />

and drugs. Bhajan decided to bring together a group<br />

of Sikh professionals to look into this issue.<br />

(Honours) in History and a Master in Educ<strong>at</strong>ion from<br />

the University of <strong>Singapore</strong>. Following this, he was<br />

promoted to Principal of Ahmad Ibrahim Secondary<br />

School in 1981 and l<strong>at</strong>er of Si Ling Secondary School<br />

in 1984.<br />

Prior to Bhajan’s arrival, Si Ling Secondary School<br />

was notorious for its many gangsters and absentee<br />

students. Many of the students with problems came<br />

from broken homes or were abused. Bhajan realised<br />

th<strong>at</strong> imposing harsh tre<strong>at</strong>ment would further alien<strong>at</strong>e<br />

these students. As such, he placed emphasis on<br />

rewarding good behaviour and positive change. He<br />

realised th<strong>at</strong> these students just needed someone to<br />

care for them and have faith in them. Bhajan’s different<br />

approach towards the students was successful. Within<br />

In 1989, Bhajan was approached to take up the position<br />

of Chairman of the Sikh Advisory Board (SAB). He was<br />

encouraged by his colleagues to take this appointment<br />

as an opportunity to connect the younger <strong>Sikhs</strong> with<br />

the older <strong>Sikhs</strong> and to see them work together. Bhajan<br />

had the honour of being Chairman of the SAB twice<br />

from 1989 to 1995 and 1997 to 2003. After taking<br />

up the appointment, Bhajan embarked on a large<br />

scale campaign to educ<strong>at</strong>e Sikh youth on Sikh values<br />

through Punjabi educ<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Bhajan pioneered two Sikh organis<strong>at</strong>ions, the<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Sikh Educ<strong>at</strong>ion Found<strong>at</strong>ion (SSEF) and<br />

Sikh Welfare Council (SIWEC) during his tenure as<br />

Chairman of the SAB. The SSEF was established to<br />

organise the teaching of Punjabi as a mother tongue<br />

on a large scale as well as helping to standardise<br />

the content of wh<strong>at</strong> these students studied so as to<br />

improve grades amongst the students. As the SSEF<br />

was being set up, Bhajan approached and persuaded<br />

the various gurdwaras to move the Punjabi educ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

from their premises and set up a professional school.<br />

Four schools were planned – North, East, West and<br />

Centre. In March 1990, the Punjabi school system<br />


was established and the <strong>Singapore</strong> Khalsa Associ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

eventually moved the management of its Punjabi<br />

school to the SSEF in 1995. 3<br />

In 1995, Bhajan was instrumental in setting up SIWEC<br />

to look after the welfare needs of the Sikh community.<br />

In this respect, he relied on his experience as a member<br />

of the task force which set up the <strong>Singapore</strong> Indian<br />

Development Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (SINDA). 4 This Council<br />

provides financial help to the needy and aids Sikh<br />

families with problems. It was through these measures<br />

th<strong>at</strong> Bhajan was able to improve and strengthen the<br />

ties th<strong>at</strong> bind the Sikh community together. As his<br />

primary focus was to aid and improve the immersion<br />

of the Sikh youth into their culture, Bhajan personally<br />

oversaw the SSEF as Chairman from 1989 until 2013<br />

and served as Vice Chairman of SIWEC from 1995 to<br />

2014.<br />

Bhajan also understood the importance of working<br />

closely with the <strong>Singapore</strong> government so as to bolster<br />

both the Sikh image and the image of the n<strong>at</strong>ion. The<br />

first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, did not want<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> to go the way of other countries, where<br />

racial lines were drawn. He wanted the different races<br />

and religions to work together in harmony. In 1990,<br />

the government assembled the various leaders of the<br />

religious communities to legisl<strong>at</strong>e religious harmony<br />

in order to safeguard the many faiths of <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Mr Lee was impressed by the Sikh doctrine and decided<br />

to include Sikhism as one of the five main religions<br />

of <strong>Singapore</strong> when the Religious Harmony Bill was<br />

enacted in 1992.<br />

In the post-September 11 era, the government was<br />

alarmed th<strong>at</strong> religion could fan fan<strong>at</strong>icism and lead to<br />

terror <strong>at</strong>tacks in <strong>Singapore</strong>. A conference was called<br />

and all the grassroots and religious leaders were<br />

assembled along with the Cabinet. As Chairman of<br />

the SAB, Bhajan addressed the <strong>at</strong>tendees and stressed<br />

“<br />

I would like to convey my personal<br />

and the government’s appreci<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

to Bhajan for his dedic<strong>at</strong>ion and<br />

commitment as well as his invaluable<br />

contributions which he rendered as a<br />

member and Chairman of the SAB.<br />

Under his leadership, the SAB has<br />

done a fabulous job and achieved<br />

the following – establishment of the<br />

Sikh Resource Panel, setting up of the<br />

SSEF, running of Punjabi language<br />

centres and form<strong>at</strong>ion of the SIWEC.<br />

Under Bhajan’s chairmanship, the<br />

SAB has also managed to mobilise the<br />

various institutions and organis<strong>at</strong>ions<br />

to work together for the common<br />

good of the Sikh community and to<br />

contribute to n<strong>at</strong>ional interests.<br />

“<br />

Mr Abdullah Tarmugi<br />

Minister for Community Development, Youth and<br />

Sports (1994-2000)<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong><br />

th<strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong> could not link faith to terrorism. Any<br />

terrorist or fan<strong>at</strong>ic followed no faith and his or her acts<br />

could not be linked to any racial group. His st<strong>at</strong>ement<br />

was so well-received th<strong>at</strong> then Prime Minister,<br />

Mr Goh Chok Tong, requested th<strong>at</strong> he repe<strong>at</strong> those<br />

same words during an interview with the Prime<br />

Minister’s Office. He managed to convince the<br />

government th<strong>at</strong> the Sikh lifestyle was beneficial to the<br />

well-being of the n<strong>at</strong>ion due to the concept of service<br />

and sharing. 5 Bhajan also served on the Presidential<br />

Council for Religious Harmony for a period of 22 years<br />

from 1992 to 2014.<br />


Bhajan is a man of relentless determin<strong>at</strong>ion. His l<strong>at</strong>est<br />

accomplishment of introducing a common syllabus with<br />

the same textbooks for the various Indian minorities<br />

under the umbrella of the Board for the Teaching and<br />

Testing of South Asian Languages (BTTSAL) 6 is the first<br />

of its kind in the world and paves the way for further<br />

excellence in the educ<strong>at</strong>ion field. 7 Bhajan set up the<br />

BTTSAL and serves as its founding President.<br />

Bhajan knew from the start th<strong>at</strong> if he wanted to serve<br />

the community and n<strong>at</strong>ion, he had to prepare for<br />

challenges. When asked about this, he said: “When<br />

you are doing it for the n<strong>at</strong>ion and the community,<br />

nothing is too hard. I believe th<strong>at</strong> the harder the<br />

challenge, the gre<strong>at</strong>er the accomplishment.” 8 With<br />

this motto, Bhajan continues to seek ways to further<br />

the interests of the Sikh community in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

C Singh, The Sikh Community’s Contribution to the Development of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>: A Collection of Essays and Personal Reminisces (1st ed.,<br />

Vol. 1). <strong>Singapore</strong>, <strong>Singapore</strong>: Justice Choor Singh, 2005.<br />

2<br />

R Veloo, Si Ling’s Miracle Worker, The Sunday Times, June 13, 1993.<br />

3<br />

C Singh, op cit.<br />

4<br />

Set up in 1991, SINDA is a self-help group th<strong>at</strong> works to uplift the<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Indian community. Its key thrusts are in Educ<strong>at</strong>ion, Family<br />

Services and Active Collabor<strong>at</strong>ion. See http://www.sinda.org.sg.<br />

5<br />

B Singh, <strong>Sikhs</strong> here are puzzled by US abuse reports. The New Paper,<br />

September 23, 2001.<br />

6<br />

BTTSAL was set up in 2002 to handle the teaching and testing of<br />

five languages th<strong>at</strong> are not official languages in <strong>Singapore</strong>: Bengali,<br />

Gujar<strong>at</strong>i, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu. See http://bttsal.com.<br />

7<br />

C S Narayanan, One More Language Barrier Comes Down. Tabla,<br />

January 9, 2009.<br />

8<br />

Interviews with Mr Bhajan Singh, March 5, 2015 and April 11, 2015.<br />


Bhopinder<br />

Singh<br />

A<br />

s <strong>Singapore</strong>ans go about their daily lives, they find comfort th<strong>at</strong> their homes are kept safe by<br />

members of the Home Team. Part of this protection includes the tireless work done by the<br />

unsung heroes of the Immigr<strong>at</strong>ion & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) who keep our borders safe.<br />

ICA’s vision is to ‘Inspire Confidence in All’. Its mission is to ensure th<strong>at</strong> the movement of people,<br />

goods and conveyances though its checkpoints is legitim<strong>at</strong>e and lawful and to administer and<br />

uphold its laws on immigr<strong>at</strong>ion, citizenship and n<strong>at</strong>ional registr<strong>at</strong>ion fairly and effectively. 1<br />

The ICA has boasted of many bright, capable and outstanding officers in the course of its<br />

history. One such officer is Mr Bhopinder Singh, who is ICA’s current Director of Oper<strong>at</strong>ions.<br />

Bhopinder was born in <strong>Singapore</strong> in 1954. Following his gradu<strong>at</strong>ion from the then-University of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Sociology, he began his career in the Ministry<br />

of Home Affairs in 1982. He started off with the <strong>Singapore</strong> Police Force (SPF) where he served<br />

for 18 years until he was appointed Assistant Director of Oper<strong>at</strong>ions (Oper<strong>at</strong>ions Management)<br />

<strong>at</strong> the police headquarters in 2000. During his tenure there, he was responsible for coordin<strong>at</strong>ing<br />

the island-wide police oper<strong>at</strong>ions against illegal immigrants and criminal syndic<strong>at</strong>es. It was not<br />

an easy task as he had to ensure proper and adequ<strong>at</strong>e measures were in place so th<strong>at</strong> necessary<br />

action could be taken, depending on the situ<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

In 2003, <strong>Singapore</strong> Immigr<strong>at</strong>ion & Registr<strong>at</strong>ion and the checkpoints oper<strong>at</strong>ions of Customs &<br />

Excise Department merged to form the ICA. After serving as Assistant Director of Oper<strong>at</strong>ions in<br />

the SPF, Bhopinder moved to the newly established ICA where he was appointed Deputy Director<br />

(Oper<strong>at</strong>ions). With his sharp analytical skills, coupled with his deep sense of responsibility,<br />

Bhopinder rose to the rank of Senior Assistant Commissioner as well as Director (Oper<strong>at</strong>ions) of<br />


improvements can be made. He encourages officers to<br />

always stay ahead and pre-empt issues through the use<br />

of the l<strong>at</strong>est technology and methods available to the<br />

ICA as well as trusting their instincts when it comes to<br />

making decisions.<br />

Bhopinder’s leadership style, to be among his officers<br />

instead of simply directing them, ensured th<strong>at</strong> his officers<br />

overcame one of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s most challenging moments<br />

in the ICA history. In February 2003, <strong>Singapore</strong> was<br />

faced with the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respir<strong>at</strong>ory<br />

Syndrome (SARS). A total of 238 people were infected<br />

by the disease which claimed the lives of 33 individuals<br />

in <strong>Singapore</strong>. Many of these casualties were healthcare<br />

providers and other frontline staff who had come into<br />

direct contact with those infected by the disease.<br />

the ICA. His position as Director of Oper<strong>at</strong>ions increased<br />

his responsibilities significantly as he had to supervise<br />

the daily oper<strong>at</strong>ions of the various departments to<br />

ensure th<strong>at</strong> they were efficient while meeting their<br />

key performance indic<strong>at</strong>ors. He st<strong>at</strong>ed: “There was<br />

tremendous pressure on the job. We had to consistently<br />

deliver.” 2 However, with his affable personality as well<br />

as his resourcefulness and dedic<strong>at</strong>ion, Bhopinder and<br />

his team of dedic<strong>at</strong>ed ICA officers took it in their stride<br />

to confront and successfully overcome all challenges.<br />

Bhopinder is a leader who firmly believes th<strong>at</strong> to get<br />

the best from his officers, he has to set an example by<br />

walking the talk and being <strong>at</strong> the frontlines. It is not<br />

uncommon for one to see Bhopinder interacting with his<br />

team of officers and keeping an eye out for areas where<br />

As a regional hub and a responsible member of the<br />

intern<strong>at</strong>ional community, <strong>Singapore</strong> had to put in place<br />

effective measures to isol<strong>at</strong>e and curb any uncontrolled<br />

spread of SARS. This meant th<strong>at</strong> the ICA had a key role<br />

in putting into place measures to manage the entry<br />

of infected persons in <strong>Singapore</strong> and to prevent the<br />

spread of the virus. 3 Bhopinder was a member of the<br />

Whole-of-Government Integr<strong>at</strong>ed Risk Management<br />

put into place to fight SARS. His task was to lead the<br />

planning and prepar<strong>at</strong>ion of all needed measures to<br />

be carried out <strong>at</strong> all checkpoints. The challenges faced<br />

by Bhopinder and his team were extreme and varied.<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s globalised st<strong>at</strong>us meant it was a very<br />

popular holiday and business destin<strong>at</strong>ion. It was critical<br />

th<strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong> had to remain open to welcome visitors<br />

and businessmen to her shores while ensuring th<strong>at</strong> the<br />

outbreak was controlled. The task was a tall order, but<br />

with the able guidance of Bhopinder, the ICA teams<br />

were able to implement the most efficient methods<br />

to ensure th<strong>at</strong> the SARS outbreak was monitored. This<br />

also prevented more cases from entering <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

and ensured th<strong>at</strong> there were no infected p<strong>at</strong>ients<br />


leaving the country, thereby controlling the spread of<br />

the virus to other countries. 4<br />

Bhopinder’s planning and execution highlighted<br />

his capabilities and resourcefulness in not only<br />

formul<strong>at</strong>ing ICA’s crisis management plans, but<br />

also in enhancing its level of emergency response<br />

and preparedness. His stellar leadership was also a<br />

much-needed morale boost for a team which was<br />

fearful th<strong>at</strong> it could become infected as well since it<br />

was <strong>at</strong> the frontlines. Looking back <strong>at</strong> the incident,<br />

Bhopinder thoughtfully shared, “The technical and<br />

oper<strong>at</strong>ional know-how in managing the crisis was<br />

important. However, the personal experiences and<br />

shared sentiments have remained deeply etched over<br />

the years since SARS.” 5<br />

With 33 years of experience, Bhopinder’s span of<br />

leadership and area of responsibilities now covers<br />

the development of plans, policies, str<strong>at</strong>egies and<br />

procedures to deal with all oper<strong>at</strong>ional m<strong>at</strong>ters in the<br />

ICA. He oversees the Oper<strong>at</strong>ions Division, which guides<br />

ICA’s frontline units on m<strong>at</strong>ters pertaining to checkpoint<br />

oper<strong>at</strong>ions, investig<strong>at</strong>ion and rep<strong>at</strong>ri<strong>at</strong>ion of immigr<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

offenders. In spite of his busy schedule, Bhopinder also<br />

makes service a priority. As such, he has been part of the<br />

Sikh Advisory Board since 2011 and actively contributes<br />

to its role as an advisor to the <strong>Singapore</strong> government on<br />

m<strong>at</strong>ters concerning Sikhism, as well as on the customs<br />

and general welfare of the Sikh community.<br />

As he completes his service to the n<strong>at</strong>ion, it is<br />

Bhopinder’s fervent hope th<strong>at</strong> the younger gener<strong>at</strong>ions<br />


“<br />

I have known Bhopinder for<br />

more than 30 years. We were university<br />

classm<strong>at</strong>es and have been close friends<br />

since then. Bhopinder’s soft-spoken<br />

and unassuming manner has enabled<br />

him to negoti<strong>at</strong>e challenges both in<br />

his career and personal life. He has<br />

excelled in his job and his current<br />

position as Director of Oper<strong>at</strong>ions <strong>at</strong><br />

ICA is a recognition of his dedic<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

and professionalism in the service.<br />

In his personal life, he is a loving<br />

husband, a caring parent and a filial<br />

son to his elderly parents. He has made<br />

the right decisions in life because<br />

he has a strong moral compass and,<br />

more importantly, is supported by a<br />

wonderful and loving wife.<br />

Mr R Raj Kumar<br />

Director, Public Affairs<br />

Asia-Europe Found<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

“<br />

of <strong>Singapore</strong>ans will augment and improve on the<br />

found<strong>at</strong>ion already set in place by members of his<br />

gener<strong>at</strong>ion of ICA officers in the areas of border security.<br />

Through avid societal involvement and a general sense<br />

of community pride, the younger gener<strong>at</strong>ion of ICA<br />

officers will be able to spearhead newer initi<strong>at</strong>ives aimed<br />

<strong>at</strong> further strengthening <strong>Singapore</strong>’s security landscape<br />

th<strong>at</strong> is continuously evolving.<br />

The ICA will continue to face new challenges in<br />

the context of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s position as a global and<br />

cosmopolitan island st<strong>at</strong>e. It has been successful in<br />

meeting these challenges in the last <strong>50</strong> years, thanks<br />

to the officers <strong>at</strong> the checkpoints. <strong>Singapore</strong>ans have<br />

been able to take comfort and will continue to do so,<br />

knowing th<strong>at</strong> our borders are being protected by brave<br />

men and women, led by inspiring and capable leaders<br />

like Bhopinder.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Immigr<strong>at</strong>ion and Checkpoints Authority. See http://www.ica.gov.sg/<br />

page.aspx?pageid=64.<br />

2<br />

Interview with Mr Bhopinder Singh, October 3, 2015.<br />

3<br />

Severe acute respir<strong>at</strong>ory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, 2003. See http://<br />

eresources.nlb.gov.sg.<br />

4<br />

Press St<strong>at</strong>ement on the Stepped-up Checks to Prevent the “Export” of<br />

SARS.<br />

5<br />

Interview with Mr Bhopinder Singh, op. cit.<br />


Bilveer<br />

Singh<br />

"<br />

I<br />

think if you have done something well and it is worthwhile remembering, th<strong>at</strong> is n<strong>at</strong>urally gre<strong>at</strong>.<br />

In my case, I am basically a teacher. So I think it may not be history th<strong>at</strong> will remember or judge<br />

me, I think my students will.” 1 These were the first words of Associ<strong>at</strong>e Professor Bilveer Singh<br />

when he was interviewed for this piece.<br />

An immedi<strong>at</strong>e interpret<strong>at</strong>ion one can draw from the above view is the importance Bilveer places<br />

on the type of knowledge, values and character th<strong>at</strong> he wants to imbibe in his students. Bilveer<br />

is extremely dedic<strong>at</strong>ed and focused on nurturing and developing gener<strong>at</strong>ions of people trained<br />

in st<strong>at</strong>ecraft and politics. His impact has been huge and his influence has been immense. Many<br />

of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s st<strong>at</strong>esmen and political thinkers have been moulded either through his tutelage<br />

or by reading his public<strong>at</strong>ions.<br />

The Department of Political Science <strong>at</strong> N<strong>at</strong>ional University of <strong>Singapore</strong> (NUS) takes pride in<br />

Bilveer's career which spans three decades. He has also won 10 teaching excellence awards<br />

in NUS. “I think this year would be my 31st year in the academia and the 35th time th<strong>at</strong> I am<br />

teaching this module on <strong>Singapore</strong> politics because I sometimes teach the same module twice a<br />

year. So just imagine the thousands of students who have gone through my hands and I actually<br />

have influenced them to think about <strong>Singapore</strong>’s politics passion<strong>at</strong>ely.” 2<br />

Bilveer was on his way to a potential career in the military where he was an instructor for the<br />

Officer Cadet School. However, he decided to continue his studies in the hope th<strong>at</strong> a university<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion would then improve his chances of <strong>at</strong>taining a higher rank with the military. After his<br />

studies, he was headhunted by the <strong>Singapore</strong> foreign service and the intelligence agencies due<br />

to his multilingual proficiencies, especially Malay, and they already had jobs lined up for him.<br />


Bilveer’s belief in the value of educ<strong>at</strong>ion and the impact<br />

of a teacher on his or her students, mirror his life where<br />

his teachers from secondary school onwards constantly<br />

pushed him to excel despite his slow beginning. He<br />

has adopted this practice by constantly pushing his<br />

students to explore and confront their comfort levels.<br />

“My job is to produce good students, sharp minds. Th<strong>at</strong><br />

is all. I produce good students, thinking students, good<br />

citizens, loyal citizens, people who, in time of crisis, will<br />

not run away but stand up to be counted and make the<br />

difference.” 4<br />

A chance encounter with a professor while collecting his<br />

certific<strong>at</strong>e changed his life forever. As the top student in<br />

the Honours class in 1981, he was offered a scholarship<br />

to do a Master and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)<br />

programme, as well as eventual employment as a senior<br />

tutor. This, in essence, sealed his life as an academic in<br />

political science.<br />

The same professor also had a specific topic for him<br />

to specialise in – the Soviet Union. Bilveer eventually<br />

completed his Master and PhD on the Soviet Union. He<br />

quipped: “Th<strong>at</strong> is how I got my job. I became <strong>Singapore</strong>’s<br />

first Soviet specialist.” 3 However, the eventual collapse<br />

of the Soviet Union changed everything. Bilveer then<br />

focused specifically on Indonesia, which he also studied<br />

while working on Soviet-Asian rel<strong>at</strong>ions. He has been an<br />

Indonesian specialist since 1990.<br />

One of Bilveer’s boldest moves in his academic career<br />

was to make the decision to teach ‘Government and<br />

Politics of <strong>Singapore</strong>’. At th<strong>at</strong> point in time, it was a<br />

sensitive topic for discussion. However, he felt th<strong>at</strong> it<br />

was an important module for young <strong>Singapore</strong>ans to<br />

understand <strong>Singapore</strong>’s politics in a more intim<strong>at</strong>e and<br />

informed manner. He managed to pull it off, largely<br />

due to his own deep understanding of the topic and<br />

his knowledge of governance. Bilveer now also teaches<br />

such topics as foreign policy and citizenship educ<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

He has also been involved in changes in NUS on modules<br />

on n<strong>at</strong>ion building and governance, not just rel<strong>at</strong>ing to<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> but the wider Southeast Asian region as well.<br />

His r<strong>at</strong>ionale for doing so is th<strong>at</strong> society has become<br />

highly complex and <strong>Singapore</strong>ans need to know the<br />

world better so th<strong>at</strong> they can really make a difference.<br />

Despite not choosing a career in intelligence, Bilveer was<br />

appointed Head of the Centre of Excellence for N<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

Security <strong>at</strong> the S Rajar<strong>at</strong>nam School of Intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

Studies <strong>at</strong> Nanyang Technological University in 2010.<br />

He reported directly to the Prime Minister’s Office on<br />

security issues such as terrorism and radicalis<strong>at</strong>ion. One<br />

key reason for his appointment was his deep knowledge<br />

and understanding of the region, particularly Indonesia.<br />

This knowledge, arising from decades of work and<br />

research, and resulting in numerous public<strong>at</strong>ions and<br />


papers, provided the opportunity to Bilveer to serve his<br />

country. It is an opportunity which he aptly st<strong>at</strong>ed as a<br />

“gre<strong>at</strong> honour for a scholar.” He continues to remain an<br />

Adjunct Senior Fellow <strong>at</strong> the Centre.<br />

Bilveer’s work and contributions, particularly rel<strong>at</strong>ing<br />

to Indonesia and <strong>Singapore</strong>, are highly regarded locally<br />

and intern<strong>at</strong>ionally. Equally impressive is the fact th<strong>at</strong><br />

he is highly proficient in Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa<br />

Indonesia. Apart from being called upon to share his<br />

views <strong>at</strong> various local and intern<strong>at</strong>ional forums and by<br />

the media, this proficiency has allowed him to contribute<br />

liter<strong>at</strong>ure in these languages as well. He regularly teaches<br />

in Bahasa in different Indonesian universities, including<br />

the N<strong>at</strong>ional Defence University, where he is currently<br />

an Eminent Professor. He has 10 books in Bahasa<br />

Indonesia – all dealing with security issues. This quality<br />

has n<strong>at</strong>urally made him a much sought-after personality<br />

since he deals with the important issues of politics,<br />

regional security issues, Islamist terrorism, role of gre<strong>at</strong><br />

powers in Southeast Asia and the domestic and foreign<br />

policies of <strong>Singapore</strong>. Describing his most important<br />

public<strong>at</strong>ion, Politics and Governance in <strong>Singapore</strong>,<br />

Bilveer st<strong>at</strong>ed: “…this is the handbook on <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

politics. It is on politics and governance in <strong>Singapore</strong>; it<br />

is an introduction th<strong>at</strong> anybody can read.” 5 The book<br />

has become a key textbook in <strong>Singapore</strong> schools.<br />

Bilveer is not just contended with writing for the purpose<br />

of educ<strong>at</strong>ion. Th<strong>at</strong> is important but he has also made it<br />

his mission “…to put books by Asians on the global<br />

academic shelves. At the moment, books in the academic<br />

world are domin<strong>at</strong>ed by the West.” 6 He tries to restore<br />

a balance in this respect in the world academic order.<br />

He exposes his students to diverse readings of different<br />

writers from different cultural backgrounds. “I think it<br />

is important to bring out books from our region and by<br />

Asian authors and make them available to our students.<br />

I write about stuff th<strong>at</strong> should be part and parcel of the<br />

“<br />

I have known Bilveer for about<br />

30 years. He was my lecturer <strong>at</strong> NUS<br />

when I was an undergradu<strong>at</strong>e in<br />

Political Science. He was one of the<br />

key lecturers who enthralled me<br />

with his fast-paced, inform<strong>at</strong>ive and<br />

entertaining lectures. Frankly, he had<br />

a big influence on my own decision to<br />

subsequently become an academic in<br />

n<strong>at</strong>ional security studies.<br />

Bilveer has certainly inspired<br />

succeeding gener<strong>at</strong>ions of students<br />

with his infectious passion for research<br />

th<strong>at</strong> influences n<strong>at</strong>ional deb<strong>at</strong>es on<br />

security issues affecting <strong>Singapore</strong>. He<br />

remains an inspir<strong>at</strong>ion to me!<br />

“<br />

Associ<strong>at</strong>e Professor Kumar Ramakrishna<br />

Head of Policy Studies<br />

S Rajar<strong>at</strong>nam School of Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Studies<br />

Nanyang Technological University<br />

students’ normal intake. Th<strong>at</strong> is why I work and write<br />

like there is no tomorrow.” 7<br />

Academic knowledge aside, Bilveer strongly believes<br />

in the virtues of honesty and integrity. These apply<br />

to his work, students and in direct dealings with the<br />

government. Quite n<strong>at</strong>urally, this has resulted in<br />

him courting controversy with his views as he firmly<br />

believes th<strong>at</strong> ‘shading’ history is wrong for if you do,<br />

“…somebody will ‘unshade’ and bring out the truth<br />

tomorrow. Historians will.” 8 His belief also stems from<br />

the fact th<strong>at</strong> he directly influences and impacts the<br />

lives of future leaders who will hold key positions.<br />

It is vital for him to maintain a high level of integrity<br />


When asked once more on how he would like to be<br />

remembered by his students, if nothing else, Bilveer<br />

remarked: “Th<strong>at</strong> I told the truth, th<strong>at</strong> I drove them<br />

onto a highway of passion, daring them to ask difficult<br />

questions and never shunning away from adversity. In<br />

short, I want them to become highly responsible yet<br />

caring individuals.” 9 <strong>And</strong> the truth be told – Bilveer has<br />

indeed left an indelible imprint on his students and the<br />

academic world in the last three decades. <strong>And</strong> he will<br />

certainly continue to do so in the many decades to come.<br />

Endnotes<br />

and openness. Students are highly impressionable and<br />

susceptible to various influences and the people who<br />

have th<strong>at</strong> influence need to influence in a proper and<br />

positive manner. At the same time, they need to practice<br />

wh<strong>at</strong> they preach.<br />

1<br />

Interview with Professor Bilveer Singh, July 21, 2015.<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />

3<br />

Ibid.<br />

4<br />

Ibid.<br />

5<br />

Ibid.<br />

6<br />

Ibid.<br />

7<br />

Ibid.<br />

8<br />

Ibid.<br />

9<br />

Ibid.<br />


Choor<br />

Singh<br />

D<br />

espite his stern and uncompromising exterior, everyone knew th<strong>at</strong>, deep down, here was a<br />

judge, meticulously fair and firm, with a deep sense of justice and his responsibilities. 1 This<br />

is the opinion of District Judge Sowaran Singh, then a Deputy Public Prosecutor, who had the<br />

privilege of appearing in court before the l<strong>at</strong>e Justice Choor Singh.<br />

Former Chief Justice Chan Sek Keong also shares the same verdict on the man. 2 The l<strong>at</strong>ter even<br />

had a real-life example to illustr<strong>at</strong>e this principled character of Choor. In a letter written to<br />

Choor’s family, the former Chief Justice recounted an old case involving an appeal from the l<strong>at</strong>e<br />

Harry Lee Wee, arising from his conviction for certain penal code offences (obtaining restitution<br />

in consider<strong>at</strong>ion of the concealment of the offence of a criminal breach of trust). Although his<br />

applic<strong>at</strong>ion of the law, as it was written led him to “reluctantly dismiss” the appeal, Choor still<br />

made known his somewh<strong>at</strong> contrary opinion of wh<strong>at</strong> justice in this case should have meant. The<br />

closing of the judgment he penned included his personal estim<strong>at</strong>ion of how “it is not dishonest<br />

for a person to try and recover his own property from one who has committed criminal breach<br />

of trust in respect of it.” Indeed, former Appeal Judge Chao Hick Tin was quoted in an article in<br />

The Straits Times as saying how he “always sought to do justice in a case, even to the extent of<br />

departing from precedents.” 3<br />

Indeed, th<strong>at</strong> example was apposite as multiple sources indic<strong>at</strong>e how it was as a criminal<br />

judge th<strong>at</strong> Choor seemed to find his true voc<strong>at</strong>ion. 4 However, one need not just take their<br />

word for it, his work speaks for itself. During the time when Choor was on the Bench as a<br />

judge, the Privy Council in England still had jurisdiction over appeals arising from the local<br />

Court of Criminal Appeal. According to the former Chief Justice, one of Choor’s “proudest<br />

moments” was when, “as a civil judge,…the Privy Council restored his decision on a landlord<br />


th<strong>at</strong> he wrote his orders in a timely fashion, Choor<br />

dedic<strong>at</strong>ed long hours to ensuring th<strong>at</strong> his judgments<br />

were not only well-researched but weighing every<br />

word to make sure it was the right fit. Daljeet recalls<br />

waking up in the morning during the years of his youth<br />

to see the evidence of his f<strong>at</strong>her’s judgment writing<br />

efforts – heaps of crumpled blue foolscap papers used<br />

by the courts in those days strewn all over the table<br />

and floor. Verdicts were written and re-written by hand<br />

till he had s<strong>at</strong>isfied his own high personal standards.<br />

and tenant case…which the Court of Appeal had<br />

reversed.” It must also then have been a point of pride<br />

for Choor th<strong>at</strong> none of the five decisions written by<br />

him while he was a member of the Criminal Court of<br />

Appeal were overturned by the Privy Council when<br />

they were sent there to be appealed against. Notably<br />

as well, Mr T P B Menon of Wee Swee Teow & Co<br />

writes th<strong>at</strong>, during his 17 years on the Supreme Court<br />

Bench, Choor wrote “countless judgments in criminal<br />

law cases…as a judge of first instance.” 5 Of these, a<br />

prolific 105 judgments were reported. 6 The quantity of<br />

Choor’s judgments, by no means, resulted in any want<br />

of quality in them. Former Chief Justice Chan noted<br />

how Choor’s “judgments pervade of common sense<br />

and practical wisdom.” 7 Choor’s son, Dr Daljeet Singh<br />

Sidhu, <strong>at</strong>tests th<strong>at</strong> writing judgments was a task th<strong>at</strong><br />

his f<strong>at</strong>her took very seriously. 8 In addition to ensuring<br />

Apart from the respected judgments passed by Choor,<br />

one other occasion also deserves mention as it stands out<br />

for being a manifest<strong>at</strong>ion of the esteem with which he<br />

was perceived by his peers and superiors. This occasion<br />

is none other than the time th<strong>at</strong> Choor presided over<br />

the memorable “Body in the Box” murder, which has<br />

accur<strong>at</strong>ely been described as “a c<strong>at</strong>alyst in the abolition<br />

of the jury system” 9 for criminal cases in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

After judgment was passed in this case to sentence the<br />

suspected murderer to life imprisonment as punishment<br />

for a lower charge instead of the de<strong>at</strong>h penalty for<br />

conviction on murder, it came to Choor’s <strong>at</strong>tention th<strong>at</strong><br />

there had been a fracas amongst members of the jury.<br />

There was a clear implic<strong>at</strong>ion th<strong>at</strong>, instead of basing its<br />

decision purely on the merits of the case, the decision<br />

was actually the result of the fracas th<strong>at</strong> the majority<br />

of the jury had decided to sentence the suspect on a<br />

lower charge. In the words of Choor himself: “Lee Kuan<br />

Yew sent for me… I told him about the jury. He asked:<br />

“Well wh<strong>at</strong> do you think? Shall I abolish the jury?” I<br />

said if I tried the man alone, I would have convicted<br />

without any hesit<strong>at</strong>ion…Then he (Lee Kuan Yew) took<br />

steps. <strong>And</strong> he held an inquiry; questioned the jurors.” 10<br />

Jury trials were subsequently abolished in 1969. 11<br />

Personality wise, Choor has been described numerous<br />

times as being “strict”, “much feared” 12 and one who<br />

“would brook no nonsense from defence counsel.” 13<br />


Another criminal lawyer, the l<strong>at</strong>e Mr Subhas Anandan<br />

also spoke of how “he suffered no fools and thought<br />

little about ber<strong>at</strong>ing those who wasted his time as<br />

idiots.” 14 Even Queen’s Counsels were apparently not<br />

spared from this m<strong>at</strong>ter-of-fact way in which Choor<br />

ran his courtroom. Former Chief Justice Chan recalled<br />

how he was not “awed” by Queen’s Counsels and on<br />

one occasion “…(which became the talk of the legal<br />

circuit) reputedly told the Queen’s Counsel th<strong>at</strong> there<br />

was nothing in the facts and the law in th<strong>at</strong> case th<strong>at</strong><br />

the Queen’s Counsel could tell him which he did not<br />

already know.” 15 Another more sombre moniker th<strong>at</strong><br />

Choor came to be known by was the ‘Hanging Judge’. 16<br />

This title came about as a result of his reput<strong>at</strong>ion for<br />

meting out capital sentences. 17 A st<strong>at</strong>ement he made to<br />

The Straits Times in 1996 speaks of how this title did not<br />

weigh on his conscience <strong>at</strong> all when he reflected th<strong>at</strong> he<br />

was “s<strong>at</strong>isfied th<strong>at</strong> [he had] made no mistake and th<strong>at</strong><br />

[he had] done [his] duty according to the law.” Daljeet<br />

recalls asking his f<strong>at</strong>her about these ‘sobriquets’ the<br />

media had bestowed upon him and whether he had any<br />

doubts about wh<strong>at</strong> he had done. He too heard a similar<br />

response from his f<strong>at</strong>her who assured him th<strong>at</strong> he sleeps<br />

peacefully <strong>at</strong> night, content with the knowledge th<strong>at</strong> he<br />

has applied diligently the law to the facts presented<br />

before him. These somewh<strong>at</strong> sens<strong>at</strong>ionalised titles were<br />

unfortun<strong>at</strong>e as they belied the wonderful f<strong>at</strong>her and<br />

family man th<strong>at</strong> Choor was. Daljeet describes him as<br />

a soft-hearted man with an unimpeachable character. 18<br />

After 47 years in public service, Choor retired in 1980<br />

<strong>at</strong> the age of 69. This steadfast man, who without a<br />

doubt remains “one of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s most prominent<br />

Supreme Court judges”, had not always held such a<br />

lofty st<strong>at</strong>ion in life. In his autobiography, Choor wrote<br />

how he “had no table or chair to do [his] homework.<br />

[He] did some reading under the street light.” In this<br />

context, his meteoric rise from his first job as a solicitor’s<br />

“<br />

Few men have had a longer<br />

career marked with a record of<br />

diligent and distinguished service<br />

than Justice Choor Singh. In his 17<br />

years on the Supreme Court Bench,<br />

his comprehensive knowledge of the<br />

criminal law and procedure and his<br />

wide experience in the administr<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

of justice has been of immense help to<br />

my colleagues and me.<br />

Mr Wee Chong Jin<br />

Chief Justice (1963-1990)<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong><br />

“<br />

clerk <strong>at</strong> the law firm, Mallal and Namazie, to becoming<br />

the “first Indian in Colonial Malaya to be appointed<br />

magistr<strong>at</strong>e” and then his subsequent appointment as a<br />

Supreme Court Judge speak of perseverance, a tenacity<br />

to succeed and an uncanny ability to seize opportunities<br />

and make the most of them.<br />

In addition to his judicial responsibilities, Choor<br />

was actively involved in the Sikh community. He was<br />

particularly concerned th<strong>at</strong> youth in an Englishspeaking<br />

world might be susceptible to losing touch<br />

with Sikhism. This was the impetus for one of his most<br />

major contributions to Sikh society – the penning of<br />

a number of books on the Sikh faith. Well researched<br />

and encompassing a wide range of themes, some of the<br />

titles included Bhai Maharaj Singh: Saint-soldier of the<br />

Sikh Faith, Understanding Sikhism: The Gospel of the<br />

Gurus and Who is a Sikh and other Essays. Although<br />

he only turned to writing after retirement, Choor had<br />

already been a fully particip<strong>at</strong>ing and involved member<br />

of the local Sikh community from very early on. In fact,<br />


within the Sikh community. His role in the community<br />

was cemented on 14 August 1994 when the community<br />

conferred on him the highest honour by inviting him to<br />

lay the found<strong>at</strong>ion stone for the then new building for<br />

Khalsa Dharmak Sabha Temple. 21<br />

Choor passed away on 31 March 2009. He composed an<br />

epitaph for himself: “I have done my duty to the st<strong>at</strong>e,<br />

my community and faith. I leave now as ordained by my<br />

f<strong>at</strong>e.” This pithy and characteristically pragm<strong>at</strong>ic epitaph<br />

perhaps best encompassed the measure of this gre<strong>at</strong><br />

man who made a lasting contribution to <strong>Singapore</strong> and<br />

the Sikh community.<br />

he is one of the founding members of <strong>Singapore</strong> Khalsa<br />

Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (SKA). He was part of a group of Sikh<br />

schoolboys from Raffles Institution 19 who in the mid-<br />

1920s thought there was a gap th<strong>at</strong> could to be filled.<br />

As is explained on the SKA website, the Sikh temples<br />

discharged and continue to discharge their role as<br />

places of worship and to some degree social functions<br />

as well. The establishment of SKA saw to it th<strong>at</strong> there<br />

was a centre for sports for the community as well. An<br />

additional point to note is th<strong>at</strong> SKA was one of the<br />

first places, apart from the Sikh temples, to teach the<br />

Punjabi language. Choor did not want Punjabi youth<br />

to lose touch with their roots and fought very hard for<br />

Punjabi to be recognised as a second language. He also<br />

made a number of generous charitable contributions<br />

to rel<strong>at</strong>ed causes. 20 He was also a gre<strong>at</strong> sportsman. He<br />

played hockey and cricket till he was 55 years old and<br />

he continued to golf till 86 years of age.<br />

In retirement, Choor continued to be active notably in<br />

a number of community service endeavours as well as<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Judge Choor Singh Dies, <strong>Singapore</strong> Khalsa Associ<strong>at</strong>ion, 2009.<br />

2<br />

Jesley Chua, In Memory of Justice Choor Singh, N<strong>at</strong>ional Archives of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>, 2009.<br />

3<br />

Khushwant Singh, Retired judge Choor Singh dies <strong>at</strong> 98, The Straits<br />

Times. April 2, 2009.<br />

4<br />

S K Chan, CJ’s letter to retired Justice Choor Singh’s family, Supreme<br />

Court Note, 2009; G H Tan, 100 Inspiring Rafflesians, 1823 – 2003,<br />

(<strong>Singapore</strong>: World Scientific Publishing Co Pte Ltd); T P B, Menon,<br />

Justice Choor Singh. The Law Gazette, 2009.<br />

5<br />

Ibid note 4, cit<strong>at</strong>ion 3.<br />

6<br />

Supra note 4, cit<strong>at</strong>ion 1.<br />

7<br />

Supra note 4, cit<strong>at</strong>ion 1.<br />

8<br />

Interview with Dr Daljeet Singh Sidhu, March 20, 2015.<br />

9<br />

Supra note 2.<br />

10<br />

Supra note 2.<br />

11<br />

<strong>And</strong>rew Phang Boon Leong, Jury Trial in <strong>Singapore</strong> and Malaysia: The<br />

Unmaking of a Legal Institution, Malaya Law Review 25, 1990: <strong>50</strong>-86.<br />

12<br />

Supra note 3.<br />

13<br />

Supra note 4, cit<strong>at</strong>ion 1.<br />

14<br />

Supra note 3.<br />

15<br />

Supra note 4, cit<strong>at</strong>ion 1.<br />

16<br />

During th<strong>at</strong> period, the de<strong>at</strong>h penalty was mand<strong>at</strong>ory for those<br />

convicted of drug trafficking or murder. It was revised in November<br />

2012 which meant th<strong>at</strong> the de<strong>at</strong>h penalty was lifted under certain<br />

specific conditions. See www.lawgazette.com.sg.<br />

17<br />

Supra note 3.<br />

18<br />

Supra note 8.<br />

19<br />

http://www.singaporekhalsa.org.sg/cms/about-ska/evolution-of-ska<br />

20<br />

Interview with Dr Daljeet Singh Sidhu, op cit.<br />

21<br />

Supra note 4, cit<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />


Daljeet<br />

Singh<br />

I<br />

n the current stable clim<strong>at</strong>e, one can be easily forgiven for forgetting the moments in history<br />

when <strong>Singapore</strong> was a victim of terrorist <strong>at</strong>tacks and race riots. For <strong>Singapore</strong> to be able to<br />

establish itself as a sovereign st<strong>at</strong>e, it had to develop, among others, a formidable defence<br />

force. Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Daljeet Singh was one of the men responsible for laying the<br />

found<strong>at</strong>ion of the armed forces of an independent <strong>Singapore</strong>. 1<br />

When Daljeet was growing up, <strong>Singapore</strong> was beginning to gain autonomy from the British<br />

in home affairs, educ<strong>at</strong>ion, and law and order. It was in the time of pre-independent and premerger<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> and a young Daljeet was in the process of realising his true calling. Even<br />

when he was in school, his leadership qualities began to show. With the support of his teachers,<br />

a friend and he helped set up the N<strong>at</strong>ional Cadet Corp Club in Gan Eng Seng Secondary School.<br />

After completing his secondary studies, and before the merger took place, Daljeet joined the<br />

armed forces, forgoing plans to pursue further studies in India or Australia. This decision was<br />

significant as it marked the start of an illustrious career in the armed forces for Daljeet.<br />

In 1963, when <strong>Singapore</strong> joined the Malaysian Feder<strong>at</strong>ion, the armed forces of Malaya<br />

and <strong>Singapore</strong> merged to become the Armed Forces of Malaysia. Malaysia consisted of the<br />

Malaysian Peninsula, <strong>Singapore</strong>, Sabah and Sarawak. With respect to defending the now<br />

expanded boundaries, the four b<strong>at</strong>talions from <strong>Singapore</strong> were divided between <strong>Singapore</strong> and<br />

Johor, with two each for Johor and <strong>Singapore</strong>. Each b<strong>at</strong>talion was 800-men strong. The troops<br />

were a mix of both Malaysians and <strong>Singapore</strong>ans. A lieutenant now <strong>at</strong> a young age of 23 years,<br />

Daljeet was a Pl<strong>at</strong>oon Commander in the 2nd <strong>Singapore</strong> Infantry Regiment (2S1R) and he was<br />

responsible for southern Johor and part of <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />


pl<strong>at</strong>oons, was sent to the jungles to hunt for an estim<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

60 saboteurs in a mission th<strong>at</strong> lasted three months.<br />

Daljeet's pl<strong>at</strong>oon killed six to seven men on its own.<br />

According to Daljeet: “We had taken an o<strong>at</strong>h to defend<br />

our n<strong>at</strong>ion. We had an oblig<strong>at</strong>ion to fulfill. Moreover, we<br />

were angry th<strong>at</strong> we had lost our own men. When you<br />

spend night and day with them, the regiment becomes<br />

your family.” 2 This incident reflected a clear example of<br />

a man who not only carried out his responsibilities as<br />

a leader but also showed loyalty and determin<strong>at</strong>ion in<br />

protecting the dignity of his fallen soldiers.<br />

The regional expansion of Malaysia caused ripples in<br />

Indonesia. President Sukarno was keen on expanding<br />

Indonesia’s border to include Sabah and Sarawak.<br />

He waged an undeclared war along the border of<br />

Sarawak and sent infiltr<strong>at</strong>ors into various st<strong>at</strong>es of<br />

Malaysia to cause chaos through rallies and terrorist<br />

<strong>at</strong>tacks. Unfortun<strong>at</strong>ely, tragedy struck in February 1965.<br />

Indonesian infiltr<strong>at</strong>ors entered the east coast of Johor<br />

and the 2SIR responsible for th<strong>at</strong> jurisdiction desp<strong>at</strong>ched<br />

a company of soldiers to confront the infiltr<strong>at</strong>ors. During<br />

a rest period for the soldiers, the tailing infiltr<strong>at</strong>ors<br />

launched an <strong>at</strong>tack on them, causing the de<strong>at</strong>h and<br />

mutil<strong>at</strong>ion of nine soldiers. Angered and humili<strong>at</strong>ed <strong>at</strong><br />

the failure of its first mission and the horrific mutil<strong>at</strong>ion,<br />

a pl<strong>at</strong>oon from 2SIR, led by Daljeet, along with other<br />

On 9 August 1965, <strong>Singapore</strong> was left to fend for itself as<br />

a sovereign n<strong>at</strong>ion following separ<strong>at</strong>ion from Malaysia.<br />

The government decided th<strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong> needed<br />

to implement mand<strong>at</strong>ory n<strong>at</strong>ional service to make<br />

defending the small country the business and interest of<br />

all citizens. 3 Daljeet was one of the few men handpicked<br />

to help develop methods of training for the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Armed Forces. For th<strong>at</strong>, the Israeli Armed Forces, one of<br />

the most elite and sophistic<strong>at</strong>ed forces of the world, was<br />

invited to train these handpicked men in an Instructors’<br />

Prepar<strong>at</strong>ory Course 4 th<strong>at</strong> lasted three months and ended<br />

with the establishment of the Pasir Laba Camp, where<br />

Daljeet was appointed Alpha Company’s Second-in-<br />

Command. 5 Being a specialist in jungle warfare and<br />

weaponry, Daljeet set up a unit specialising in weaponry<br />

called the School of Infantry Support Weapons in the SAF<br />

Training Institute. 6 He helped design the jungle training<br />

course and established an overseas training facility for<br />

the SAF in Brunei. 7 He also went on to head five out of<br />

the seven infantry schools in SAFTI. 8<br />

It would not be an overst<strong>at</strong>ement to say th<strong>at</strong> Daljeet<br />

played a key role in shaping and developing the SAF to<br />

wh<strong>at</strong> it is today. Daljeet justifies his efforts by saying th<strong>at</strong><br />

anyone in his position would have done the same: “We<br />

had taken an o<strong>at</strong>h and we had to honour it.” 9 A humble<br />

man by all measures, the inspir<strong>at</strong>ion for his n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />


“<br />

Daljeet and I have been friends for more than <strong>50</strong> years. I met him in 1963<br />

when I was posted to 2SIR.<br />

Daljeet was a major contributor to 2SIR’s excellent record of success in military<br />

oper<strong>at</strong>ions, a fact th<strong>at</strong> is known throughout the <strong>Singapore</strong> Armed Forces (SAF). In<br />

1965, we were involved in military oper<strong>at</strong>ions in the jungle in Johor and Sabah.<br />

Daljeet has been known to have several encounters with the enemy, during which<br />

he led his men to victory in each and every one of the b<strong>at</strong>tles. When he posted to<br />

Infantry headquarters, his expertise in military m<strong>at</strong>ters was openly acknowledged by<br />

several senior foreign military advisers of the SAF and they wasted no time in taxing<br />

his knowledge and experience. Th<strong>at</strong> speaks volumes of him as a professional and a<br />

experienced military officer.<br />

My friendship with Daljeet blossomed over the decades and it has remained strong<br />

till today.<br />

“<br />

Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) James P K Chia<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Armed Forces<br />

contribution was also due to the fact th<strong>at</strong> he wanted<br />

to build something for the country and society th<strong>at</strong> has<br />

provided the opportunity to his ethnic community and<br />

him to <strong>at</strong>tain a better life.<br />

Growing up in Cairnhill with three sisters and studying<br />

<strong>at</strong> Khalsa English School, Daljeet was not alien to the<br />

struggles faced by his fellow Sikh immigrants in coming<br />

to <strong>Singapore</strong> in search of a better life. He st<strong>at</strong>ed: “Our<br />

grandf<strong>at</strong>hers were very poor people but they worked<br />

hard and made sure their children studied hard to<br />

get somewhere in life… <strong>Singapore</strong>’s Prime Minister,<br />

Mr Lee Kuan Yew, also made sure our society allowed<br />

hardworking people to succeed and it was fair and<br />

equal with all races in <strong>Singapore</strong>.” 10 Combining the<br />

experience of witnessing the humble beginnings of<br />

many Sikh immigrants with the success stories of highly<br />

revered and recognised men such as the l<strong>at</strong>e Justice<br />

Choor Singh, it only made Daljeet more determined to<br />

succeed and contribute to society. He was and still is<br />

dedic<strong>at</strong>ed to paying his respects to efforts made by his<br />

Sikh foref<strong>at</strong>hers. He contributes as best as he can to the<br />

country th<strong>at</strong> established a meritocr<strong>at</strong>ic system to allow<br />

his ethnic community equal opportunity to succeed in life.<br />

Daljeet retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. Today,<br />

his charges are his grandchildren. However, he<br />

constantly reminds young <strong>Singapore</strong>ans of the tough<br />

times <strong>Singapore</strong> faced to get to this stage of stability<br />

and security. He may no longer be leading a group<br />

of soldiers but he is more than happy to provide<br />

important words of wisdom to anyone who comes<br />

forward to learn about his success story. After all,<br />

he has always lived by these words th<strong>at</strong> “To get<br />

anywhere in life or to accomplish anything <strong>at</strong> all, you<br />

need dedic<strong>at</strong>ion.” 11<br />


citizens and country. Daljeet was one such special officer<br />

who was instrumental in laying the found<strong>at</strong>ion for a<br />

strong defence force for <strong>Singapore</strong> and, in doing so,<br />

has occupied his rightful place in <strong>Singapore</strong>’s n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

military history.<br />

Endnotes<br />

This year, <strong>Singapore</strong> celebr<strong>at</strong>es its <strong>50</strong>th anniversary as an<br />

independent n<strong>at</strong>ion. The protection of the sovereignty<br />

of a small and vulnerable n<strong>at</strong>ion surrounded by much<br />

larger n<strong>at</strong>ions, particularly in the post-independent<br />

period, was a daunting task. It took a special breed of<br />

men to dedic<strong>at</strong>e their lives to defending their fellow<br />

1<br />

Leaders are simply men who choose to bear the weight of others. (ND).<br />

Retrieved on August 25, 2015.<br />

2<br />

Interview with Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Daljeet Singh, June 2,<br />

2015.<br />

3<br />

Koh Boon Pin and Lee Gok Boi, Shoulder to Shoulder: Our N<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

Service Journal: commemor<strong>at</strong>ing 35 years of N<strong>at</strong>ional Service,<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>: Ministry of Defence, 2002.<br />

4<br />

Leaders are simply men who choose to bear the weight of others, op. cit.<br />

5<br />

Ibid.<br />

6<br />

Ibid.<br />

7<br />

Ibid.<br />

8<br />

Ibid.<br />

9<br />

Interview with Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Daljeet Singh, op. cit.<br />

10<br />

Ibid.<br />

11<br />

Leaders are simply men who choose to bear the weight of others, op. cit.<br />


Davinder<br />

Singh<br />

I<br />

n 1972, the former head of the United Negro College Fund, Mr Arthur Fletcher, said: “A mind<br />

is a terrible thing to waste.” 1 Adopted as one of the most successful public service marketing<br />

slogans of all time, it was geared <strong>at</strong> driving home the point of the necessity of educ<strong>at</strong>ion. A<br />

member of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s legal fr<strong>at</strong>ernity provided an equally compelling perspective on the value<br />

of intellectual power when he st<strong>at</strong>ed th<strong>at</strong>: “If you want to train your mind, I would advise you to<br />

study law.” 2 Well, when this advice comes from legal eagle Senior Counsel, Mr Davinder Singh,<br />

one would pay serious <strong>at</strong>tention to it.<br />

Born in <strong>Singapore</strong> in 1957, Davinder is the youngest of five children. He grew up in humble<br />

surroundings along Race Course Road. He came from a rel<strong>at</strong>ively structured household where<br />

his f<strong>at</strong>her, born in Baluchistan, modern-day Pakistan, was the bread winner. He was strict while<br />

his mother, born in Malaysia, was the complete opposite and she loved to dote on her children.<br />

Davinder lived in a neighbourhood of different races and religions. He was, thus, fortun<strong>at</strong>e to<br />

be exposed to the different festivals and celebr<strong>at</strong>ions in <strong>Singapore</strong> early on in life. According<br />

to him, mingling with everyone without prejudice and judgment helped him learn much about<br />

people and life. This played an important role in shaping his outlook. His parents promoted<br />

understanding and appreci<strong>at</strong>ion of others among their five children – they had an ‘open door’<br />

policy where anyone from the neighbourhood was free to visit. They were generous, as was<br />

everyone else in his neighbourhood. This is a memory th<strong>at</strong> Davinder holds dear to his heart till<br />

today.<br />

Davinder was a quiet child <strong>at</strong> home. His demeanor was, however, quite different in school where<br />

he was an active and a more outspoken student. He <strong>at</strong>tended Saint Joseph’s Institution and<br />


is acknowledged intern<strong>at</strong>ionally <strong>at</strong> the highest levels<br />

of government and industry. 3 He joined the Litig<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

Department of the firm immedi<strong>at</strong>ely upon gradu<strong>at</strong>ion in<br />

1982 and rose through the ranks. He considers himself<br />

extremely fortun<strong>at</strong>e to have an unending stream of<br />

good work and to be able to work with the best people<br />

while serving important clients.<br />

l<strong>at</strong>er enrolled into N<strong>at</strong>ional Junior College. Recalling<br />

fondly, he described his schools as places of complete<br />

freedom with an all-rounded educ<strong>at</strong>ion. It was also here<br />

th<strong>at</strong> he met school m<strong>at</strong>es who are his closest friends till<br />

today.<br />

Following college, Davinder felt th<strong>at</strong> it was time to choose<br />

his direction in life. He opted for law, for the simple<br />

reason th<strong>at</strong> it would consistently and continuously train<br />

his mind. He felt th<strong>at</strong> learning law would give him the<br />

mental frame to analyse issues differently – a useful skill<br />

in everyday life. He went to the N<strong>at</strong>ional University of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> to pursue a degree in Law.<br />

Today, Davinder is the Chief Executive Officer of<br />

Drew and Napier LLC, one of the largest law firms in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>. Setup in 1889, the firm’s calibre of work<br />

Over the last 33 years, Davinder has litig<strong>at</strong>ed cases in<br />

almost every area of the law, including landmark cases.<br />

Each case is different in its own way and a few have<br />

gener<strong>at</strong>ed some public interest. These included the<br />

N<strong>at</strong>ional Kidney Found<strong>at</strong>ion scandal and the Roy Ngerng<br />

defam<strong>at</strong>ion case. Davinder finds it difficult to pick a<br />

particular case th<strong>at</strong> he found particularly compelling<br />

or challenging. Each case impacted his thoughts<br />

and emotions uniquely. Davinder also has an active<br />

intern<strong>at</strong>ional arbitr<strong>at</strong>ion practice involving complex<br />

commercial disputes and multiple jurisdictions. Among<br />

others, he has advised and/or acted in the Intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

Court of Arbitr<strong>at</strong>ion, <strong>Singapore</strong> Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Arbitr<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

Centre and the United N<strong>at</strong>ions Commission on<br />

Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Trade Law. 4<br />

Prominent legal directory Chambers Asia-Pacific said:<br />

“The ‘Davinder Factor’ puts this [law] practice in a<br />

different league”. He is also described as “a formidable<br />

advoc<strong>at</strong>e with a long-standing and excellent reput<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

in the market”, and as “a standout figure in arbitr<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

as well as litig<strong>at</strong>ion, his advocacy is smooth as silk.” 5<br />

It is, therefore, unsurprising th<strong>at</strong> he has been regularly<br />

acknowledged locally and internally as a top litig<strong>at</strong>or<br />

and arbitr<strong>at</strong>ion counsel.<br />

Most recently, he was recognised as the ‘Disputes Star<br />

of the Year – <strong>Singapore</strong>’ <strong>at</strong> the inaugural Asialaw Asia-<br />

Pacific Dispute Resolution Awards 2015. 6 Last year, he<br />

received the prestigious ‘Outstanding Contribution to<br />

the Legal Profession’ award from Chambers & Partners<br />


for his exceptional achievements and significant impact<br />

on the regional and intern<strong>at</strong>ional market. Chambers &<br />

Partners also named him a standalone Star Individual,<br />

a c<strong>at</strong>egory above Band 1, for five consecutive years.<br />

He was also named ‘Disputes Lawyer of the Year’ for<br />

Southeast Asia and India <strong>at</strong> the inaugural The Asian<br />

Lawyer Emerging Markets Awards in 2014. He was the<br />

only litig<strong>at</strong>or in <strong>Singapore</strong> to be named External Counsel<br />

of the Year by Asian-MENA Counsel in 2012 and 2013. 7<br />

In spite of these numerous accolades, Davinder remains<br />

humble and believes th<strong>at</strong> each award is recognition for<br />

his entire team. He feels th<strong>at</strong> his team members are the<br />

bedrock behind every case he fights. Without them, the<br />

accolades and recognition would not be possible. He<br />

also chooses to take such moments to remind his two<br />

sons th<strong>at</strong> there is recognition for honest work and, if<br />

one works hard and passion<strong>at</strong>ely, the opportunities will<br />

present themselves.<br />

In spite of his busy legal career, Davinder answered the<br />

call to serve the country. In 1988, he was elected as a<br />

Member of Parliament (MP) under the People’s Action<br />

Party ticket, making him the first Sikh parliamentarian in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s post-independence history. There were two<br />

reasons he took on this challenge.<br />

Firstly, he saw his MP role as an opportunity to widen his<br />

horizon and assist the less fortun<strong>at</strong>e. Davinder felt his<br />

perspective of life was being shaped by his experience<br />

as a professional working in the city every day. He did<br />

not wish to lose sight of the fact th<strong>at</strong> there were people<br />

who were not as fortun<strong>at</strong>e and who needed help.<br />

On a more personal level, he decided to join politics<br />

because his mother wished it, and he knew it would<br />

have made his f<strong>at</strong>her proud as well. His family had the<br />

highest regard for <strong>Singapore</strong>’s first Prime Minister, Mr<br />

Lee Kuan Yew, and this was Davinder’s opportunity to<br />

“<br />

I have known Mr Singh for <strong>at</strong><br />

least 20 years, since the days when<br />

he was a MP serving the residents of<br />

Toa Payoh Central branch. We still<br />

keep in touch and meet up with other<br />

branch members for meals. He is a<br />

kind man who is always willing to<br />

help the poor and needy. Despite his<br />

heavy work schedule, he looked after<br />

the residents who queued, sometimes<br />

l<strong>at</strong>e into the night, to meet him. He<br />

earned the trust of the various clan<br />

and merchant associ<strong>at</strong>ions because<br />

he was always humble. He never took<br />

credit, always praising others for their<br />

good work.<br />

“<br />

Mr Chia Ah Sah JP, BBM(L), PBM, PB<br />

Vice Chairman<br />

Toa Payoh Central Branch<br />

work with him. Following Mr Lee’s passing in March<br />

2015, Davinder explained the gre<strong>at</strong>ness of the man<br />

in a Straits Times interview: “I s<strong>at</strong> with and talked to<br />

this genius who, more than anyone, understood human<br />

n<strong>at</strong>ure and societies, who had the third eye and could see<br />

trends and dangers, which we mere mortals were blind<br />

or oblivious to, and who knew with complete confidence<br />

wh<strong>at</strong> was best for his people and <strong>Singapore</strong>.” 8<br />

While Davinder served as MP for the Bishan-Toa Payoh<br />

Group Represent<strong>at</strong>ion Constituency for 18 years and<br />

did his utmost to address the concerns of the residents,<br />

his political journey was not without challenges. As an<br />

MP, he faced the never-ending task of striking a balance<br />

between his professional commitments and the needs<br />


of his constituency while, <strong>at</strong> the same time, ensuring<br />

th<strong>at</strong> he had ample time for his sons.<br />

The famous American author, poet and philosopher, Mr<br />

Henry David Thoreau, once said: “As a single footstep<br />

will not make a p<strong>at</strong>h on the earth, so a single thought<br />

will not make a p<strong>at</strong>hway in the mind. To make a deep<br />

physical p<strong>at</strong>h, we walk again and again. To make a deep<br />

mental p<strong>at</strong>h, we must think over and over the kind of<br />

thoughts we wish to domin<strong>at</strong>e our lives.” 9 In a similar<br />

vein, Davinder has unendingly trained his legal mind to<br />

emerge as one of the brightest, if not the brightest, legal<br />

minds in <strong>Singapore</strong>, marking his life with exceptional<br />

professional accomplishments and selfless service to the<br />

n<strong>at</strong>ion and community.<br />

When Davinder was elected into Parliament, the idea<br />

of a Sikh MP was new to the Sikh community. There<br />

was n<strong>at</strong>urally much jubilance within the community on<br />

his election. As much as he chooses not to take credit,<br />

Davinder played an important role as a link between<br />

the Sikh community and the government. In 1996, he<br />

was joined in Parliament by Mr Inderjit Singh. Together,<br />

they were highly successful in presenting the Sikh<br />

community as one th<strong>at</strong> punches well above its weight.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

See http://www.npr.org/templ<strong>at</strong>es/story/story.php?storyId=4757704.<br />

2<br />

Interview with Mr Davinder Singh, September 26, 2015.<br />

3<br />

See http://www.drewnapier.com.<br />

4<br />

See http://www.drewnapier.com/Lawyers/Davinder-Singh.<br />

5<br />

See http://www.chambersandpartners.com/asia/person/<strong>50</strong>695.<br />

6<br />

K Vijayan, Legal eagle Davinder Singh named best dispute lawyer, The<br />

Straits Times, September 26, 2015.<br />

7<br />

See http://www.drewnapier.com/Lawyers/Davinder-Singh.<br />

8<br />

Rachel Chang, Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer, Davinder Singh, remembers<br />

the man, The Straits Times, March 23, 2015.<br />

9<br />

See http://thoreau.library.ucsb.edu/thoreau_life.html.<br />


Gurcharan<br />

Singh Sekhon<br />

C<br />

olonel (Retired) Gurcharan Singh Sekhon was literally born in the cowsheds in 1937. His f<strong>at</strong>her<br />

was the owner of cows and buffaloes, and had a huge farm near Aljunied Road. Growing up<br />

in pre-Second World War years, life for this little young boy was r<strong>at</strong>her enjoyable and relaxed.<br />

“Before the Japanese came, we were living very comfortably. I was running around and not<br />

doing much. However, when the Japanese came, my entire life changed.” 1 The tranquility th<strong>at</strong><br />

existed immedi<strong>at</strong>ely disappeared and the whole country went into turmoil.<br />

Gurcharan’s life took a further turn for the worse during the Japanese occup<strong>at</strong>ion when he<br />

ended up going to a Japanese school. The teachers were strict, uncaring and unfriendly, and<br />

they mercilessly caned the students. For Gurcharan, life <strong>at</strong> home was not any different. The<br />

Japanese raided homes as they wished and took wh<strong>at</strong>ever they wanted and the locals were<br />

helpless to do anything about it. However, unlike the Indians and <strong>Sikhs</strong>, life was even more<br />

traum<strong>at</strong>ic for the Chinese. The Japanese were extremely brutal towards them. 2<br />

The turning point in Gurcharan’s life came when the Japanese left <strong>Singapore</strong> in 1945. A year<br />

l<strong>at</strong>er, he joined Saint <strong>And</strong>rew’s School. He felt extremely privileged to receive an educ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

from the school. The school’s principal and teachers left such a significant impression on him.<br />

He fondly talked about his former principal and mentor, Mr Canon R K Adams. “He became<br />

an excellent friend for every family in the school.” 3 He gave Gurcharan multiple leadership<br />

positions in the school, something of a rarity for non-Christians in the school <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> time.<br />

While the principal and teachers played a key role in Gurcharan’s life in school, his f<strong>at</strong>her made<br />

a significant impact on his life <strong>at</strong> home. He f<strong>at</strong>her was a disciplinarian and this, Gurcharan<br />

acknowledged, made him the man he is today. His childhood experiences during the pre-<br />


did not want to disappoint his f<strong>at</strong>her. Like many Sikh<br />

families, Gurcharan’s family viewed the job as one th<strong>at</strong><br />

provided stability, recognition and respect. In March<br />

1966, Gurcharan returned to <strong>Singapore</strong> from Kuala<br />

Lumpur and went for a series of recruitment tests. Three<br />

months l<strong>at</strong>er, he joined the <strong>Singapore</strong> Armed Forces<br />

(SAF) and it signalled the start of his contributions to<br />

the n<strong>at</strong>ion and the Sikh community.<br />

occup<strong>at</strong>ion period, during the war in <strong>Singapore</strong> and<br />

post-Japanese occup<strong>at</strong>ion era laid the found<strong>at</strong>ions for<br />

who he was going to become when he grew older.<br />

In 1959, Gurcharan succeeded in securing a place in the<br />

university in Kuala Lumpur. Following his gradu<strong>at</strong>ion with<br />

an engineering degree, he found a job and remained in<br />

the Malayan capital. Working with Gammons Hawaiian<br />

Dredging Pomeroy, life for Gurcharan was, once<br />

again, comfortable. He had a stable job and had little<br />

complaints about life. However, life was to change again<br />

for him.<br />

Gurcharan's f<strong>at</strong>her and then-Assistant Commissioner<br />

of Police Gurdial Singh rang and asked him to enter<br />

the uniformed services. He was reluctant <strong>at</strong> first but he<br />

At 29 years of age, Gurcharan was one of the most<br />

senior recruits when he joined the SAF while the<br />

majority of the recruits were only 18 or 19 years old.<br />

His seniority and educ<strong>at</strong>ional background made him<br />

the most obvious choice for group leader. He was a<br />

senior officer cadet. He eventually became a pl<strong>at</strong>oon<br />

commander. One of his key roles was getting meals for<br />

his pl<strong>at</strong>oon since he had access to his brother’s car from<br />

time to time. One meal contribution, he recalled, as a<br />

leader, was to buy 20 packets of char kway teow (fried<br />

fl<strong>at</strong> rice noodles) for his men. Such gestures helped him<br />

to gain the confidence of the men around him. It also<br />

marked the beginning of his contributions to the soldier<br />

fr<strong>at</strong>ernity and he saw them as an integral part of him. 4<br />

Gurcharan’s progress in the armed forces was nothing<br />

short of remarkable. When the <strong>Singapore</strong> Armed Forces<br />

Training Institute was set up in 1967 as the first military<br />

institute to train officers and and non-commissioned<br />

officers, an Engineer Training Wing was incorpor<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

into the plan. Together with another officer, Gurcharan,<br />

then a Second Lieutenant, was selected to <strong>at</strong>tend a<br />

basic engineer officer’s course in Fort Belvoir in Virginia,<br />

United St<strong>at</strong>es. Upon completion of the course, the two<br />

officers and the Commanding Officer, Major George<br />

Mitchell, conducted the first Engineer Commanders’<br />

Course in <strong>Singapore</strong> from April to August 1968. 5 These<br />

officers then formed the nucleus of the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Comb<strong>at</strong> Engineers. Gurcharan was instrumental in the<br />

birth of comb<strong>at</strong> engineering in the armed forces in<br />


“<br />

Gurcharan is a remarkable individual who distinguished himself in school,<br />

university and the SAF. In Saint <strong>And</strong>rew’s School, he excelled in academic studies,<br />

sports and student leadership. He represented the school in various sports and was<br />

selected for the combined schools team. He was even appointed as the School Captain.<br />

He continued to display his leadership qualities in university and was elected President<br />

of the Student’s Union.<br />

Gurcharan had a distinguished career in the SAF and was fondly referred to as the<br />

‘F<strong>at</strong>her of the Engineers’. Outside of the SAF, he excelled in sports, especially hockey,<br />

rugby and cricket. At the same time, he took on several leadership roles in the Sikh<br />

community. I am sure the Sikh community, Saint <strong>And</strong>rew’s alumni, the SAF and the<br />

sports fr<strong>at</strong>ernity are proud of his achievements.<br />

Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Eric Lim Teck Hock<br />

Former Chief Engineer Officer<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Armed Forces<br />

“<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>. He was a pioneer of the comb<strong>at</strong> engineers<br />

and he was a part of it until he left in 1984. He was<br />

also the first man from the first b<strong>at</strong>ch to command<br />

the Command Staff College as well as the first man to<br />

command the First Division from his b<strong>at</strong>ch. Gurcharan<br />

was one of three Sikh colonels in a group of only seven<br />

colonels in the armed forces – there were no generals <strong>at</strong><br />

th<strong>at</strong> point in time. Gurcharan was indeed able to make<br />

his mark in the uniformed group.<br />

Gurcharan’s contributions, however, were not just<br />

limited to the SAF. Having played cricket, rugby and<br />

hockey <strong>at</strong> the highest level, he took it upon himself to<br />

give back in a meaningful way to these sports. Realising<br />

th<strong>at</strong> these organis<strong>at</strong>ions were facing challenges since<br />

they were new, he felt th<strong>at</strong> he could best make a<br />

difference by taking on leadership positions in these<br />

sports. Gurcharan held the appointment of President<br />

of <strong>Singapore</strong> Rugby Associ<strong>at</strong>ion and <strong>Singapore</strong> Cricket<br />

Club. He was also the Vice President of the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Hockey Associ<strong>at</strong>ion. His involvement in the sporting<br />

arena saw Gurcharan becoming a member of the<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Sports Council, an achievement which he<br />

is extremely proud of. Gurcharan’s leadership traits,<br />

honed in the armed forces, played an important role in<br />

rejuven<strong>at</strong>ing these organis<strong>at</strong>ions.<br />

Gurcharan also played a pivotal role in the progress<br />

of the Sikh community. As the President of <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Khalsa Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (SKA), he was instrumental in raising<br />

its standard and range of activities for its members. Being<br />

a senior and respected member of the Sikh community,<br />

Gurcharan was asked to take charge of building the<br />

Central Sikh Temple. It was no easy task for several<br />

reasons. Firstly, it was earmarked to be built in a new<br />

loc<strong>at</strong>ion and, therefore, required significant funding.<br />

Furthermore, as the loc<strong>at</strong>ion was in a residential area<br />

and on a small plot of land, Gurcharan and his team<br />

had to overcome many obstacles to build this temple.<br />

They succeeded admirably. With the experience and<br />


knowledge gained from building the Central Sikh<br />

Temple, Gurcharan assisted in the building of the Sil<strong>at</strong><br />

Road Sikh Temple in Jalan Bukit Merah. He remarked: “I<br />

did wh<strong>at</strong>ever I could for the building of our temples. This<br />

was my n<strong>at</strong>ional service to the community and society.” 6<br />

Although Gurcharan is almost 80 years old today, he<br />

continues to lend his support to the Sikh community.<br />

He is currently a member of the SKA Board of Trustees.<br />

For Gurcharan, the <strong>Sikhs</strong> in <strong>Singapore</strong> are a dynamic,<br />

hardworking and reliable group. He feels th<strong>at</strong> they have<br />

excelled in everything they have set out to do. In the<br />

recent past, <strong>Sikhs</strong> have held many important positions<br />

in the fields of defence, medicine, academia, sports and<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion, among others. Sikh parents should continue<br />

to encourage their children to pursue careers in these<br />

fields. As such, parents need to support them in making<br />

life’s important decisions. At the same time, Gurcharan<br />

feels th<strong>at</strong> we need to ensure th<strong>at</strong> young <strong>Sikhs</strong> pick up<br />

the b<strong>at</strong>on from the senior members and they continue to<br />

serve the community. Only when we serve can we fully<br />

appreci<strong>at</strong>e the challenges we face and devise relevant<br />

pl<strong>at</strong>forms to address them so th<strong>at</strong> the Sikh community<br />

continues to remain a progressive, cohesive and united<br />

group.<br />

Gurcharan’s career p<strong>at</strong>h was, in a way, chosen for him<br />

by his f<strong>at</strong>her some <strong>50</strong> years ago. However, it turned<br />

out to be a life-changing one for him. Th<strong>at</strong> single most<br />

important decision has allowed him to make important<br />

leadership contributions to the Sikh community and<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> <strong>at</strong> the n<strong>at</strong>ional level. It has also allowed him<br />

to leave a permanent mark in the armed forces and on<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s n<strong>at</strong>ionhood.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Colonel (Retired) Gurcharan Singh Sekhon, August 1,<br />

2015.<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />

3<br />

Ibid.<br />

4<br />

Ibid.<br />

5<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Comb<strong>at</strong> Engineers, December 10, 2007.<br />

6<br />

Interview with Colonel (Retired) Gurcharan Singh Sekhon, op cit.<br />


Gurcharanjit<br />

Singh<br />

"<br />

T<br />

he brightest stars are those who shine for the benefit of others" – these words aptly describe<br />

the l<strong>at</strong>e Mr Gurcharanjit Singh. He was the star among his family and friends – a star th<strong>at</strong> shone<br />

bright!<br />

Gurcharanjit grew up in a multi-racial Housing Development Board est<strong>at</strong>e <strong>at</strong> Outram Park in the<br />

1970s. At th<strong>at</strong> time, the <strong>Singapore</strong> government’s promotion of racial harmony was in its infancy<br />

stage and had yet to make an impression on the people. However, to this child, the campaign<br />

was irrelevant as race and religion m<strong>at</strong>tered little to him in his daily interactions. He had friends<br />

from all creeds and cultures because, to him, everyone was equal, regardless of ethnicity or<br />

class. It was this belief th<strong>at</strong> ultim<strong>at</strong>ely fashioned the thinking and life of Gurcharanjit and<br />

which led him to spend much of his time in public and community service despite working in<br />

an extremely challenging legal profession and fulfilling his responsibilities to his beloved family.<br />

Gurcharanjit possessed wisdom far beyond his age, unlike young <strong>Singapore</strong>ans of his age. He<br />

actively particip<strong>at</strong>ed in many convers<strong>at</strong>ions focusing on socio-economic and political issues. This<br />

exposure to real world issues affecting <strong>Singapore</strong>ans expanded his knowledge and awareness,<br />

something th<strong>at</strong> would be extremely relevant l<strong>at</strong>er in his life. Significantly, it was these early<br />

convers<strong>at</strong>ions which planted the desire in Gurcharanjit to want to make a difference to the<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Sikh community and all <strong>Singapore</strong>ans.<br />

Gurcharanjit gradu<strong>at</strong>ed from the University of London and was called to the <strong>Singapore</strong> Bar as<br />

an Advoc<strong>at</strong>e and Solicitor in 1998. Viewed as an all-rounded lawyer, he was a consumm<strong>at</strong>e<br />

advoc<strong>at</strong>e with particular strengths in litig<strong>at</strong>ion and negoti<strong>at</strong>ions. He encapsul<strong>at</strong>ed the highest<br />

virtues of integrity and honesty expected of members of the Bar. In a tribute to the memory of<br />


Teik Soon, st<strong>at</strong>ed, Gurcharanjit was “his closest legal<br />

colleague and a dependable lawyer” 2 and one who was<br />

highly committed to the legal profession.<br />

Despite his hectic professional career, Gurcharanjit also<br />

found time to serve the Sikh community and the larger<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> community. To him, time was rel<strong>at</strong>ive to desire<br />

– if one had the desire to serve, one would find the time.<br />

Gurcharanjit was an extremely dedic<strong>at</strong>ed, committed<br />

and passion<strong>at</strong>e volunteer. Wh<strong>at</strong> distinguished him from<br />

those around him was his sociable and approachable<br />

n<strong>at</strong>ure, and his ability to rel<strong>at</strong>e to those around him.<br />

His best friend and fellow lawyer, Mr Jagjit Singh Gill,<br />

remarked th<strong>at</strong> Gurcharanjit “had the uncanny ability to<br />

connect with all kinds of people wh<strong>at</strong>ever their st<strong>at</strong>us,<br />

race, creed or background and it, therefore, came as no<br />

surprise th<strong>at</strong> he excelled in community work.” 3<br />

Gurcharanjit, his wife, Rajvant wrote: “He was always<br />

eager to share his ideas and plans and dispense words<br />

of advice. He was also not one to hold any punches. He<br />

was always frank, forthright and true to his beliefs. His<br />

presence was always felt when he was around and he<br />

invariably left his mark in everything he embarked on.” 1<br />

To Gurcharanjit, the well-being and interests of his<br />

clients were of paramount importance. He fought the<br />

cases of his clients with a gre<strong>at</strong> degree of passion and<br />

confidence. He respected every person whose case he<br />

advoc<strong>at</strong>ed. Although not every outcome was in his<br />

client’s favour, he derived gre<strong>at</strong> personal s<strong>at</strong>isfaction in<br />

doing his best for every case he undertook. The legal<br />

fr<strong>at</strong>ernity saw in Gurcharanjit all the gre<strong>at</strong> qualities<br />

of a gentleman and a lawyer. As his fellow partner in<br />

Lau & Gur, the law firm in which he practiced, Dr Lau<br />

Gurcharanjit’s involvement in grassroots activities saw<br />

him manage a range of portfolios over the years. These<br />

included being the Chairman of sub-committees under<br />

the Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council and the South<br />

West Community Development Council, Vice-Chairman<br />

of the Bukit Timah Community Club Management<br />

Committee, Chairman of the Community Emergency and<br />

Engagement Committee and Inter-Racial and Religious<br />

Confidence Circle, and Immedi<strong>at</strong>e Past Chairman of the<br />

Bukit Timah Zone 3 Residents’ Committee.<br />

As a grassroots volunteer, Gurcharanjit’s compassion<br />

and accommod<strong>at</strong>ing n<strong>at</strong>ure were readily apparent.<br />

Although he ended up with many people’s burdens on<br />

his shoulders, Gurcharanjit’s calming n<strong>at</strong>ure never failed<br />

to provide assurances and resolution to his constituents.<br />

Notwithstanding his heavy involvement in grassroots<br />

activities, Gurcharanjit always had the Sikh community’s<br />

welfare <strong>at</strong> heart. He envisioned Sikh youth contributing<br />

to the cohesion of the community and, consequently, to<br />


the fabric of <strong>Singapore</strong>. His engagement with the Sikh<br />

community saw him spending countless hours outside<br />

the office addressing the challenges and concerns of<br />

the Sikh community. His genuine desire to promote<br />

the welfare of the Sikh community led to his active<br />

involvement in the Sikh Advisory Board, the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Sikh Educ<strong>at</strong>ion Found<strong>at</strong>ion, the Sikh Welfare Council<br />

and Sri Guru Singh Sabha Youth Wing. As his wife aptly<br />

st<strong>at</strong>ed, Gurcharanjit just wanted to make life better for<br />

his community and the people around him. 4<br />

Gurcharanjit’s contribution to the Sikh youth of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> is best epitomised by his role as Advisor to<br />

Sri Guru Singh Sabha Youth Wing. He took particular<br />

pride in the success of the youth. He encouraged them<br />

to do their part for the community because he felt th<strong>at</strong><br />

the youth would benefit professionally and personally<br />

through such involvement. He believed th<strong>at</strong> they would<br />

become more enlightened, compassion<strong>at</strong>e and caring.<br />

With his active guidance and encouragement, the youth<br />

wing became a vibrant body which organised a range of<br />

activities to meet the needs of Sikh youth.<br />

Gurcharanjit’s relentless drive to fulfill his responsibilities<br />

in the different facets of his life was truly inspiring and<br />

outstanding. His selfless service and contributions to<br />

society were recognised when he became the youngestever<br />

recipient of the Bintang Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> (the<br />

Public Service Star). 5 He had earlier received the Ping<strong>at</strong><br />

Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> (the Public Service Medal). 6 Quite<br />

apart from the medals, the praiseworthy comments of<br />

his fellow grassroots members <strong>at</strong>tested to Gurcharanjit’s<br />

high level of rapport, harmony and fellowship with his<br />

fellow <strong>Singapore</strong>ans.<br />

Of all his achievements, Gurcharanjit’s gre<strong>at</strong>est pride<br />

and joy were his wife, his three children (Roshan, Livraaj<br />

and Jasreen) and his mother. He cared deeply about his<br />

mother who single-handedly raised his two brothers<br />

“<br />

Gurcharanjit was an active,<br />

enthusiastic and aspiring lawyer who<br />

would have achieved prominence in<br />

the legal profession. He was diligent<br />

and confident in the conduct of the<br />

cases and some judges knew him well<br />

– they conveyed to me commendable<br />

remarks about him.<br />

Aside from his professional<br />

occup<strong>at</strong>ion, Gurcharanjit contributed<br />

unselfishly to the welfare and wellbeing<br />

of <strong>Singapore</strong>ans and his<br />

exemplary role was recognised by<br />

the st<strong>at</strong>e. The legal professional has<br />

lost a valuable, balanced and stable<br />

member.<br />

“<br />

Dr Lau Teik Soon<br />

Former Partner<br />

Lau & Gur<br />

and him after his f<strong>at</strong>her passed away when he was just<br />

seven years old. His mother’s sacrifices in raising him<br />

motiv<strong>at</strong>ed him to excel in all he did. His wife was the<br />

pillar of strength in his life. Gurcharanjit courted Rajvant<br />

during their days in England when they were both<br />

law students. He relied heavily on Rajvant’s support in<br />

managing the home and raising the children because his<br />

involvement in grassroots activities saw him spending<br />

many hours away from the family. Notwithstanding his<br />

punishing schedule, Gurcharanjit always endeavoured<br />

to make time for his wife and his three children. They<br />

completed him.<br />

Gurcharanjit always possessed a desire to deepen<br />

his legal knowledge, resulting in his acceptance into<br />


the Master of Laws programme <strong>at</strong> the University of<br />

London. Gurcharanjit was to have commenced the<br />

course in October 2010. Perhaps f<strong>at</strong>e had other plans.<br />

On 3 October 2010, Gurcharanjit suddenly passed away<br />

from a heart <strong>at</strong>tack. The unanticip<strong>at</strong>ed demise of this<br />

committed, caring and loving husband, f<strong>at</strong>her and son,<br />

honest, helpful and hardworking lawyer, and passion<strong>at</strong>e<br />

and dedic<strong>at</strong>ed grassroots volunteer left everyone in a<br />

st<strong>at</strong>e of shock and sadness.<br />

Gurcharanjit may no longer be with us physically but<br />

his spirit and ideals continue to live in us. He taught<br />

everyone whose life he impacted th<strong>at</strong> the highest virtue<br />

was how one lead one’s life. Although his life may have<br />

been short, Gurcharanjit’s life was rich, full, respectable<br />

and impactful. 8 If Gurcharanjit were around us today,<br />

he would most likely say th<strong>at</strong> it was not the length<br />

of time he spent on Earth th<strong>at</strong> m<strong>at</strong>tered; r<strong>at</strong>her, it<br />

was how he lived th<strong>at</strong> counted. In the words of his<br />

family and friends: “His legacy [has been] defined by<br />

his actions th<strong>at</strong> will last for an eternity, where even<br />

words engraved in stone will fade away with time.” 8<br />

Gurcharanjit indeed left us a legacy – one th<strong>at</strong> will<br />

forever keep his memory alive.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Rajvant Kaur, In Memory of Gurcharanjit Singh s/o Dewan Singh (PBM)<br />

(BBM) 4 February 1969 – 3 October 2010, <strong>Singapore</strong> Law Gazette,<br />

February 23, 2011.<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />

3<br />

Ibid.<br />

4<br />

Interview with Ms Rajvant Kaur, August 12, 2015.<br />

5<br />

The Bintang Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> was instituted in 1963. It is awarded to<br />

any person who has rendered valuable public service to the people of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>; or who has distinguished himself or herself in the field of<br />

arts and letters, sports, the sciences, business, the professions and the<br />

labour movement. See http://www.pmo.gov.sg/n<strong>at</strong>ionaldayawards.<br />

6<br />

The Ping<strong>at</strong> Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> was instituted in 1973. The medal is<br />

awarded to any person who has rendered commendable public service<br />

in <strong>Singapore</strong> or for his or her achievement in the field of arts and<br />

letters, sports, the sciences, business, the professions and the labour<br />

movement. Ibid.<br />

7<br />

Rajvant Kaur, In Memory of Gurcharanjit Singh s/o Dewan Singh (PBM)<br />

(BBM), op. cit.<br />

8<br />

Ibid.<br />


Gurdip<br />

Singh Usma<br />

I<br />

magine navig<strong>at</strong>ing an entire 40-year career through <strong>Singapore</strong>’s developing business world<br />

without undergoing a job interview even once. Mr Gurdip Singh Usma has done just th<strong>at</strong> and<br />

this is perhaps one of the most compelling hints <strong>at</strong> his success as an accounting professional<br />

who made the switch to corpor<strong>at</strong>e management early in his career. This culmin<strong>at</strong>ed in a<br />

19-year stint as President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of <strong>Singapore</strong>-based manufacturing<br />

business, Crescendas MEC Group.<br />

One of five children of Punjabi migrants from Usma village close to Tarn Taran in Amritsar district,<br />

Gurdip arrived in <strong>Singapore</strong> in 1955 <strong>at</strong> the young age of six years. His f<strong>at</strong>her, Mr Boor Singh<br />

Usma, had become diss<strong>at</strong>isfied with the farming life after returning to India from <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

following the Second World War and the end of the Japanese occup<strong>at</strong>ion, and decided to make<br />

a home for his family in <strong>Singapore</strong>. He started a retail textile business serving primarily the<br />

Sikh community while holding down a night w<strong>at</strong>chman job <strong>at</strong> the Indian High Commission in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Educ<strong>at</strong>ed <strong>at</strong> the Anglo Chinese School, Gurdip obtained his Bachelor of Accountancy (Honours)<br />

from the University of <strong>Singapore</strong> in 1975. As luck would have it, he was among the first b<strong>at</strong>ch<br />

of GCE ‘A’ Level students to <strong>at</strong>tend n<strong>at</strong>ional service the year the rule on doing n<strong>at</strong>ional service<br />

before university educ<strong>at</strong>ion was implemented, which caused him to give up an Indian government<br />

medical scholarship in order to fulfill his oblig<strong>at</strong>ions to his country. While the opportunity to<br />

pursue a medical career was lost, the door to the professions in <strong>Singapore</strong>’s corpor<strong>at</strong>e world<br />

opened. Gurdip was handpicked by Arthur <strong>And</strong>ersen & Co while he was still in university and he<br />

worked with the global accounting firm for five years before being enticed away by his client,<br />

Molex <strong>Singapore</strong>, one of the largest connector companies in the world.<br />


in Illinois. He gained recognition for the successful<br />

implement<strong>at</strong>ion of this project through two special<br />

awards from the company before returning to <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

as Regional Finance Director for the Far East region. In<br />

1990, he moved to Bangkok to head the company’s<br />

Thailand oper<strong>at</strong>ions for two years, bagging three<br />

company-wide ‘Best in Class’ awards for highest sales,<br />

profitability growth and entity of the year.<br />

When Molex partnered a local company to set up<br />

a cable assembly manufacturing business in 1992,<br />

Gurdip seized the offer to become a partner and head<br />

the joint venture. Over the next 19 years, he steered<br />

Crescendas MEC Group (previously MEC Intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

Group) through periods of growth as well as a couple<br />

of financial crises until the successful business was<br />

sold to a <strong>Singapore</strong> Exchange-listed company for an<br />

undisclosed sum in 2011.<br />

After just a year <strong>at</strong> Molex as financial controller, Gurdip<br />

was promoted to Assistant General Manager and Head<br />

of Manufacturing Oper<strong>at</strong>ions in 1981. For the first time,<br />

he found himself in a challenging position – a newlyminted<br />

senior manager in his early thirties in charge of<br />

subordin<strong>at</strong>es who were highly-trained engineers much<br />

older than him. Earning their respect and learning<br />

how to lead them required perseverance, confidence<br />

and fortitude. A six-month oper<strong>at</strong>ions training stint in<br />

Japan also provided a good found<strong>at</strong>ional ‘crash course’<br />

to equip Gurdip with the necessary know-how on the<br />

internal workings of the industry and the company.<br />

Intern<strong>at</strong>ional travel became a mainstay of Gurdip’s work<br />

life. In 1986, he was posted to the United St<strong>at</strong>es for<br />

two years to develop and install a worldwide standard<br />

costing system for Molex, whose head office is situ<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

As a producer of wire harnesses, cables and other valueadded<br />

assemblies, Crescendas MEC Group served a<br />

clientele th<strong>at</strong> consisted mainly of well-known American,<br />

Japanese, European and regional multin<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

consumer electronic end-product manufacturers of<br />

televisions, radios, computers, video recorders, printers<br />

and disk drives, among others. Under his leadership,<br />

Crescendas MEC Group won the Enterprise <strong>50</strong> Award<br />

for five consecutive years from 1998 to 2002. The Award<br />

recognises the <strong>50</strong> most successful priv<strong>at</strong>e companies<br />

based in <strong>Singapore</strong>. Gurdip l<strong>at</strong>er served as Vice President<br />

of the E-<strong>50</strong> Club from 2005 to 2007 and 2009 to 2013.<br />

At its peak in the l<strong>at</strong>e 1990s to early 2000s, Crescendas<br />

MEC Group had a total workforce of 1,400 employees<br />

and sub-contractors across <strong>Singapore</strong>, Malaysia,<br />

Indonesia and China, and was considered one of the<br />

largest harness and cable manufacturers in the country.<br />

As labour costs in <strong>Singapore</strong> escal<strong>at</strong>ed and Crescendas<br />

MEC Group’s customers began migr<strong>at</strong>ing to lower cost<br />


“<br />

I have known Gurdip since 1991.<br />

Through the years, he has been a<br />

good colleague and close friend. A<br />

very knowledgeable person, Gurdip<br />

is analytical and resourceful and<br />

can always be counted on to come<br />

up with good solutions to almost<br />

every problem. He is like a walking<br />

encyclopaedia th<strong>at</strong> can add value to<br />

any organis<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Mr Lawrence Leow<br />

Executive Chairman<br />

Crescendas Group<br />

“<br />

countries in the region, the company also made the<br />

decision to venture into these previously-unexplored<br />

markets and set up oper<strong>at</strong>ions there under Gurdip’s<br />

leadership, thus ensuring its survival. Gurdip says th<strong>at</strong>,<br />

although it was a tough decision to shut down the<br />

company’s plant in China just prior to the 2008 global<br />

financial crisis, he believes it was the right decision as it<br />

helped the company stay on track to continue delivering<br />

profits and improving efficiencies.<br />

He believes th<strong>at</strong> having the ability to be nimble, knowing<br />

one’s customers well and being able to respond to<br />

their needs are important values th<strong>at</strong> have served him<br />

well as a business leader. In addition, he places gre<strong>at</strong><br />

emphasis on using autom<strong>at</strong>ion and computeris<strong>at</strong>ion to<br />

provide accuracy, reduce manpower and to ultim<strong>at</strong>ely<br />

help make good business decisions. For instance, as<br />

one of the first small-to-medium-sized companies<br />

in <strong>Singapore</strong> to install the Systems Applic<strong>at</strong>ions and<br />

Products in D<strong>at</strong>a Processing (SAP), a fully integr<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

enterprise resource planning system, Crescendas MEC<br />

Group was recognised on SAP’s website as a model<br />

case study in successful implement<strong>at</strong>ion and was also<br />

the subject of a Channel NewsAsia fe<strong>at</strong>ure on the topic.<br />

Since his retirement from full-time work in 2011, Gurdip<br />

has served as an adjunct faculty member <strong>at</strong> the School<br />

of Accountancy in <strong>Singapore</strong> Management University.<br />

He teaches Corpor<strong>at</strong>e Financial Management to finalyear<br />

students using case studies from his real-life<br />

corpor<strong>at</strong>e exposure. His course is popular with students<br />

and is almost full every semester.<br />

If he has any regrets, it is th<strong>at</strong> he missed out on a lot<br />

of time with his wife and three children during his busy<br />

years. The travel demands of his job and his reticence to<br />

uproot and disrupt his children’s educ<strong>at</strong>ion meant th<strong>at</strong><br />

he could only make fortnightly or monthly trips home<br />

from the United St<strong>at</strong>es and Thailand. He says: “I am<br />

indebted to my wife, Amreet, for taking care of the kids<br />

alone during all these periods.” 1<br />

In addition to his corpor<strong>at</strong>e roles, Gurdip is active in<br />

the community. He is currently Chairman of the Board<br />


of Trustees <strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong> Khalsa Associ<strong>at</strong>ion and Vice<br />

President of the Central Sikh Gurdwara Board. In mid-<br />

2015, Gurdip was elected as Chairman of the Sikh<br />

Welfare Council. He chaired the World Schools Deb<strong>at</strong>ing<br />

Championship in <strong>Singapore</strong> in 2002, when it was held<br />

in Asia for the first time. He was the founding Chairman<br />

of S-League team, Clementi Khalsa Football Club. He<br />

is a former Vice President of the Malaysia <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

<strong>Sikhs</strong> Sports Council and started the Asia Pacific Sikh<br />

Golf Championship in 1998, which continues to run<br />

biennially. He was Chairman of Sil<strong>at</strong> Road Sikh Temple<br />

from 2005 to 2011 and Chairman of the Sikh Centre<br />

from 2011 to 2015.<br />

Gurdip is heartened by the increasing number of<br />

<strong>Sikhs</strong> entering the commercial sector in <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

today. “There were very few locally-trained accounting<br />

professionals in <strong>Singapore</strong> <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> time. I was probably<br />

one of the first <strong>Sikhs</strong> to be the CEO of a multin<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

in <strong>Singapore</strong>. Now you see a number of <strong>Sikhs</strong> in top<br />

positions and they have started to shine.” 2 He hopes<br />

they too will make a strong imprint on <strong>Singapore</strong>’s<br />

n<strong>at</strong>ional landscape.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Mr Gurdip Singh Usma, June 17, 2015.<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />


Gurinder<br />

Singh Shahi<br />

A "<br />

re you a rebel rouser? Are you one who wants to change the world and make it a better place?<br />

If you are, then this fellowship is for you.” Th<strong>at</strong> poster of the Warren Weaver Fellowship <strong>at</strong> the<br />

Rockefeller Found<strong>at</strong>ion caught the <strong>at</strong>tention of Dr Gurinder Singh Shahi as he strolled down<br />

the hallway of Harvard University. This was during an academic year for his Master’s degree<br />

in Public Health, Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Health Policy and Management. The Rockefeller Found<strong>at</strong>ion is<br />

a scientific community th<strong>at</strong> promotes the well being of humanity around the world and the<br />

Warren Weaver Fellows Program comprises extremely talented individuals who have contributed<br />

fresh perspectives on the Found<strong>at</strong>ions’ work in specific programme areas and they are given full<br />

support to carry out any scientific project of their choice, which would be a service to mankind<br />

and the environment.<br />

Gurinder is the eldest child in the family, with a younger brother and sister. Having spent the first<br />

10 years of his life in Orchard Road, where his p<strong>at</strong>ernal grandf<strong>at</strong>her had a shop-house, Gurinder<br />

and his younger brother would get up to mischief with the neighborhood children, running<br />

around rampant through the flood prone streets. “We were basically street urchins”, described<br />

Gurinder, with a slightly mischievous glint in his eyes, of him and his brother, Maninder. 1<br />

Having gradu<strong>at</strong>ed as a medical doctor from the N<strong>at</strong>ional University of <strong>Singapore</strong> (NUS) in 1984,<br />

Gurinder joined the teaching faculty there. Three years l<strong>at</strong>er, he embarked on his part-time<br />

Doctor<strong>at</strong>e in Molecular Biochemistry and Biotechnology, which he completed impressively in<br />

two years. It was about this time th<strong>at</strong> he had the honorable opportunity to work with the<br />

former Dean of the School of Law in NUS, intern<strong>at</strong>ional lawyer and Ambassador-<strong>at</strong>-Large <strong>at</strong><br />

the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Professor Tommy Koh. Professor Koh was the President of the<br />

Third United N<strong>at</strong>ions Conference of the Law of the Sea and his work in studying the peaceful<br />


including the impact of human encroachment on the<br />

local flaura and fauna in the Himalayas. “We used to<br />

pretend th<strong>at</strong> our actions were so insignificant th<strong>at</strong> no<br />

m<strong>at</strong>ter how badly we mismanaged things, the earth was<br />

strong enough to recover from the damage we cre<strong>at</strong>ed.<br />

However, evidence now suggests th<strong>at</strong> is not true and<br />

we have been destroying the environment and, in some<br />

instances, irreversibly.” 2<br />

use of the seabed and the ocean floor piqued Gurinder’s<br />

interest in environmental issues.<br />

Gurinder decided to undertake his Master in Public<br />

Health <strong>at</strong> Harvard University – a decision his peers could<br />

not f<strong>at</strong>hom as it was, by and large, an uncommon area<br />

of study. After successfully completing his Masters in<br />

Public Health, Gurinder applied for the Warren Weaver<br />

Fellowship <strong>at</strong> the Rockefeller Found<strong>at</strong>ion. In spite of<br />

being among <strong>50</strong>0 applicants, Gurinder was one of the<br />

chosen five. All of them had different backgrounds and<br />

experiences ranging from finance to public health. With<br />

his experience as a medical doctor and a background in<br />

public health, Gurinder was placed in the global health<br />

division as well as the global environment division<br />

where he worked on a myriad of research projects,<br />

The global health division <strong>at</strong> the Rockefeller Found<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

was keen on tackling healthcare challenges in<br />

developing countries. The initi<strong>at</strong>ive it had was<br />

developing public health schools without walls. The<br />

idea was to train medical personnel working in the<br />

field on the principles of public health and to provide<br />

them with the necessary skills and educ<strong>at</strong>ion needed<br />

to address challenges in their respective countries th<strong>at</strong><br />

were largely less developed. Despite being <strong>at</strong> a tender<br />

young age of 30, Gurinder was instrumental in cre<strong>at</strong>ing<br />

a curriculum and game plans for this initi<strong>at</strong>ive. “There<br />

was a lot of fun doing th<strong>at</strong> as I had the opportunity<br />

to share my knowledge and exchange valuable ideas<br />

with these bright people who would, in the future, bring<br />

about change for the welfare of their environment. In<br />

a way we were grooming classes of activists for social<br />

and environmental change.” 3 He then embarked on this<br />

long road to apply his in-depth scientific knowledge to<br />

the service of all.<br />

In 1993, after successfully completing his fellowship <strong>at</strong><br />

the Rockefeller Found<strong>at</strong>ion, with exemplary standards,<br />

Gurinder was invited to join the Division for Global<br />

and Inter-Regional Programmes <strong>at</strong> the United N<strong>at</strong>ions<br />

Development Programme (UNDP). He spent two years in<br />

New York, where he ran various projects in partnership<br />

with the World Bank and the World Health Organiz<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

(WHO). He worked with consult<strong>at</strong>ive groups to produce<br />

solutions for pressing issues occurring in underdeveloped<br />

countries, ranging from global agricultural challenges,<br />


“<br />

Gurinder always had a deep interest in intern<strong>at</strong>ional developments and health.<br />

He decided to travel on the public health terrain <strong>at</strong> a time when there was rel<strong>at</strong>ively<br />

little interest in the area. He was indeed a rebel rouser who wanted the world to be a<br />

better place. In doing so, Gurinder’s labour of love proved to a massive success and<br />

enabled <strong>Singapore</strong> to become a leading regional and global player in the public health,<br />

molecular biology and biological sciences arenas.<br />

Gurinder has played a key role in the development of several major intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

initi<strong>at</strong>ives, and served as advisor and consultant to leading intern<strong>at</strong>ional organis<strong>at</strong>ions,<br />

governments, corpor<strong>at</strong>ions and found<strong>at</strong>ions in such areas as healthcare, life science<br />

technology innov<strong>at</strong>ion and commercialis<strong>at</strong>ion management, and biotech industry<br />

development. He has also been actively involved in oper<strong>at</strong>ionalising and providing<br />

str<strong>at</strong>egic and management inputs to a range of entrepreneurial enterprises.<br />

Amongst other portfolios, Gurinder is an extraordinary teacher who brings a special<br />

passion and unique insight into his classroom. He has changed the way many view the<br />

world and global health.<br />

“<br />

Associ<strong>at</strong>e Professor Shabbir M Moochhala<br />

Distinguish Member of the Technical Staff<br />

Defence Medical & Environmental Research Institute & DSO N<strong>at</strong>ional Labor<strong>at</strong>ories<br />

and w<strong>at</strong>er and sanit<strong>at</strong>ion issues to children survival and<br />

development. His face beaming with delight, Gurinder<br />

remarked: “There would normally not be opportunities<br />

to do something like this and I was extremely excited to<br />

be given the chance to work on these projects.” 4<br />

While working with the United N<strong>at</strong>ions, a portfolio<br />

was cre<strong>at</strong>ed for him to spearhead the Sustainable<br />

Health Development Division. He was tasked to join<br />

a group th<strong>at</strong> was setting up a new global institution<br />

in South Korea called the Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Vaccine<br />

Institute (IVI). It is dedic<strong>at</strong>ed to the development<br />

of vaccines for diseases in developing countries.<br />

Gurinder spent three years in South Korea playing<br />

a key development role for the institution. He was<br />

responsible for overseeing the build up of overseas<br />

partnership links between the IVI and leading centres<br />

of excellence in Asia. Today, the IVI has grown to<br />

become a 200-person strong non-profit organis<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Gurinder was then invited by several Japanese and<br />

Korean scientists to assist them in setting up another<br />

medical organis<strong>at</strong>ion in <strong>Singapore</strong>, the Intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

Molecular Biology Network of Asia and the Pacific<br />

Rim. It is an organis<strong>at</strong>ion dedic<strong>at</strong>ed to promoting the<br />

development of molecular biology and biotechnology<br />

in Asia and the Pacific region. It comprises Asian and<br />

Asian-Pacific member countries, with <strong>Singapore</strong> being<br />

one of them. The initi<strong>at</strong>ive allowed for the explor<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s growth potential in the molecular biology<br />


marketplace. Although <strong>Singapore</strong> was fast becoming<br />

the leading light in the medical arena, Gurinder insisted<br />

th<strong>at</strong> it was crucial, <strong>at</strong> the same time, to be aware of<br />

relevant developments regionally and globally. At<br />

A-IMBN, Gurinder worked very closely with regional<br />

countries in developing their biotechnology industry<br />

and this has shown significant results, with countries<br />

like India, South Korea and Japan currently being the<br />

leading Asian players in this field, and China being the<br />

leading manufacturer of biotechnology.<br />

and biotechnology arena. Gurinder was appointed as<br />

Executive Director of the Asia Pacific Intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

Molecular Biology Network (A-IMBN). He worked closely<br />

with the European Molecular Biology Organiz<strong>at</strong>ion and<br />

with regional scientists, governments and priv<strong>at</strong>e-sector<br />

partners. This paved the way to further develop the<br />

molecular biology and biotechnology infrastructure in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>. A priority needs assessment committee was<br />

established to identify top concerns of each country<br />

and areas of weakness th<strong>at</strong> needed to be resolved.<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> was part of this committee and Gurinder was<br />

the represent<strong>at</strong>ive in developing the best str<strong>at</strong>egies in<br />

improving the biotechnology industry in <strong>Singapore</strong> and<br />

around Asia and Pacific region.<br />

Concurrently, Gurinder worked as a principal consultant<br />

with Coopers & Lybrand (now PriceW<strong>at</strong>erhouseCoopers),<br />

a multi-professional organis<strong>at</strong>ion, in coordin<strong>at</strong>ing new<br />

vaccine introduction in <strong>Singapore</strong> and Asian countries<br />

as well as assisting local and regional companies<br />

to launch their technologies and products into the<br />

marketplace. This allowed <strong>Singapore</strong> based companies<br />

to <strong>at</strong>tain a significant standing in the biotechnological<br />

As a result of Gurinder being the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

represent<strong>at</strong>ive, the substantial growth of these countries<br />

proved to be beneficial to <strong>Singapore</strong> with considerable<br />

resources being available to the tiny n<strong>at</strong>ion through<br />

transn<strong>at</strong>ional collabor<strong>at</strong>ions in research conducted in<br />

this field. These collabor<strong>at</strong>ive efforts further c<strong>at</strong>apulted<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> onto the global map.<br />

Locally, Gurinder has been an adjunct faculty <strong>at</strong><br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Management University since 2004. He was<br />

part of a committee th<strong>at</strong> developed the curriculum and<br />

subsequently taught the course on 'Technology and<br />

World Change' <strong>at</strong> the university.<br />

Gurinder always had a deep interest in intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

developments and health. He decided to travel on the<br />

public health terrain <strong>at</strong> a time when there was rel<strong>at</strong>ively<br />

little interest in the area. He was indeed a rebel rouser<br />

who wanted the world to be a better place. In doing so,<br />

Gurinder's labour of love proved to be a massive success<br />

and enabled <strong>Singapore</strong> to become a leading regional<br />

and global player in the public health, molecular biology<br />

and biological sciences arenas.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Dr Gurinder Singh Shahi, August 29, 2015.<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />

3<br />

Ibid.<br />

4<br />

Ibid.<br />


Harbans<br />

Singh<br />

I<br />

t is very difficult to get Mr Harbans Singh PS to say much about his personal contributions to the<br />

Inter-Religious Organis<strong>at</strong>ion (IRO). This is largely due to the fact th<strong>at</strong> he prefers to speak about<br />

the organis<strong>at</strong>ion and its values and significance. Immedi<strong>at</strong>ely, one can begin to see th<strong>at</strong> this man<br />

lives and bre<strong>at</strong>hes the IRO. Ultim<strong>at</strong>ely, it does not really m<strong>at</strong>ter th<strong>at</strong> he does not say much about<br />

his own efforts and achievements because they are slowly revealed without him having to do so.<br />

When Harbans was approached for an interview for this article, he suggested th<strong>at</strong> it take place<br />

<strong>at</strong> Ba-Alwie Mosque on Lewis Road. One would immedi<strong>at</strong>ely be puzzled with this suggestion<br />

since the interview is with a Sikh represent<strong>at</strong>ive for a book about the Sikh community. The<br />

second surprise came when he proposed th<strong>at</strong> it take place over lunch <strong>at</strong> the mosque. The reason<br />

became quite apparent soon after. The Imam of the mosque, Imam Habib Syed Hassan Al<strong>at</strong>ttas,<br />

is Harbans’ dear friend. This was to be the first inkling th<strong>at</strong> the presidency of the IRO was much<br />

more than just a post for this man. It actually is a way of life. The interview was peppered<br />

with anecdotes from the Imam on Harbans’ invaluable contributions to the organis<strong>at</strong>ion and<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

The 86-year old, who has stepped down as President of the IRO, is still very much an indispensable<br />

member of the organis<strong>at</strong>ion. The veteran member of the non-government organis<strong>at</strong>ion is still held<br />

in high regard by his colleagues. As the Imam alluded to, Harbans has the ability to bring people<br />

together. In an organis<strong>at</strong>ion such as the IRO, where there are represent<strong>at</strong>ives from so many<br />

different groups, much of their undertakings are based on consensus, which does not always<br />

autom<strong>at</strong>ically occur. Harbans’ biggest contribution to the IRO is his p<strong>at</strong>ience and his ability to<br />

be a unifying factor. There are “many different groups with different thinking. If someone goes<br />

astray, he puts th<strong>at</strong> person straight. Other people are afraid to speak but he is direct.” 1<br />


fanfare. According to the Imam, “Harbans just does<br />

work quietly…but the results speak for themselves.” 2<br />

Apart from conducting prayers and blessings, one of<br />

the main activities Harbans is involved in is giving talks<br />

on the Sikh faith as well as religion in general. The<br />

motiv<strong>at</strong>ion for this is based on his personal ambition to<br />

ensure th<strong>at</strong> people understand Sikhism.<br />

Even today, Harbans continues to be active in the<br />

IRO. He is the Chairman of the Prayer and Blessing<br />

Committee. It comprises a team of religious leaders<br />

th<strong>at</strong> conducts prayers and gives blessings <strong>at</strong> important<br />

events. These prayers are requested by various<br />

organis<strong>at</strong>ions for a variety of purposes, ranging from<br />

the exhum<strong>at</strong>ions <strong>at</strong> Bukit Brown to the F1 Grand Prix<br />

races. The religious leaders pray for safety, humanity and<br />

concerns of individuals who work in these places. These<br />

sessions are not directly for religious concerns or for any<br />

commercial purpose. Harbans is easily recognisable from<br />

photographs of inter-faith leaders conducting prayers<br />

<strong>at</strong> significant events th<strong>at</strong> occasionally appear in the<br />

newspaper. However, there is also an equal chance th<strong>at</strong><br />

you will not recognise him because this prolific religious<br />

leader is so humble and self-deprec<strong>at</strong>ing th<strong>at</strong> he seems<br />

to prefer working behind the scenes without much<br />

During the interview, Harbans showed a photograph<br />

of him smartly dressed and se<strong>at</strong>ed on a train with an<br />

'Assisi 2002' pin smartly pinned to his blazer. He then<br />

excitedly explained th<strong>at</strong> this photograph was taken on<br />

the train in the V<strong>at</strong>ican City and the Pope was on board<br />

as well. Wh<strong>at</strong> he failed to mention until further prodding<br />

was th<strong>at</strong> represent<strong>at</strong>ives from the V<strong>at</strong>ican had actually<br />

reached out to the IRO and sent a personal invit<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

in Harbans’ name. When prompted, he revealed th<strong>at</strong> a<br />

represent<strong>at</strong>ive from the V<strong>at</strong>ican had heard him speak<br />

<strong>at</strong> another interfaith event in Taiwan some time earlier.<br />

Impressed and in agreement with the values and ideas<br />

th<strong>at</strong> Harbans expressed while conducting his seminar, a<br />

personal invit<strong>at</strong>ion was sent to him to be part of the Day<br />

of Prayer for Peace in the World held in Assisi in 2002.<br />

Such is the extent of the recognition he has received in<br />

his field of work. 3<br />

The found<strong>at</strong>ion for Harbans’ <strong>at</strong>titude towards religion<br />

and how one’s faith in his own religion could be<br />

strengthened by respecting and co-existing with the faith<br />

of other religions was laid early in his childhood through<br />

people with “strong characters” who had a significant<br />

influence on him. Harbans was born in Perak in 1930<br />

and spent his early years in Malaysia. At the T<strong>at</strong>t Khalsa<br />

School in Kuala Lumpur, he had a teacher who cre<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

a lasting impression on him and whom he says made<br />

him the person th<strong>at</strong> he is today – humble but spirited.<br />

He would have continued to have a Punjabi medium<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion if not for the disruption to his educ<strong>at</strong>ion by the<br />

Japanese occup<strong>at</strong>ion. After the war, Harbans restarted<br />


“<br />

Harbans is an amazing gentleman who is truly likeable, p<strong>at</strong>ient and yet<br />

firm. A n<strong>at</strong>ural leader who leads from the back, he is never wasteful with words or<br />

emotions. His vast array of life exposure and experience, along with his conviction and<br />

commitment to social causes, has benefitted both the Sikh community in particular<br />

and society in general. He has travelled widely to particip<strong>at</strong>e in intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

conferences and present on Sikhism and inter-faith activities in <strong>Singapore</strong>, Asia,<br />

Europe and the United St<strong>at</strong>es.<br />

Despite his age, Harbans still serves society actively and tirelessly, and with gre<strong>at</strong><br />

spirit, including the Inter-Religious Organis<strong>at</strong>ion. He is highly respected by the<br />

Muslim community and the other faiths in <strong>Singapore</strong>. His values and qualities are<br />

admirable, and he is clearly a unique role model for the next gener<strong>at</strong>ion in more ways<br />

than one.<br />

“<br />

Mr Syed Hassan Al<strong>at</strong>tas<br />

Imam and Head<br />

Ba’alwie Mosque, <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

his educ<strong>at</strong>ion <strong>at</strong> a Methodist institution, which was the<br />

equivalent of the Anglo Chinese School in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Harbans was an over-aged pupil and, despite winning<br />

the science prize <strong>at</strong> school, his form teacher decreed th<strong>at</strong><br />

he should read Bible studies. Although, <strong>at</strong> the time, he<br />

may not have fully appreci<strong>at</strong>ed wh<strong>at</strong> he was doing, this<br />

was an unintentional boon for him. Now, as a member<br />

of the IRO, he is able to not only discourse on Sikhism,<br />

but also see parallels between Sikhism and Christianity.<br />

According to him, the Maryada, which is the Code<br />

of Conduct for the <strong>Sikhs</strong>, st<strong>at</strong>es th<strong>at</strong> one must know<br />

enough about other religions before one can critique or<br />

appraise them. 4<br />

Harbans is well grounded in the principles he preaches<br />

and constantly uses his own life as an example of how<br />

learning about other religions only brings good things.<br />

Having studied in Methodist schools in his youth, he<br />

came to see th<strong>at</strong> religion is only about one thing – being<br />

good generally. He explained time and time again th<strong>at</strong><br />

the IRO and the activities it carries out are one way of<br />

allowing people to understand the values and teachings<br />

of each religion so th<strong>at</strong> “we can understand them and<br />

they can understand us.” 5<br />

On a basic level, Harbans’ embodiment of mutual<br />

understanding, trust and friendship between two<br />

different religious factions is apparent from the<br />

sentiments and anecdotes th<strong>at</strong> the Imam and Harbans<br />

express about each other. With utter sincerity, Harbans<br />

highlighted the recognition received by the Imam <strong>at</strong> the<br />

N<strong>at</strong>ional Day awards this year. However, he did not even<br />

once bother to draw a parallel of any kind and st<strong>at</strong>e th<strong>at</strong><br />

the PBM <strong>at</strong> the end of his name on his name card stood<br />

for Ping<strong>at</strong> Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> (Public Service Star). 6 On the<br />

other hand, the Imam continued to stress on Harbans’<br />

important contributions to society and the IRO. Despite<br />

the immense hospitality and helpfulness of the Imam<br />


throughout the dur<strong>at</strong>ion of my visit to the mosque, the<br />

extent of Harbans’ rel<strong>at</strong>ionship with the Imam became<br />

most apparent only after lunch when Harbans, in his<br />

typical underst<strong>at</strong>ed fashion, casually mentioned to me<br />

th<strong>at</strong> I was probably the first woman who has ever had<br />

lunch in the Imam’s priv<strong>at</strong>e room where he lunches with<br />

a carefully cur<strong>at</strong>ed set of his friends. Only then did the<br />

extent of their friendship hit home for me. It also was<br />

perhaps a reflection of the ease with which Harbans<br />

is able to rel<strong>at</strong>e to the different groups of people in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>. He tre<strong>at</strong>s everyone equally.<br />

Harbans has truly found his calling with the IRO. It<br />

gave him the opportunity to speak about Sikh values<br />

on a n<strong>at</strong>ional and intern<strong>at</strong>ional pl<strong>at</strong>form and share the<br />

beauty and peace of Sikhism. This year, the 66th IRO<br />

Day was held in the Istana for the very first time, in<br />

conjunction with <strong>Singapore</strong>’s <strong>50</strong>th birthday. <strong>Singapore</strong>’s<br />

Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, <strong>at</strong>tended the event.<br />

During his address, the Prime Minister st<strong>at</strong>ed: “The IRO<br />

symbolises the ideal of religious harmony”. 7 The same<br />

certainly applies to Harbans.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Imam Habib Syed Hassan Al<strong>at</strong>tas, August 19, 2015.<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />

3<br />

Interview with Mr Harbans Singh, August 19, 2015.<br />

4<br />

Ibid.<br />

5<br />

Ibid.<br />

6<br />

The Ping<strong>at</strong> Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> was instituted in 1973. It is awarded to<br />

any person who has rendered valuable public service to the people of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>; or who has distinguished himself or herself in the field of<br />

arts and letters, sports, the sciences, business, the professions and the<br />

labour movement. See http://www.pmo.gov.sg/n<strong>at</strong>ionaldayawards.<br />

7<br />

Transcript of Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong <strong>at</strong> the 66th<br />

Anniversary of Inter-Religious Organis<strong>at</strong>ion on 12 May 2015 <strong>at</strong> the<br />

Istana. See http://www.pmo.gov.sg/mediacentre/.<br />


Harbhajan<br />

Singh<br />

W<br />

h<strong>at</strong> will you do when you are suddenly faced with the scary unknown – a faceless fiend th<strong>at</strong><br />

seems to be devouring all in its p<strong>at</strong>h? Will you stay and fight or flee? Well, if you are Mr<br />

Harbhajan Singh, you will dig in deep, system<strong>at</strong>ically fend off and tackle the onslaught as it<br />

comes to pass minute-by-minute, hour-by-hour and day-by-day. You will emerge a hero and find<br />

your rightful place as an important contributor to <strong>Singapore</strong>’s n<strong>at</strong>ional cause.<br />

Nearly all of <strong>Singapore</strong> will remember the scourge of the Severe Acute Respir<strong>at</strong>ory Syndrome<br />

(SARS) th<strong>at</strong> befell it in 2003. However, not many were placed in the position th<strong>at</strong> Harbhajan<br />

found himself in – right on the frontlines of the b<strong>at</strong>tle against the deadly disease. As the unit<br />

nurse manager <strong>at</strong> the Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC), Harbhajan suddenly found the<br />

small old building crowded with p<strong>at</strong>ients. As the CDC did not have the facilities of a major<br />

hospital, one considerable difficulty was cre<strong>at</strong>ing as many isol<strong>at</strong>ion beds as possible. Despite the<br />

fact th<strong>at</strong> p<strong>at</strong>ients were flowing in <strong>at</strong> alarming r<strong>at</strong>es, 1 <strong>at</strong> the height of the epidemic “within two<br />

hours 100 p<strong>at</strong>ients [could] come in,” the staff had to ensure th<strong>at</strong> they kept the probable cases<br />

separ<strong>at</strong>e from those merely suspected of having the disease. To this end, Harbhajan recalls how<br />

his team methodically cre<strong>at</strong>ed more wards by quickly refurbishing disused wards, converting<br />

facility rooms into wards, emptying existing wards of p<strong>at</strong>ients who were ill but could afford<br />

to go home and then finally bringing in container wards – the l<strong>at</strong>ter adding approxim<strong>at</strong>ely 90<br />

additional rooms.<br />

To discuss those days now with the benefit of hindsight and the comfort of knowing th<strong>at</strong><br />

th<strong>at</strong> storm has been we<strong>at</strong>hered belies the arduous times those actually were. Recounting how<br />

challenging th<strong>at</strong> period was, Harbhajan explains th<strong>at</strong>, as the unit manager, he had to play<br />

a dual role of nursing manager (looking after the welfare of the nurses under his authority)<br />


written about him and several accolades to his name. As<br />

Harbhajan started telling his story, it became evident th<strong>at</strong><br />

he takes much pride in his job and is very appreci<strong>at</strong>ive<br />

of all the recognition he has received. Yet ironically,<br />

Harbhajan initially seemed reluctant to talk about the<br />

SARS period because, as far as he is concerned, he was<br />

just doing his job. This response is not too puzzling when<br />

one realises th<strong>at</strong> it is characteristic of the man who does<br />

not dwell on the past but r<strong>at</strong>her looks forward to the<br />

future. He is always hungry for a challenge.<br />

and an oper<strong>at</strong>ions manager (being responsible for<br />

the facilities in the hospital). Apart from handling the<br />

burgeoning number of p<strong>at</strong>ients, there were also issues<br />

to be dealt with amongst the healthcare professionals.<br />

In addition to this b<strong>at</strong>tle on the inside, Harbhajan recalls<br />

how, in the early days, public bus drivers did not want<br />

to take those in hospital uniforms on board and how<br />

taxi drivers refused to go to the hospital. The danger<br />

was real – 33 individuals, including two doctors and<br />

a nurse, 2 contracted the disease and died. N<strong>at</strong>urally,<br />

Harbhajan was highly concerned and the psychological<br />

stresses weighed on his mind. However, this stalwart<br />

realized th<strong>at</strong> he was a manager and he had a job to do.<br />

Harbhajan has indeed been widely recognised and<br />

lauded as a <strong>Singapore</strong>an hero for his service during<br />

the epidemic. He has had numerous newspaper articles<br />

This is currently most evident in his <strong>at</strong>titude towards<br />

ageing and retirement. Despite having officially<br />

retired in 2002, Harbhajan shares th<strong>at</strong>, in actuality, he<br />

“retired on paper but physically he has not left the<br />

hospital.” 3 He now works on an annually renewed<br />

contract basis, and his contract has been renewed<br />

every year for the last 13 years. Far from being<br />

disgruntled <strong>at</strong> the shift in the focus of his job, from<br />

being on the ground taking care of p<strong>at</strong>ients to now<br />

taking on a more administr<strong>at</strong>ive role of ensuring the<br />

welfare of the nurses, Harbhajan finds his current job<br />

to be meaningful as well. He feels th<strong>at</strong>, in any line of<br />

work, including his own, the important thing is th<strong>at</strong><br />

one must feel happy about coming to work and, to<br />

this end, he explains th<strong>at</strong> the social interaction and,<br />

more specifically, the exchange of learning from<br />

others and also teaching others is important. The<br />

veteran nurse is something of a f<strong>at</strong>her figure to other<br />

nurses in his department. In fact, in a 2011 interview,<br />

the Director of Nursing <strong>at</strong> Tan Tock Seng Hospital<br />

described how Harbhajan “is like a mentor [to us]. He<br />

w<strong>at</strong>ches over us and is a role model.” 4 Gr<strong>at</strong>ifyingly,<br />

the remarkable work th<strong>at</strong> he does continues to be<br />

given its due recognition. Harbhajan received yet<br />

another award just as this article was being written.<br />

He became the first nurse to be awarded the Tan Tock<br />

Seng Emeritus Fellow Award. The Emeritus conferment<br />

is the hospital’s highest distinction reserved for those<br />


“<br />

An inspiring mentor, an exemplary staff and a humble man with a big heart<br />

are few of the many commendable qualities th<strong>at</strong> Harbhajan is well-known for. He<br />

has dedic<strong>at</strong>ed more than half a century to Tan Tock Seng Hospital as one of our<br />

longest serving nurses. With his unwavering spirit, professionalism and commitment,<br />

Harbhajan has brought the hospital and nursing to gre<strong>at</strong>er heights.<br />

Harbhajan’s tenacity is evident in his fervent appetite to develop himself, and acquire<br />

experience and knowledge in such clinical domains as thoracic, orthopaedic and<br />

emergency nursing. He remains an astute leader with his charming ways of managing<br />

and developing people. He is an icon in his own right, not only for his wisdom but<br />

also for his unrelenting energy and passion in wanting to serve. Though officially<br />

retired in 2002, Harbhajan continues to serve in Tan Tock Seng Hospital and helps to<br />

guide our next gener<strong>at</strong>ion of nurses.<br />

171st Founder’s Day Message<br />

Tan Tock Seng Hospital<br />

“<br />

who have made a lifetime impactful contribution and<br />

serve as an inspir<strong>at</strong>ion for the staff. The new ‘Emeritus<br />

Fellow’ c<strong>at</strong>egory recognises staff who are non-doctors<br />

and it is open to all family groups. 5 This throws into the<br />

spotlight yet another facet of Harbhajan’s outlook on<br />

life – he extols the virtues of life-long learning.<br />

Although he has been in the profession longer than all<br />

those he currently works with, Harbhajan remains more<br />

than receptive to learning new things on the job and<br />

excited about all the technological changes and medical<br />

advances th<strong>at</strong> keep occurring. In his own words, the<br />

system is evolving and he wishes to remain a part of<br />

it for as long as possible. 6 In an interview earlier this<br />

year, Harbhajan explained how, although he initially<br />

had “zero experience and knowledge of computers”,<br />

he is today “just as well versed as the younger<br />

ones in Microsoft Word, Excel and other software<br />

programmes.” 7 Far from competing with the “younger<br />

ones” however, Harbhajan firmly believes th<strong>at</strong> both<br />

groups of workers have useful knowledge to offer each<br />

other. He is of the view th<strong>at</strong>, while the younger workers<br />

are technologically more adept and are doubtlessly very<br />

knowledgeable about the work th<strong>at</strong> they do, the older<br />

worker has the experience and wisdom to complement<br />

those traits. <strong>And</strong> Harbhajan does walk the talk – he is<br />

a cherished member of the nursing team <strong>at</strong> Tan Tock<br />

Seng Hospital. He has managed to remain relevant to<br />

all those around him regardless of whether they rank<br />

above or below him. This is made clear through the<br />

interesting quirk of how many of his seniors were once<br />

junior nurses whom he supervised then became his<br />

“partners in rank” and went on to become his bosses –<br />

they continue to hold him in high regard.<br />

Harbhajan is a fantastic example of the success and<br />

fulfillment th<strong>at</strong> hard work can bring. Reflecting on his<br />

early years, the septuagenarian explained th<strong>at</strong> when<br />


he left school in 1959 after completing his Cambridge<br />

school certific<strong>at</strong>e (equivalent of today’s O Levels), job<br />

opportunities were scarce and most parents did not have<br />

the means to enroll their children in higher educ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

courses. R<strong>at</strong>her, older children were expected to quickly<br />

find employment and support the family. Under the<br />

employment scheme conducted by the Public Services<br />

Commission, Harbhajan selected teaching as his first<br />

choice and hospital technician/nursing as a second<br />

choice. During the interview, Harbhajan was offered his<br />

second option. He took it up. His rise through the ranks<br />

from a student of nursing to a senior nurse manager<br />

with the rare honour of being the longest serving nurse<br />

in the N<strong>at</strong>ional Healthcare Group suggests th<strong>at</strong> he has<br />

not looked back since.<br />

When asked to name a high point in his career,<br />

Harbhajan’s quick response was th<strong>at</strong> it has to be the<br />

entire journey of reaching the pinnacle of the nursing<br />

profession through sheer hard work (and without a<br />

degree). With his admirable work ethic and zest for<br />

self-betterment, Harbhajan truly epitomises the saying<br />

th<strong>at</strong> “work hard in silence and let success make all the<br />

noise.” His success has certainly placed him and the<br />

Sikh community proudly in the annals of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s<br />

nursing history.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Mr Harbhajan Singh, June 24, 2015.<br />

2<br />

Dynamic Defence Display: Everyday Heroes. August 2014. See https://<br />

apps.facebook.com/dynamicdefence<br />

3<br />

Supra note 1.<br />

4<br />

X Y Chin, It showed S’pore spirit. The New Paper, July 28, 2011.<br />

5<br />

Tan Tock Seng Hospital family of websites. Teaching Awards. Web. See<br />

https://www.ttsh.com.sg/medical-professionals/page.aspx?id=2240.<br />

6<br />

Supra note 1.<br />

7<br />

R Chan, Learning Every Day. NTUC this week, June 14, 2015.<br />


Harbhajan<br />

Singh Loomba<br />

D<br />

ubbed the unbe<strong>at</strong>able hockey player, Mr Harbhajan Singh Loomba, even till today, is nostalgic<br />

about the moment when his last-gasped short-corner goal enabled <strong>Singapore</strong> to be<strong>at</strong> Negri<br />

Sembilan 1-0 and become the proud winner of the first-ever Tun Razak Cup in Kuala Lumpur in<br />

1963. 1 The victory was one of the many high points in the career of Harbhajan th<strong>at</strong> made him<br />

a household name as a hockey player, n<strong>at</strong>ional coach and intern<strong>at</strong>ional umpire.<br />

The sports enthusiast was born on a land 4,620 kilometres away from <strong>Singapore</strong> – Sialkot<br />

District in modern-day Pakistan. There, the young Harbhajan witnessed the manufacturing of<br />

hockey sticks in a factory loc<strong>at</strong>ed just a few kilometres from his hometown. He fell in love with<br />

the sport and almost every hockey game in Sialkot had Harbhajan as part of the crowd.<br />

Harbhajan moved to <strong>Singapore</strong> with his family in 1949 and spent most of his childhood <strong>at</strong><br />

his home <strong>at</strong> Race Course Road, where he played in the veranda, 2 regularly hitting the hockey<br />

ball against the wall to hone his skills. His inherent love for sports, whether hockey, football or<br />

cricket, developed during his schools days <strong>at</strong> Victoria School where he played enthusiastically in<br />

several school tournaments.<br />

Upon completion of his GCE ‘O’ Levels, Harbhajan was <strong>at</strong> a crossroad. He had to decide if<br />

he wanted to further his studies or hop onto the career bandwagon. Persuaded by a close<br />

friend who was a school principal <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> time, Harbhajan joined the educ<strong>at</strong>ion sector as a<br />

priv<strong>at</strong>e school teacher for five years. As his passion for teaching intensified, Harbhajan joined<br />

the Teachers’ Training College in 1960 and completed the Certific<strong>at</strong>e in Educ<strong>at</strong>ion Programme 3<br />

in 1962. Thereafter, Harbhajan was posted to several schools, including Whitley Secondary<br />

School where his teaching career spanned over 40 long years. The dynamic individual took on<br />


Harbhajan was an active member of the Young Men Sikh<br />

Associ<strong>at</strong>ion which was set up for young men wanting<br />

to pursue the sport and the team played against multiracial<br />

teams across all divisions. Additionally, Harbhajan<br />

played for the <strong>Singapore</strong> Khalsa Associ<strong>at</strong>ion hockey team<br />

and received the Uttom Singh Memorial Cup from Mrs E<br />

W Barker in 1966. 5 Harbhajan also played for the Indian<br />

Associ<strong>at</strong>ion and in tournaments such as the Nav Bhar<strong>at</strong><br />

Cup in Hong Kong, clinching the title on several occasions.<br />

unique and challenging roles as a M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics teacher,<br />

N<strong>at</strong>ional Police Cadet Corps in-charge, hockey instructor<br />

and discipline master. Harbhajan brought immense joy<br />

to the classroom and field, forging inseparable bonds<br />

with every student – he <strong>at</strong>tends birthdays and weddings<br />

of former students even till today.<br />

When he was a student, Harbhajan would pack his<br />

school m<strong>at</strong>erials as soon as the school bell rang and put<br />

on his sports gear, excited as ever to hit the field. His<br />

exceptional hockey skills and dedic<strong>at</strong>ion soon saw him<br />

being selected for the n<strong>at</strong>ional hockey team when he<br />

was only in Secondary Four. He represented the n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

team <strong>at</strong> left-half position for 10 years. 4 He made his<br />

intern<strong>at</strong>ional debut <strong>at</strong> the Asian Games in Jakarta in<br />

1962. This was followed by intern<strong>at</strong>ional tournaments<br />

in Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand, including the<br />

unforgettable inaugural Tun Razak Cup.<br />

Harbhajan always had a strong determin<strong>at</strong>ion to<br />

continually improve himself. When he was nearing the<br />

end of his playing career, he decided to <strong>at</strong>tend a hockey<br />

coaching course in Karachi under the United N<strong>at</strong>ions<br />

Educ<strong>at</strong>ional, Scientific and Cultural Organiz<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

(UNESCO) 6 scheme so th<strong>at</strong> he could make a move into<br />

coaching. Following an intense two-month coaching<br />

course, Harbhajan was well on his way to becoming a<br />

first class coach. He was soon appointed as the n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

coach for both the men and women hockey teams. He<br />

also served as a coach of the hockey teams of several<br />

schools and military organis<strong>at</strong>ions.<br />

In 1973, Harbhajan, together with Mr Hardial Singh<br />

from India, coached the <strong>Singapore</strong> n<strong>at</strong>ional team<br />

during the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>. Even before the team played its first<br />

m<strong>at</strong>ch in the tournament, it was beset with several<br />

challenges. Firstly, those working in the priv<strong>at</strong>e sector<br />

were not granted paid leave by their employers to<br />

play <strong>at</strong> the Games. The drinking habits of some of<br />

the player also hampered the team’s performance,<br />

compelling Harbhajan to put in place strict disciplinary<br />

measures <strong>at</strong> the expense of compromising the team’s<br />

overall strength. However, the coaches and the team<br />

performed admirably in the Games. The Jalan Besar<br />

Stadium erupted when as <strong>Singapore</strong> cre<strong>at</strong>ed history<br />

by be<strong>at</strong>ing Malaysia 1-0 to bag the gold medal in the<br />

hockey tournament.<br />


“<br />

Harbhajan was often deemed one of the most skilful left-half players in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s hockey. We won the Tun Abdul Razak Cup in the 1960s when his steely<br />

wrist slammed home the winning goal through a penalty corner. He brought n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

glory to <strong>Singapore</strong>. When Harbhajan became the n<strong>at</strong>ional hockey coach, he achieved<br />

another milestone when he guided <strong>Singapore</strong> to the grand finals of the Junior World<br />

Cup when it held Asian champion, India, to a draw. It is a fe<strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> has never been<br />

repe<strong>at</strong>ed. He is also a highly respected intern<strong>at</strong>ional umpire.<br />

Away from hockey, Harbhajan still continues to serve the community in spite of being<br />

in retirement. I have known him to help the needy financially without expecting any<br />

thing in return.<br />

“<br />

Mr Kesavan Kupusamy<br />

Managing Director<br />

Kesavan Engineering & Construction Pte Ltd<br />

Soon after, Harbhajan was entrusted with the mammoth<br />

task of preparing the n<strong>at</strong>ional junior team for the Junior<br />

World Cup. In the qualifying rounds held in 1977, the<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> team faced intense competition from stronger<br />

rival teams. In the final m<strong>at</strong>ch of the qualifying round,<br />

the <strong>Singapore</strong> team faced the mighty Indian team. It<br />

needed a draw to qualify for the grand finals in France.<br />

Guided by Harbhajan on the side lines, the team shocked<br />

India by holding it to a draw, thereby emerging as one of<br />

the top four Asian teams to qualify for the grand finals.<br />

History was again cre<strong>at</strong>ed. <strong>Singapore</strong> has not been able<br />

to replic<strong>at</strong>e the momentous achievement till today.<br />

Apart from the men’s team, Harbhajan also coached the<br />

n<strong>at</strong>ional women’s team, preparing it for several major<br />

tournaments, including the Women’s Regional Hockey<br />

Tournament in Hong Kong in 1984. 7<br />

Harbhajan’s progress did not end with him moving from<br />

being a n<strong>at</strong>ional hockey player to a n<strong>at</strong>ional hockey<br />

coach. He wanted to do more with the sport he loved<br />

so much. He decided to become an umpire. His real<br />

test came during the Asia Cup in Karachi in 1982. The<br />

President of the Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Hockey Feder<strong>at</strong>ion (IHF)<br />

and several renowned technical deleg<strong>at</strong>es critically<br />

assessed Harbhajan’s capabilities and skills on the<br />

hockey field in not one but three m<strong>at</strong>ches. Although the<br />

pressure was intense, Harbhajan did exceptionally well.<br />

He passed the test to <strong>at</strong>tain the highest intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

coaching qualific<strong>at</strong>ion, reaching another milestone in<br />

his hockey career. He was appointed an intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

Grade One umpire by the IHF. He umpired numerous<br />

intern<strong>at</strong>ional m<strong>at</strong>ches. Thereafter, Harbhajan served as a<br />

technical deleg<strong>at</strong>e <strong>at</strong> top m<strong>at</strong>ches in New Zealand and<br />

Malaysia, observing and assessing other umpires.<br />

Passion<strong>at</strong>e to promote his favourite sport in the local<br />

community, Harbhajan organised courses under the<br />

aegis of <strong>Singapore</strong> Sports Council for both men and<br />

women interested in taking on coaching responsibilities.<br />

His undying spirit inspired several individuals to pursue<br />

their dreams and perform <strong>at</strong> the n<strong>at</strong>ional stage.<br />


Today, Harbhajan is retired. However, his passion for<br />

hockey remains unab<strong>at</strong>ed. He has been representing<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> in several veteran tournaments in Australia,<br />

Malaysia and Hong Kong as well as playing locally from<br />

time to time.<br />

Harbhajan’s passion often took him away from <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

However, he still found time to serve the community. For<br />

several years, Harbhajan served in the N<strong>at</strong>ional Police<br />

Cadet Corps, conducted tuition classes <strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Indian Development Associ<strong>at</strong>ion and performed the role<br />

of a liaison officer in the Neighbourhood W<strong>at</strong>ch Zone.<br />

He was recently presented with the Grand Award for<br />

Community Service, in appreci<strong>at</strong>ion of his 25 years of<br />

dedic<strong>at</strong>ed voluntary service to the community. Currently,<br />

Harbhajan sits on the Marine Parade Residents<br />

Committee and is actively involved in community<br />

development events and activities. He has also served<br />

on the Sikh Advisory Board, which oversees Sikh rel<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

issues, acting as a bridge between the government and<br />

the Sikh community.<br />

Harbhajan <strong>at</strong>tributes his success to his wife, daughter<br />

and God who lent him tremendous support and<br />

encouragement in achieving his dreams. His philosophy<br />

in life is simple: “Pursue your dreams, regardless of how<br />

un<strong>at</strong>tainable they may seem <strong>at</strong> first glance. Do not be<br />

paralysed by fear. Do wh<strong>at</strong> you love best and where your<br />

heart lies.” 8 Harbhajan did exactly th<strong>at</strong> and he brought<br />

glory to country and self in intern<strong>at</strong>ional hockey.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

H S Loomba (left-half) 1957-1966, The Straits Times, February 10,<br />

1980.<br />

2<br />

It is a a roofed pl<strong>at</strong>form along the outside of a house and it normally<br />

level with the ground floor<br />

3<br />

N<strong>at</strong>ional Institute of Educ<strong>at</strong>ion (N D). Retrieved from http://eresources.<br />

nlb.gov.sg/infopedia<br />

4<br />

H S Loomba (left-half) 1957-1966, op.cit.<br />

5<br />

Tan, Tai-yong, <strong>Singapore</strong> Khalsa Associ<strong>at</strong>ion, The Associ<strong>at</strong>ion by Times<br />

Books Intern<strong>at</strong>ional, 1988.<br />

6<br />

UNESCO is a specialised agency of the United N<strong>at</strong>ions system. It was<br />

cre<strong>at</strong>ed more than a half century ago is to build the defences of peace<br />

in the minds of men. See www.unesco.org/educ<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

7<br />

Women’s Regional Hockey Tournament (18th-22nd December 1984),<br />

Hong Kong Hockey Associ<strong>at</strong>ion and Urban Council, 1984.<br />

8<br />

Interview with Mr Harbhajan Singh Loomba, March 8, 2015.<br />


Harjeet<br />

Singh<br />

A<br />

s soon as one starts listening to Mr Harjeet Singh’s life story, the movie, Speedy Singh, 1<br />

immedi<strong>at</strong>ely comes to mind. Like the lead character in the movie, Harjeet is passion<strong>at</strong>e about<br />

sports. <strong>And</strong> as in the movie, this passion unfortun<strong>at</strong>ely has not been equally shared by his parents,<br />

especially in his early years. However, unlike the reel, the real is much more monumental than a<br />

film could offer. A list of accolades is tagged to Harjeet’s name and he has become synonymous<br />

with hockey in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Born to a welder and a housewife, and the younger of two children, Harjeet was subjected<br />

to a firm upbringing. This also meant tough love especially when his passion for hockey<br />

was not shared by his parents as he first began playing sports. Once in primary school, he<br />

injured his wrist while playing football with his friends under the void deck. The firm f<strong>at</strong>her<br />

threw out his only pair of football boots and the only pair of running shorts. However, the<br />

determined son continued playing football whether in slippers or barefoot. Resilience runs<br />

deep in Harjeet.<br />

When in secondary school, Harjeet tried his hand <strong>at</strong> badminton before he had his first<br />

shot <strong>at</strong> hockey when he was 14 years old, upon the encouragement of a teacher and<br />

classm<strong>at</strong>e. The rest it is said is history. It did not take long for Harjeet to be recognised for<br />

his finesse and prowess in hockey. Less than two years l<strong>at</strong>er, he began his sports journey<br />

as a n<strong>at</strong>ional player. He secured a place <strong>at</strong> the N<strong>at</strong>ional Under-16 trials and was selected<br />

for the n<strong>at</strong>ional junior squad. Having succeeded here, Harjeet then had to convince his<br />

parents who viewed hockey as a dangerous sport.<br />


Karn<strong>at</strong>aka St<strong>at</strong>e Hockey Academy in Bangalore and play<br />

in several other overseas competitive hockey leagues in<br />

such places as Malaysia, Hong Kong and England.<br />

Harjeet, who <strong>at</strong> this time was captain of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s<br />

Asian Games squad, also played the role of Hockey<br />

Ambassador for <strong>Singapore</strong>, representing the island<br />

st<strong>at</strong>e in Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, India and<br />

Australia. At the intern<strong>at</strong>ional arena, Harjeet made<br />

a name for himself as being an accomplished and<br />

vers<strong>at</strong>ile <strong>at</strong>hlete.<br />

Harjeet also served <strong>Singapore</strong> by grooming the n<strong>at</strong>ion’s<br />

next gener<strong>at</strong>ion of <strong>at</strong>hletes. As captain of the n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

team, he ensured excellence on the field even if it meant<br />

he had to be hard on the players. The r<strong>at</strong>ionale behind it<br />

was simple as he said: “My objective was to push each<br />

player to play <strong>at</strong> his level best. I made it a point to get<br />

to know all the players and understand their personal<br />

characteristics so I knew which buttons to push. Each<br />

time I trained or played with the n<strong>at</strong>ional team, I did<br />

my best to apply the learning I gained from my seniors.<br />

I took training sessions and m<strong>at</strong>ches very seriously.” 2<br />

Harjeet did very well with the junior side and soon, he<br />

found himself training with the n<strong>at</strong>ional senior team<br />

and playing for <strong>Singapore</strong> Recre<strong>at</strong>ion Club (SRC) in the<br />

Premier League. For the next few years, a typical day<br />

for Harjeet started <strong>at</strong> five in the morning. He would<br />

shoot off to school, then <strong>at</strong>tend training and he would<br />

only return home l<strong>at</strong>e into the night. Members of the<br />

n<strong>at</strong>ional senior team <strong>at</strong>test to his dedic<strong>at</strong>ion and grit<br />

th<strong>at</strong>, even on days when he was unwell, he would still<br />

turn up to w<strong>at</strong>ch them train and play. Harjeet realised<br />

early on th<strong>at</strong> he had to make sacrifices if he wanted to<br />

succeed in the sport.<br />

Harjeet’s talent in hockey, coupled with his hard work,<br />

also opened up opportunities for him to train in the<br />

Apart from his commitment to the n<strong>at</strong>ional team,<br />

Harjeet also gave his time to popularise hockey with<br />

the youth in <strong>Singapore</strong>. For instance, SRC started the<br />

practice of adopting local secondary schools with its<br />

coaches leading the schools’ hockey teams. Harjeet<br />

took the lead in coaching the students although this<br />

added to his already gruelling schedule. Despite the<br />

supposed disciplinarian style adopted by Harjeet, he<br />

was clear, whether with his team or students, th<strong>at</strong> they<br />

were equals on the field. Off the pitch, he was a friend<br />

to all the players.<br />

SRC's coach, Mr Jude Felix, 3 who had been on some<br />

of the world's gre<strong>at</strong>est stages such as the World Cup,<br />

Olympics and Commonwealth Games, approached<br />


“<br />

When Harjeet joined SRC’s hockey team in 1997, he showed enormous potential<br />

and was immedi<strong>at</strong>ely drafted into the Premier League team. His contributions as a<br />

player and eventually SRC’s captain were exemplary. The SRC team won the Premier<br />

League title for 11 consecutive years from 2001 to 2012 and Harjeet was instrumental<br />

in this successful run. Along the way, he won numerous ‘Best Player’ awards.<br />

Off the field, Harjeet is a well-liked person and he is humble and jovial. He is quick<br />

to help anyone in need and his leadership qualities have gained the respect of his<br />

peers. His passion shines in all his undertakings and it is with the same passion th<strong>at</strong><br />

he excelled in his beloved sport.<br />

Mr Lawrence Lim<br />

Convenor, Men’s Hockey Section<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Recre<strong>at</strong>ion Club<br />

“<br />

Harjeet for a stint in England. The six-month stint<br />

made him the first <strong>Singapore</strong> n<strong>at</strong>ional player to play in<br />

England.<br />

The experience was extremely valuable. Harjeet st<strong>at</strong>ed:<br />

"It was an eye-opener as European hockey is played<br />

very differently compared to Asian hockey. Athletes<br />

in the former are more agile and aggressive." 4 This<br />

however did not keep Harjeet from shining. In his first<br />

m<strong>at</strong>ch, he scored two goals for the team and, needless<br />

to say, many more during the league. In England,<br />

Harjeet also met his future wife – another victory for<br />

him albeit off the hockey field. Since then, they have<br />

settled in Australia.<br />

The r<strong>at</strong>her shy Harjeet chooses to be humble when<br />

describing the types of qualities he personifies. R<strong>at</strong>her<br />

than providing a laundry list of <strong>at</strong>tributes which made<br />

him a household name in <strong>Singapore</strong> and overseas, he<br />

earnestly divulged: “Nothing will be presented to you<br />

on a silver pl<strong>at</strong>ter. If you want something badly, you<br />


have got to make it happen for yourself.” 5 He further<br />

st<strong>at</strong>ed th<strong>at</strong> “I do not think I am good <strong>at</strong> wh<strong>at</strong> I do,<br />

because if you think you are good, there will always<br />

be someone better than you.” 6 Needless to say, these<br />

views highlighted the virtues of a true leader.<br />

Fortun<strong>at</strong>ely, back then, Harjeet’s determin<strong>at</strong>ion, coupled<br />

with some degree of persuasion, ensured th<strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

eventually benefitted from a Sikh hockey star who helped<br />

to raise <strong>Singapore</strong>’s hockey profile intern<strong>at</strong>ionally.<br />

Harjeet started playing hockey in spite of reserv<strong>at</strong>ions<br />

from his parents who were worried about him getting<br />

hurt. He shared: “The funny thing is th<strong>at</strong>, till today,<br />

even after I am married; my parents still ask me when I<br />

am going stop playing hockey.” 7 As such, his advice to<br />

parents is th<strong>at</strong> they should support the passion of their<br />

children. In fact, they should learn the sport themselves<br />

so as to engage with their children more directly and<br />

meaningfully.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Directed by Robert Lieberman, it is about a young man who is torn<br />

between his traditional Indo-Canadian family expect<strong>at</strong>ions and his<br />

dreams of playing hockey. See http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1736552/.<br />

2<br />

Interview with Mr Harjeet Singh, August 25, 2015.<br />

3<br />

Mr Jude Felix started his n<strong>at</strong>ional hockey career with the Indian n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

team in 1983 and eventually led the squad in the 1994 World Cup. He<br />

then shifted to <strong>Singapore</strong> in 1995 as a player and coach and took<br />

charge of youth development <strong>at</strong> SRC. See http://post.jagran.com<br />

4<br />

Interview with Mr Harjeet Singh, op. cit.<br />

5<br />

Ibid.<br />

6<br />

Ibid.<br />

7<br />

Ibid.<br />


Harnek<br />

Singh<br />

H<br />

ow do business units build on their strengths and ensure sustainable growth for the business<br />

as a whole? “The business excellence framework is the answer because the business excellence<br />

c<strong>at</strong>egories address everything – leadership, customers, str<strong>at</strong>egy, people, processes, knowledge<br />

and results”, Mr Harnek Singh, Vice President and Director of Business Excellence <strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Technologies Engineering Ltd., pointed out.<br />

Harnek’s outstanding career in promoting business excellence has been anything but planned.<br />

He came to <strong>Singapore</strong> from Malaysia with an ‘O’ Level certific<strong>at</strong>e in hand. He joined the Republic<br />

of <strong>Singapore</strong> Air Force (RSAF) in 1973 as an aircraft mechanic. The industrious young man<br />

took the initi<strong>at</strong>ive to study simultaneously, obtaining a Diploma in Aeronautical Engineering<br />

(Oper<strong>at</strong>ional Technology) and Personnel Management, pursuant to which he was made an Air<br />

Maintenance Officer. While working in the RSAF, he also actively promoted productivity and<br />

teamwork. He fondly recollected th<strong>at</strong> his 140 Squadron was always ranked highly in the RSAF.<br />

This was due to the critical role th<strong>at</strong> “taking good care” of team members and colleagues<br />

played in ensuring peak levels of performance.<br />

As a result of his work ethic and good performance <strong>at</strong> the RSAF, Harnek was headhunted to<br />

lead the Productivity Development Unit <strong>at</strong> the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). Not only did he<br />

successfully push for the adoption of programmes to enhance productivity during this stint,<br />

he also concurrently served as the Secretary for MINDEF’s Productivity Committee and several<br />

other productivity rel<strong>at</strong>ed committees. At MINDEF, Harnek oversaw the implement<strong>at</strong>ion of<br />

programmes to engage the full-time n<strong>at</strong>ional servicemen and regular servicemen on a deeper<br />

level and strengthen their sense of belonging to the <strong>Singapore</strong> Armed Forces. He was the<br />

Secretary of the inaugural PS21 ExCEL (Excellence through Continuous Enterprise and Learning)<br />


In 1995, <strong>Singapore</strong> Technologies (ST), with its stable of<br />

companies, was keen to embrace the PS21 ExCEL initi<strong>at</strong>ive<br />

th<strong>at</strong> Harnek had facilit<strong>at</strong>ed as well as other programmes<br />

th<strong>at</strong> MINDEF had successfully implemented. Harnek was,<br />

once again, headhunted for the job and he joined ST<br />

in 1995. He has been instrumental in introducing and<br />

sustaining the relevancy of business excellence standards<br />

in ST such as by the QUEST (Quality and Excellence in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Technologies) programme. As a result of these<br />

efforts, all the business units within ST embarked on the<br />

business excellence journey in 1997. Devoted to learning<br />

and personal development, Harnek obtained a Master in<br />

Business Administr<strong>at</strong>ion during his time <strong>at</strong> ST.<br />

Committee. The PS21 proposal, which was initi<strong>at</strong>ed by<br />

the Prime Minister’s Office, was aimed <strong>at</strong> positioning<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s public service for the 21st century.<br />

Throughout his career, Harnek espoused the philosophy<br />

th<strong>at</strong> no job is difficult if one sets his or her heart and<br />

mind to it. He proved this personal philosophy time<br />

and again to the extent th<strong>at</strong> no one harboured second<br />

thoughts about the quality of his work. Accordingly,<br />

he proceeded to earn both n<strong>at</strong>ional and intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

acclaim for it. He very candidly acknowledged th<strong>at</strong>,<br />

right from the beginning, he was not trained for all the<br />

productivity promotion and business excellence jobs<br />

th<strong>at</strong> he undertook. 1 This, however, was no hurdle for<br />

him. He acquired the necessary skills along the way as<br />

he continued to put his best foot forward and went from<br />

developing one capability after another.<br />

In 2001, Harnek joined ST Engineering Corpor<strong>at</strong>e<br />

headquarters as Head of Department facilit<strong>at</strong>ing<br />

the process of all business units embracing business<br />

excellence and working synergistically as an integr<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

engineering group. This yielded better coordin<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

within the ST group and enhanced its business<br />

performance. The initi<strong>at</strong>ives th<strong>at</strong> Harnek spearheaded<br />

facilit<strong>at</strong>ed ST Engineering’s <strong>at</strong>tainment of numerous<br />

awards including the <strong>Singapore</strong> Quality Award in 2002,<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Innov<strong>at</strong>ion Excellence Award in 2003, the<br />

first public listed company to be bestowed this pinnacle<br />

award, the Inaugural <strong>Singapore</strong> Quality Award with<br />

Special Commend<strong>at</strong>ion in 2007, and the Asia Pacific<br />

Quality Organis<strong>at</strong>ion Global Performance Excellence<br />

Award (World Class) 2011. 2 Today, ST Engineering is<br />

an integr<strong>at</strong>ed group with a global presence in 46 cities<br />

across 24 countries and is one of the largest companies<br />

listed on <strong>Singapore</strong> Exchange by market capitalis<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Productivity and innov<strong>at</strong>ion have been the key enablers<br />

of its success and Harnek has had a key role in it.<br />

In addition to working <strong>at</strong> ST Engineering, Harnek works<br />

closely with SPRING <strong>Singapore</strong> <strong>at</strong> the n<strong>at</strong>ional level<br />

to promote the business excellence initi<strong>at</strong>ive among<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> companies and the public sector. In addition<br />


“<br />

Harnek has been a gre<strong>at</strong> pillar of support to SPRING’s business excellence<br />

initi<strong>at</strong>ive since 1998. He has made significant contributions to ST Engineering’s<br />

business excellence journey, notably facilit<strong>at</strong>ing the organis<strong>at</strong>ion’s successful <strong>at</strong>tainment<br />

of the <strong>Singapore</strong> Quality Award in 2002, the <strong>Singapore</strong> Innov<strong>at</strong>ion Excellence Award<br />

in 2003, and the SQA with Special Commend<strong>at</strong>ion in 2007.<br />

In addition, he particip<strong>at</strong>es actively as a business excellence assessor in both certific<strong>at</strong>e<br />

and award level assessments. The quality of his work has been highly commended by<br />

fellow assessors and the organis<strong>at</strong>ions he assessed.<br />

His invaluable contributions, high competence, and knowledge are well regarded<br />

by the business excellence fr<strong>at</strong>ernity. He is truly an inspir<strong>at</strong>ion for other business<br />

excellence assessors and the community.<br />

Mr Sauw Kook Choy<br />

SQA Administr<strong>at</strong>or<br />

SPRING <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

“<br />

to helping companies assess their performance and<br />

identify opportunities for improvement, the programmes<br />

also help companies align their oper<strong>at</strong>ions to their<br />

mission and vision, and meet customer requirements.<br />

He has played a significant role in facilit<strong>at</strong>ing numerous<br />

public and priv<strong>at</strong>e sector organis<strong>at</strong>ions towards<br />

<strong>at</strong>taining and maintaining various certific<strong>at</strong>ions, such<br />

as the <strong>Singapore</strong> Quality Award (SQA), 3 and <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Quality Class (SQC). 4<br />

As a result of his unparalleled experience, Harnek<br />

regularly represents <strong>Singapore</strong>’s interests <strong>at</strong> multiple<br />

intern<strong>at</strong>ional fora. He has led many certific<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

assessment teams locally and overseas for awards such<br />

as the SQA, SQC, Business Excellence Niche Awards<br />

(namely Innov<strong>at</strong>ion, People and Service Excellence), and<br />

the <strong>Singapore</strong> Service Excellence Medallion. He has also<br />

represented <strong>Singapore</strong> <strong>at</strong> the Global Human Resources<br />

Forum in 2006 and as member of the Str<strong>at</strong>egic Advisory<br />

Group for ISO9001. 5 He was also was invited to join the<br />

Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Academy for Quality (IAQ) as an Associ<strong>at</strong>e<br />

Academician. He is recognised as a Technical Expert by<br />

Asia Productivity Organis<strong>at</strong>ion and Asia Pacific Quality<br />

Organis<strong>at</strong>ion and has been invited to provide advice and<br />

training to various Asian government bodies, including<br />

Iran and Fiji on business and service excellence. He<br />

represents <strong>Singapore</strong> on the ISO TC 176 6 and has<br />

contributed to the introduction of the revised ISO 9001<br />

2015 version. In this process of Harnek’s intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

engagement, <strong>Singapore</strong>’s efforts and achievements<br />

in business excellence are evidenced by the fact th<strong>at</strong><br />

SPRING <strong>Singapore</strong> was design<strong>at</strong>ed as a Centre for<br />

Excellence (COE) for business excellence by the Asian<br />

Productivity Organis<strong>at</strong>ion (APO) 7 in 2009, this being the<br />

first time th<strong>at</strong> the APO has appointed a COE.<br />

Within the Sikh community, Harnek was part of the<br />

pioneer team th<strong>at</strong> facilit<strong>at</strong>ed the registr<strong>at</strong>ion of Sikh<br />

Sewaks <strong>Singapore</strong> as the first Sikh youth group in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>. Harnek served in the Public Rel<strong>at</strong>ions<br />


function as and Secretary for Sikh Sewaks <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

from mid-1978 to early 1984. The groups adopted<br />

various innov<strong>at</strong>ive approaches to reach out to <strong>Sikhs</strong><br />

youths. These included evening to dawn prayers with<br />

the use of projection screens to project hymns, public<br />

highlighting of Sikh festivals and celebr<strong>at</strong>ions, deb<strong>at</strong>es,<br />

camps, sports events and blood don<strong>at</strong>ions drives. These<br />

efforts inspired many to take time to better understand<br />

the Sikh beliefs and way of life. Sikh Sewaks <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

can also be credited with organising the Veskahi Di<br />

Ra<strong>at</strong> <strong>at</strong> the N<strong>at</strong>ional The<strong>at</strong>re in 1983. It included an<br />

all-<strong>Singapore</strong>an performance by volunteers comprising<br />

students, teachers and youth. The event was graced<br />

by then-Minister for N<strong>at</strong>ional Development, Mr S<br />

Dhanabalan.<br />

In the early 1980s, <strong>Singapore</strong> schools began teaching<br />

Religious Studies. Sikh Sewaks <strong>Singapore</strong> started the<br />

process of having Sikhism included in the curriculum.<br />

It reached out to various learned sources, including in<br />

the United Kingdom, to develop a quality curriculum<br />

benchmarked against similar programmes to ensure<br />

quality and consistency. The group then organised a<br />

Sikh Studies Forum and invited various stakeholders<br />

to discuss the proposed curriculum. The proposed<br />

curriculum was presented to the Ministry of Educ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

and Sikh Studies was introduced in schools in 1983.<br />

The sincerity with which Harnek has always approached<br />

his commitments is truly inspiring. It is this sincerity<br />

th<strong>at</strong> has allowed him to become a leader in business<br />

excellence and make his mark <strong>at</strong> the n<strong>at</strong>ional and<br />

intern<strong>at</strong>ional levels.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Mr Harnek Singh, June 26, 2015.<br />

2<br />

The GPEA is administered by the APQO. It is a non-profit organis<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

th<strong>at</strong> serves as an umbrella group th<strong>at</strong> brings together all of the leading<br />

quality professional societies from countries th<strong>at</strong> border on the Pacific<br />

Ocean or are considered Asian/Pacific Rim n<strong>at</strong>ions. See http://www.apqo.<br />

org/gpea_profile_cycle2016.htm.<br />

3<br />

The SQA is the highest n<strong>at</strong>ional award given to organis<strong>at</strong>ions which have<br />

achieved all-round business excellence. See http://www.spring.gov.sg/<br />

Building-Trust/Business-Excellence/.<br />

4<br />

The SQC is n<strong>at</strong>ional recognition for organis<strong>at</strong>ions with management<br />

systems and processes in place to achieve all-round business excellence.<br />

See https://www.enterpriseone.gov.sg/.<br />

5<br />

The Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Organis<strong>at</strong>ion for Standardis<strong>at</strong>ion (ISO) 9001 is the title<br />

of a document (standard) th<strong>at</strong> outlines the requirements an organis<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

must maintain in their quality system for ISO 9001 certific<strong>at</strong>ion. There are<br />

several different documents in the ISO 9000 family of standards, but ISO<br />

9001-2008 is the only ISO standard th<strong>at</strong> requires certific<strong>at</strong>ion. See www.<br />

iso9001.com/.<br />

6<br />

The ISO/TC 176 is Technical Committee 176 of the ISO responsible for<br />

quality management and quality assurance – the ISO 9000 family of<br />

standards. See www.iso.org/iso/iso_technical_committee.<br />

7<br />

The APO was established on 11 May 1961 as a regional intergovernmental<br />

organis<strong>at</strong>ion which promotes productivity for sustainable<br />

socio-economic development. See http://www.apo-tokyo.org.<br />


Harpajan<br />

Singh Dhillon<br />

S<br />

ingapore has always been a football loving n<strong>at</strong>ion. Be it a m<strong>at</strong>ch between Manchester United<br />

and Liverpool or a m<strong>at</strong>ch between <strong>Singapore</strong> and Malaysia, thousands of <strong>Singapore</strong>ans will<br />

w<strong>at</strong>ch these m<strong>at</strong>ches with avid and undivided <strong>at</strong>tention. Often times, they remain oblivious<br />

to the unsung hero of any m<strong>at</strong>ch – the referee. These are the men who are responsible for<br />

presiding over the game from a neutral point of view and making on-the-fly decisions th<strong>at</strong><br />

enforce the rules of the sport. <strong>Singapore</strong> had its fair share of gre<strong>at</strong> referees throughout its short<br />

sports history. Mr Harpajan Singh Dhillon, <strong>Singapore</strong>’s first turbaned Sikh referee, counts among<br />

one of them.<br />

Harpajan was born in <strong>Singapore</strong> in 1934. He began his educ<strong>at</strong>ion <strong>at</strong> McNair Primary School.<br />

However, his studies were disrupted by the Second World War. Following the war, he resumed<br />

his educ<strong>at</strong>ion <strong>at</strong> Rangoon Road Primary School. He then enrolled <strong>at</strong> Victoria School.<br />

After his GCE ‘O’ Level examin<strong>at</strong>ions, Harpajan wanted to further his studies. However,<br />

faced with pressure from his parents to find a job, he decided to join the police force. As<br />

the interview for th<strong>at</strong> job was some months away, he took up teaching instead <strong>at</strong> Bartley<br />

Primary School in 1954. Besides teaching, he was also in charge of the football extracurricular<br />

activity (ECA). After eight years, he was transferred to Telok Kurau West Primary.<br />

Again, he was put in charge of the football ECA. While <strong>at</strong> Telok Kurau, he had his first taste<br />

of success when his team won the ‘A’ Division and post-primary titles. During this period,<br />

Harpajan was encouraged to go for upgrading courses so th<strong>at</strong> he could better manage the<br />

team. One of these courses was a referee course and, in 1962, Harpajan received his Class<br />


the governing world body for all n<strong>at</strong>ional football<br />

associ<strong>at</strong>ions, which also manages and sets guidelines<br />

for intern<strong>at</strong>ional referees. In 1969, Harpajan reached<br />

the pinnacle when he was appointed a FIFA referee. This<br />

was a huge accomplishment for <strong>Singapore</strong> as Harpajan<br />

was one of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s youngest FIFA referees. To him,<br />

it was also a personal accomplishment as he became<br />

the only turbaned Sikh referee in the world then, and<br />

would go on to be so for several years more.<br />

3 Referee Certific<strong>at</strong>e. His subsequent school posting<br />

was to Serangoon Garden Technical School where he<br />

continued to play a big part in managing the school<br />

football team while refereeing m<strong>at</strong>ches in th<strong>at</strong> area.<br />

One of the star players in his school was his captain,<br />

Mr Samad Allapitchay, who went on to captain the<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> n<strong>at</strong>ional football team for many years.<br />

While refereeing for the schools, he also refereed<br />

the Football Associ<strong>at</strong>ion of <strong>Singapore</strong> (FAS) m<strong>at</strong>ches.<br />

The experience was extremely useful. Between 1962<br />

and 1967, Harpajan was upgraded several times and<br />

reached the rank of Class 1 Referee. However, Harpajan<br />

wanted more and decided to become an intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

referee. This accredit<strong>at</strong>ion could only come from the<br />

Feder<strong>at</strong>ion Intern<strong>at</strong>ionale de Football Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (FIFA),<br />

Harpajan was the Honorary Secretary of the Football<br />

Referees’ Associ<strong>at</strong>ion of <strong>Singapore</strong> (FRAS) for about 10<br />

years. While FAS chose the referees for all the m<strong>at</strong>ches,<br />

FRAS ensured th<strong>at</strong> all referees had equal opportunity<br />

to offici<strong>at</strong>e a m<strong>at</strong>ch. In 1975, Harpajan became<br />

President of FRAS. During his tenure, he implemented<br />

several measures to improve the quality and standard<br />

of referees as well as to enable them to have gre<strong>at</strong>er<br />

represent<strong>at</strong>ion in FAS. One of the key initi<strong>at</strong>ives was<br />

ensuring the referees had sufficient referee assignments.<br />

During th<strong>at</strong> time, the bigger teams only preferred a<br />

selected few referees. As a result, some referees hardly<br />

had any assignments in a month while some had as<br />

many as three or more assignments. 1 Harpajan and<br />

his committee members addressed the imbalance and<br />

ensured th<strong>at</strong> all registered referees had <strong>at</strong> least two<br />

assignments a month.<br />

On top of th<strong>at</strong>, Harpajan strongly believed th<strong>at</strong> the<br />

referees needed to be well trained and they had to<br />

know the rule book from cover to cover. He organised<br />

frequent courses and quizzes for the referees within the<br />

organis<strong>at</strong>ion. FRAS also competed with other n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

referee associ<strong>at</strong>ions to see how the <strong>Singapore</strong> referees<br />

fared against their counterparts from neighbouring<br />

countries such as Malaysia and Thailand. 2 His leadership<br />

raised the standard and profile of FRAS as it became a<br />

more professional and well respected outfit.<br />


During the 1960s and 1970s, it was not uncommon<br />

for players or fans to assault the referees due to their<br />

unhappiness over their decisions. Harpajan himself<br />

was assaulted or confronted by unhappy players. One<br />

significant incident happened during his refereeing<br />

of the m<strong>at</strong>ch between Malacca and Selangor in the<br />

Malaysia Cup 1976. The l<strong>at</strong>ter side was led Malaysian’s<br />

football captain, Soh Chin Ann. His unhappiness with<br />

a decision by Harpajan resulted in him deliber<strong>at</strong>ely<br />

kicking the ball <strong>at</strong> the referee. Although he regretted his<br />

decision afterwards, Chin Ann was banned from football<br />

for a year. Harpajan felt th<strong>at</strong> the decision, though harsh,<br />

was necessary as it showed the players th<strong>at</strong> they could<br />

not accost the referees and expect to get off lightly,<br />

regardless of whoever they were. 3<br />

During his presidency, FRAS worked closely with FAS and<br />

other football associ<strong>at</strong>ions to ensure th<strong>at</strong> the referees<br />

could do their job in a safe environment and supported<br />

the idea of firm but fair punishments for infringements.<br />

On his part, Harpajan took the effort to conduct lectures<br />

for the players on the laws of the game so th<strong>at</strong> they<br />

could better understand the referee’s decisions during<br />

m<strong>at</strong>ches. Such efforts helped to drastically reduce the<br />

assaults on referees.<br />

In 1984, Harpajan decided to retire from refereeing<br />

after years of outstanding service. He was <strong>50</strong> years old<br />

then. As a result of FIFA’s age restriction of <strong>50</strong> years<br />

for intern<strong>at</strong>ional referees, Harpajan could not referee<br />

any intern<strong>at</strong>ional tournament. However, he could have<br />

continued refereeing locally but he chose to hang up<br />

his boots. By then, Harpajan had cre<strong>at</strong>ed a n<strong>at</strong>ional and<br />

intern<strong>at</strong>ional reput<strong>at</strong>ion for himself. He had refereed<br />

in major tournaments such as the Olympics qualifiers,<br />

World Cup qualifiers and the Asian Cup in 1974.<br />

One of Harpajan’s most unfortun<strong>at</strong>e moments as a<br />

referee was when he was excluded from the referees’<br />

“<br />

Regarded as one of the finest<br />

pioneer FIFA referees during his era,<br />

H S Dhillon, as he is affection<strong>at</strong>ely<br />

called, refereed numerous intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

games in <strong>Singapore</strong> and<br />

abroad. As an intern<strong>at</strong>ional referee,<br />

he was strict but firm and fair. Being<br />

an elite referee, he was bestowed with<br />

numerous awards and accolades,<br />

which he truly deserved.<br />

He was elected president of FRAS<br />

which he led for almost three decades.<br />

Under his able leadership, FRAS<br />

flourished to even gre<strong>at</strong>er heights.<br />

His distinctive, eloquent personality<br />

and historical role cre<strong>at</strong>ed a legacy<br />

th<strong>at</strong> endures till the present time.<br />

Mr K S Maniam<br />

Former Class 1 Referee and<br />

Former Secretary, FRAS<br />

“<br />

list for the Asian Games in 1982. He had high hopes<br />

as he had been performing admirably <strong>at</strong> the point<br />

in time. However, while he was refereeing a m<strong>at</strong>ch<br />

during the Southeast Asian Games in the Philippines,<br />

he badly injured his ankle. In an effort to recover as<br />

soon as possible, Harpajan pushed himself hard during<br />

rehabilit<strong>at</strong>ion. Unfortun<strong>at</strong>ely, in spite of his best efforts,<br />

he was not able to recover in time and had to miss the<br />

Asian Games and with th<strong>at</strong>, the opportunity to put<br />

another tournament in his already impressive list.<br />

Today, Harpajan finds the game of football and<br />

refereeing a totally different proposition. The array of<br />


technology available as well as the upd<strong>at</strong>ed FIFA and<br />

FAS guidelines put a lot more pressure on the men in<br />

the middle but these have also enabled them to have<br />

gre<strong>at</strong>er support in making the correct decisions. At<br />

the same time, the football field has become a safer<br />

environment for referees since there are cameras all<br />

over the stadium. The introduction of additional referee<br />

assistants and goal-line technology has only made<br />

the task of the referee more efficient. However, <strong>at</strong> the<br />

end of the day, the referee must ensure th<strong>at</strong> he is the<br />

right man to offici<strong>at</strong>e the m<strong>at</strong>ch. In this respect, a good<br />

referee must have the 3 ‘Fs’ – Fit, Fair and Firm. He<br />

or she should always be fit and healthy so th<strong>at</strong> he or<br />

she is always abreast of the play. The decision should<br />

always be unbiased and there should be no personal<br />

affili<strong>at</strong>ions during a m<strong>at</strong>ch. Lastly, the referee should<br />

always anticip<strong>at</strong>e the fouls and mete out firm but fair<br />

punishment.<br />

Harpajan took the p<strong>at</strong>h less travelled by most Sikh<br />

sportsmen then when he decided to focus on football<br />

instead of hockey. As a referee, he was extremely<br />

dedic<strong>at</strong>ed and hardworking, and he was always ready<br />

to represent <strong>Singapore</strong> when duty called. He not only<br />

cre<strong>at</strong>ed history as the first turbaned Sikh referee from<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> on the world stage but he also changed the<br />

face of refereeing in <strong>Singapore</strong>. Well, hockey’s loss was<br />

football’s gain – and it certainly gained immensely from<br />

this man in black!<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Percy Senevir<strong>at</strong>ne, There’s only one word for this situ<strong>at</strong>ion: Shambles.<br />

The Straits Times, August 22, 1978.<br />

2<br />

Bernard Pereira, Referees in Bangkok Contest, The Straits Times,<br />

December 6, 1979.<br />

3<br />

Chin Ann Banned, Sunday N<strong>at</strong>ion, March 25, 1976.<br />


Hernaikh<br />

Singh<br />

A<br />

filial son, a supportive husband, a doting f<strong>at</strong>her, an affable uncle, a caring brother, Head of the<br />

South Asia and Southeast Asia Desks <strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong> Management University (SMU), a pioneer<br />

member of Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>) [YSA] – these are just a few of the many roles<br />

th<strong>at</strong> Mr Hernaikh Singh currently has on his personal and professional resumè.<br />

The youngest son amongst four children, Hernaikh grew up in a humble household – a village<br />

in the vicinity of Kampung Glam. Having lost his f<strong>at</strong>her <strong>at</strong> a young age, his siblings and he had<br />

a difficult childhood. Despite the challenges, he vividly remembers th<strong>at</strong> some of his fondest<br />

memories were from his early years.<br />

Contrary to his achievements in life, Hernaikh was a l<strong>at</strong>e starter. In his early years, he was more<br />

<strong>at</strong>hletically inclined and actively particip<strong>at</strong>ed in his schools’ hockey and football teams. However, he<br />

seriously began to focus on his studies when he had to contend with a Sikh teacher in secondary<br />

school – Mr Harbhajan Singh Loomba. Not only was Mr Loomba his form teacher, he was also the<br />

school’s disciplinary teacher. He was strict and ensured th<strong>at</strong> Hernaikh did not slip behind in his<br />

studies. Today, they are good friends and often joke about the good old days. Upon completing his ‘A’<br />

Levels in Jurong Junior College, Hernaikh went on to pursue his Bachelor of Arts and, subsequently,<br />

his Master of Arts (Southeast Asian Studies) from the N<strong>at</strong>ional University of <strong>Singapore</strong>, where he<br />

received the Dr Benjamin B<strong>at</strong>son gold medal for being the top student in his cohort.<br />

Hernaikh started his career with the then-Trade Development Board (TDB) in 1989 and moved<br />

on to fulfilling various roles <strong>at</strong> the <strong>Singapore</strong> Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Found<strong>at</strong>ion (SIF) from 1994 to 2004. 1<br />


Ishtiaq Ahmed, probably best sums up Hernaikh’s role in<br />

ISAS’ growth when he said in his book th<strong>at</strong> he is “gre<strong>at</strong>ly<br />

indebted to Hernaikh Singh. He was the bedrock of the<br />

ISAS Administr<strong>at</strong>ion.” 2<br />

Thereafter, he started his stint with the Institute of South<br />

Asian Studies (ISAS), an experience th<strong>at</strong> he considers<br />

the most wonderful of his working life.<br />

ISAS was set up in July 2004 and Hernaikh was effectively<br />

its first employee. Being new, ISAS had to measure up<br />

fast with the other established institutes. Less than six<br />

months after its form<strong>at</strong>ion, the Institute had a new<br />

logo, corpor<strong>at</strong>e liter<strong>at</strong>ure, website and newsletter. It<br />

then held its inaugural sign<strong>at</strong>ure conference where it<br />

was also officially launched. Hernaikh vividly remembers<br />

burning the midnight oil to ensure th<strong>at</strong> the Institute<br />

started on the most promising footing. It has come a<br />

long way since its beginning and is now a known brand<br />

in the academic fr<strong>at</strong>ernity locally and in South Asia.<br />

Hernaikh played a key role in its development in the five<br />

years th<strong>at</strong> he was there. His former colleague, Professor<br />

In 2010, Hernaikh bid adieu to ISAS and took on the role<br />

of the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SICCI)<br />

– the first Sikh CEO of the 86-year old institution. At<br />

SICCI, he set about revamping its corpor<strong>at</strong>e image to<br />

make it more relevant to its members. He came up with<br />

a newly-designed newsletter, revamped the website,<br />

refined the corpor<strong>at</strong>e logo, designed the logos for each<br />

of the subsidiaries and re-presented the Annual Report.<br />

Almost immedi<strong>at</strong>ely, the corpor<strong>at</strong>e image of SICCI<br />

underwent a transform<strong>at</strong>ional change. Hernaikh also<br />

had to shift his <strong>at</strong>tention to internal policies. He spent<br />

much time focusing on improving employee welfare.<br />

He introduced a number of staff benefits, including a<br />

comprehensive employee booklet, organised events and<br />

trips to encourage team bonding and, played a handson<br />

role <strong>at</strong> SICCI’s events. His outlook on staff welfare:<br />

“Once you succeed winning over the staff, it becomes<br />

easy meeting the needs of clients and constituents”<br />

proved to be his winning formula and SICCI witnessed a<br />

sea change under his tenure.<br />

Hernaikh left SICCI to join SMU in l<strong>at</strong>e 2012 and he<br />

is currently Head of the South Asia and Southeast Asia<br />

Desks <strong>at</strong> the Intern<strong>at</strong>ional Office. Here, he is instrumental<br />

in developing SMU’s brand name in the two regions<br />

through partnerships with academic institutions and<br />

corpor<strong>at</strong>es.<br />

There is little doubt th<strong>at</strong> his professional stints <strong>at</strong> TDB,<br />

SIF, ISAS, SICCI and SMU played a significant part in<br />

Hernaikh’s contributions to the country – locally and<br />

intern<strong>at</strong>ionally. However, his gre<strong>at</strong>est contribution to<br />

the n<strong>at</strong>ional landscape was perhaps borne out of his<br />


“<br />

I have known Hernaikh for around two decades now. We worked closely when<br />

he was with SIF, promoting <strong>Singapore</strong>’s intern<strong>at</strong>ionalis<strong>at</strong>ion efforts. We continued<br />

our working rel<strong>at</strong>ionship when I became Chairman of Mercy Relief. Hernaikh has a<br />

strong sense of service to his community and <strong>Singapore</strong> society. He has been actively<br />

particip<strong>at</strong>ing in various n<strong>at</strong>ional-level initi<strong>at</strong>ives.<br />

When he decided to set up YSA, it came as no surprise to me really! He strongly<br />

believed th<strong>at</strong> young <strong>Sikhs</strong> needed to plug into n<strong>at</strong>ional discourse so th<strong>at</strong> they not<br />

only contribute actively to <strong>Singapore</strong> society but also benefit professionally and<br />

personally from their particip<strong>at</strong>ion. He has been able to make a telling contribution<br />

to the n<strong>at</strong>ional landscape through YSA as well as in his professional capacity over the<br />

years.<br />

“<br />

Mr Zulkifli Baharudin<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s Non-Resident Ambassador to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, and<br />

Former Nomin<strong>at</strong>ed Member of Parliament, <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

passion in wanting to serve the community and the less<br />

fortun<strong>at</strong>e. It was this passion th<strong>at</strong> propelled his group<br />

of committed friends and him to launch YSA, a nonprofit<br />

organis<strong>at</strong>ion dedic<strong>at</strong>ed to fulfilling the aspir<strong>at</strong>ions<br />

of young <strong>Singapore</strong>ans. He was elected the founding<br />

president and remained in this position till 2012.<br />

He was instrumental for wh<strong>at</strong> YSA has become today<br />

– an integral part of the Sikh community and youth<br />

landscape in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Over the last decade, YSA planned, executed and<br />

delivered a myriad of events and activities to get youth<br />

involved in the Sikh community and on the n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

stage. Under his term, YSA initi<strong>at</strong>ed, or was directly<br />

involved in, more than 120 activities or programmes.<br />

This amounted to approxim<strong>at</strong>ely one event per month,<br />

a phenomenal fe<strong>at</strong> given th<strong>at</strong> the activities and<br />

programmes were spearheaded by YSA’s Executive<br />

Committee, comprising entirely of volunteers.<br />

Under Hernaikh’s leadership, YSA can be credited<br />

with many firsts. It initi<strong>at</strong>ed the Ministerial Dialogue<br />

to provide the opportunity for young <strong>Singapore</strong>ans<br />

to engage <strong>Singapore</strong> ministers in frank and open<br />

discussions. It also launched the Khwaish Lecture<br />

series in which eminent local and intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

personalities are invited to share their views on local<br />

and intern<strong>at</strong>ional developments. YSA is the only<br />

Sikh organis<strong>at</strong>ion in <strong>Singapore</strong> th<strong>at</strong> has undertaken<br />

community service projects in India annually. The<br />

much-lauded Khwaish projects are in their 15th<br />

year. The Khwaish projects have not only received<br />

tremendous support and recognition from the Sikh<br />

community and youth organis<strong>at</strong>ions but also from<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s Prime Minister. 3 Through the annual<br />

Sikh Gradu<strong>at</strong>es Tea Reception, YSA initi<strong>at</strong>ed the<br />

practice of celebr<strong>at</strong>ing the educ<strong>at</strong>ional achievements<br />

of young <strong>Sikhs</strong>. It also started the ‘Racial Harmony’<br />

football tournament to foster better understanding<br />

across the ethnic groups through fun and sport.<br />


<strong>Singapore</strong> played host to a Regional Bhangra<br />

Competition for the first time when YSA organised a<br />

major multi-ethnic regional competition involving six<br />

top bhangra dance teams from across Australia, India,<br />

Malaysia and <strong>Singapore</strong>. YSA also took bhangra to the<br />

heartlands of <strong>Singapore</strong> through Bhangra Bonanza to<br />

showcase the rich, vibrant and colourful Punjabi culture<br />

and tradition to the wider <strong>Singapore</strong> society. The less<br />

fortun<strong>at</strong>e has always been a key pre-occup<strong>at</strong>ion of YSA<br />

under Hernaikh’s tenure. It organised charity events such<br />

as visits to children and aged homes, fund-raising for<br />

needy <strong>Singapore</strong>ans as well as for victims of disasters<br />

overseas, and refurbishing and painting the homes of<br />

low-income families.<br />

Apart from YSA, Hernaikh has also contributed to<br />

community and public service in several other notable<br />

ways. Unknown to many, he was Aide-de-camp to both<br />

President S R N<strong>at</strong>han and President Ong Teng Cheong<br />

– a special honour he holds dear. He was also a member<br />

of the Feedback Groups on Community Development<br />

and Political Development; the Programme Quality<br />

Resource Panel of OLI 96.8 FM of the Radio Corpor<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

of <strong>Singapore</strong>; and the Economic Planning Committee<br />

(Ministry of Trade and Industry). At the same time,<br />

he was a member of the Taxpayer Feedback Panel<br />

of the Inland Revenue Authority of <strong>Singapore</strong>; the<br />

Youth Network Committee (N<strong>at</strong>ional Youth Council);<br />

and the <strong>Singapore</strong> Youth Award Selection Panel on<br />

Entrepreneurship). Currently, he keeps his associ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

with ISAS through his appointment as an Associ<strong>at</strong>e<br />

Member.<br />

Hernaikh’s passion and drive to never stop learning<br />

and to continually give back to his community and<br />

society have cre<strong>at</strong>ed a sweet recipe for success for<br />

him. A down-to-earth individual, his humility comes<br />

as a bre<strong>at</strong>h of fresh air, as he explains anim<strong>at</strong>edly<br />

how his favourite thing is to “spend time with my<br />

stress relievers (my children).” However, on a more<br />

serious note, his r<strong>at</strong>ionale for contribution to the Sikh<br />

community and <strong>Singapore</strong> society is th<strong>at</strong> he wants<br />

to leave the world a better place for his children’s<br />

gener<strong>at</strong>ion and beyond.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

SMU Provost team, http://provost.smu.edu.sg/about-office-provost/team.<br />

2<br />

Ishtiaq Amed, Politics of Religion in South and Southeast Asia, Routledge,<br />

United Kingdom, 2011.<br />

3<br />

Mr Zainul Abidin graces certific<strong>at</strong>e present<strong>at</strong>ion ceremony for Project<br />

Khwaish VII, Khwaish, Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion’s newsletter, April 2008.<br />


Inderjit<br />

Singh<br />

H<br />

e is the son of a w<strong>at</strong>chman and lived in simple and sparsely decor<strong>at</strong>ed quarters in the factory<br />

where his f<strong>at</strong>her worked. However, his determin<strong>at</strong>ion to succeed in life saw him overcome all<br />

odds to become one the most successful Sikh entrepreneurs in <strong>Singapore</strong> and the country’s<br />

longest-serving Sikh parliamentarian.<br />

Mr Inderjit Singh grew up in a Malay village near Jalan Eunos. Like most families then, the choice<br />

of his primary school was determined by its proximity to home. Being a predominantly Malay<br />

school, it was no surprise th<strong>at</strong> Inderjit was the only non-Malay in his class in Kaki Bukit Primary<br />

School. He had much fun then. He recounted: “Every time Hari Raya Puasa came, I spent the<br />

whole day visiting my friends’ homes and collecting ‘ang pows’ 1 from each household. It was<br />

a very fun thing to do". 2 To him, the village was one big happy family.<br />

Following his educ<strong>at</strong>ion in Broadrick Secondary School, Inderjit entered Temasek Junior College.<br />

He then went on to pursue his Bachelors in Electrical and Electronics Engineering <strong>at</strong> Nanyang<br />

Technological University (NTU). He gradu<strong>at</strong>ed with honours from the university in 1985. After<br />

earning his bachelor’s degree, Inderjit enrolled in the University of Str<strong>at</strong>hclyde in Scotland where<br />

he received his Master in Business Administr<strong>at</strong>ion in 1991.<br />

Inderjit started his career as an Engineer with Texas Instruments in 1985. He climbed the<br />

corpor<strong>at</strong>e ladder to become the Director of Oper<strong>at</strong>ions of the <strong>Singapore</strong> plant from 1996 to<br />

1998. After 13 years, he left the company and began a career of entrepreneurship. He founded<br />

the United Test and Assembly Center (UTAC), a semi-conductor firm, in 1998, with his Taiwanese<br />

friends. UTAC was a S$2 billion company with more than 1,000 employees when he left in 2001.<br />

In 1997, together with his brothers, Inderjit started Tri-Star, a consumer electronics distribution<br />


the university’s Enterprise Committee, which is tasked<br />

to oversee entrepreneurship educ<strong>at</strong>ion and enterprise<br />

development in the university.<br />

In 1984, Inderjit became an active grassroots leader<br />

<strong>at</strong> the age of 24 years. Less than three years l<strong>at</strong>er, he<br />

was appointed the Residents’ Community Chairman.<br />

In the mid-1990s, Mr Abdullah Tarmugi, Minister<br />

for Community Development, Youth and Sports,<br />

and a Member of Parliament (MP) for Bedok Group<br />

Represent<strong>at</strong>ion Constituency (GRC), persuaded Inderjit<br />

to take his service to the next level by considering politics<br />

and becoming an MP. Adopting the belief th<strong>at</strong> politics<br />

is n<strong>at</strong>ional service <strong>at</strong> a different level, Inderjit decided<br />

to enter politics in 1996 under the banner of the ruling<br />

People’s Action Party (PAP) <strong>at</strong> Ang Mo Kio GRC, which<br />

is helmed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. 3 Inderjit<br />

served four terms in Parliament and stepped down in<br />

2015.<br />

and services company, by pouring in much of their<br />

family's savings. Today, the company can be counted as<br />

one of the largest distributors of electronic products in<br />

Africa, with presence in more than 39 countries. It has<br />

its own offices in 12 countries and continues to grow<br />

its local presence in Africa. In 2001, Inderjit started his<br />

second high-technology company, Infiniti Solutions,<br />

based in the Silicon Valley, which he still currently runs.<br />

Inderjit and his brothers <strong>at</strong>tribute their entrepreneurial<br />

spirit to their mother, who was the first entrepreneur<br />

in the house when she ran her own small business to<br />

supplement their family income.<br />

The desire to be involved in community service started<br />

early for Inderjit. While in NTU, he founded the Electrical<br />

and Electronics Engineering Club and was the first<br />

chair of the Students Union Council. Today, Inderjit is<br />

a member of NTU’s Board of Trustees. He also chairs<br />

During his term in parliament, Inderjit was known to be<br />

a frank and vocal MP. He questioned and challenged<br />

policy proposals in the strong belief th<strong>at</strong> only through<br />

rigorous discussions and deb<strong>at</strong>e can the best policies be<br />

developed. He was also not afraid to make suggestions<br />

th<strong>at</strong> were not always in tandem with the general<br />

consensus among his fellow parliamentarians. He st<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

th<strong>at</strong>: “I had to present my arguments to our Ministers<br />

and th<strong>at</strong> was not always an easy thing to do. At times,<br />

their unhappiness with me was quite visible” 4 . While the<br />

welfare and well-being of his constituents was foremost<br />

on his mind, he also spoke passion<strong>at</strong>ely on issues th<strong>at</strong><br />

had broader implic<strong>at</strong>ions for the <strong>Singapore</strong> society. The<br />

two deb<strong>at</strong>es th<strong>at</strong> he will probably be most remembered<br />

for in Parliament are on the ‘Popul<strong>at</strong>ion White Paper’ 5<br />

during which he argued against the target popul<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

size and contended th<strong>at</strong> the government’s approach<br />

towards it needed to change, and his opposition to<br />

‘Early Streaming’ in schools where he also proposed<br />


emoving it altogether from primary school. For the<br />

former, Inderjit won many admirers for speaking openly<br />

and passion<strong>at</strong>ely on a highly sensitive issue. In the case<br />

of the l<strong>at</strong>ter, he faced many hurdles, including b<strong>at</strong>tling<br />

several Ministers. Despite the slow progress initially,<br />

Inderjit noted proudly th<strong>at</strong> things have since changed<br />

significantly.<br />

Inderjit also actively pursued policy changes to cre<strong>at</strong>e<br />

a more conducive business environment for small and<br />

medium enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurship in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>. He felt th<strong>at</strong> many of the pro-business policies<br />

focused on the multin<strong>at</strong>ionals and government-linked<br />

companies. There was a strong need to nurture home<br />

grown enterprises for long-term economic sustainability.<br />

He took the lead in driving the transform<strong>at</strong>ion of the<br />

entrepreneurship landscape in <strong>Singapore</strong> to better<br />

support SMEs and start-ups. His efforts bore fruits<br />

with the cre<strong>at</strong>ion of numerous financing schemes by<br />

government agencies such as SPRING <strong>Singapore</strong>. He,<br />

in fact, chaired the Investment Committee of SPRING<br />

Startup Enterprise Development Scheme, a government<br />

fund which invests in early-stage start-ups. He was<br />

the Deputy Chairman of the Action Community for<br />

Entrepreneurship, a n<strong>at</strong>ional movement responsible for<br />

spearheading entrepreneurship development, for seven<br />

years. He also served as President of the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Chapter of The Indus Entrepreneurs, a network of<br />

entrepreneurs and professionals founded in 1992<br />

in Silicon Valley, California. At the moment, he is the<br />

co-President of the World Entrepreneurship Forum, a<br />

world organis<strong>at</strong>ion dedic<strong>at</strong>ed to the development of<br />

entrepreneurship around the world. Inderjit is also an<br />

inventor with three p<strong>at</strong>ents to his name.<br />

Staying true to his passion of helping the community,<br />

Inderjit has contributed significantly to the Sikh<br />

community in a myriad of ways. Unknown to many,<br />

behind closed doors, he deb<strong>at</strong>ed with then-<strong>Singapore</strong>’s<br />

“<br />

Inderjit has been extremely<br />

successful because he wears his heart<br />

on his sleeve. He is honest, committed<br />

and dedic<strong>at</strong>ed to his work. He always<br />

has the welfare of his constituents<br />

in particular and <strong>Singapore</strong>ans in<br />

general in his mind. The ready stream<br />

of people during the meet-the-people<br />

sessions, many more meetings in the<br />

office with persons and groups and<br />

greetings from people on the street is<br />

a strong endorsement of the people’s<br />

tremendous respect and trust in him<br />

to make life better.<br />

“<br />

Mr Tan Tau Chang<br />

Long-term working colleague<br />

Educ<strong>at</strong>ion Minister on providing recognition to the five<br />

non-Tamil languages, namely, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujar<strong>at</strong>i,<br />

Bengali and Urdu, and extending financial support to<br />

each of these languages. His <strong>at</strong>tempts were met such<br />

replies as “How do you expect us to recognise the<br />

languages when uncles and aunties are teaching nieces<br />

and nephews?” 6 As such, there was a need to raise<br />

standards and ensure conformity of the five languages.<br />

This led to the tough process of communic<strong>at</strong>ing with<br />

community leaders from each of these language groups.<br />

Eventually, a group comprising members of the five<br />

communities was formed and it paved the way for the<br />

establishment of the Board for the Teaching and Testing<br />

of South Asian Languages. It was made responsible for<br />

standardising the curriculum and examin<strong>at</strong>ion model<br />

for all five languages. The next step was to secure full<br />

government funding for these languages. Inderjit wrote<br />

to Prime Minister Lee on the plight of the Board, arguing<br />

the case for government recognition and funding. This<br />


led to the government announcing in 2007 th<strong>at</strong> it will<br />

fully recognise and fund the five languages. It was an<br />

important victory for the five communities.<br />

Apart from Punjabi language educ<strong>at</strong>ion, Inderjit has<br />

also been active in various Sikh institutions. He provides<br />

guidance and support to the leaders of the institutions<br />

and acts as an important link between the Sikh community<br />

and the <strong>Singapore</strong> government. He is also currently<br />

an Advisor to Young Sikh Associ<strong>at</strong>ion (<strong>Singapore</strong>). In<br />

addition, his family and he have contributed financially<br />

to various community causes over the years.<br />

While juggling his entrepreneurial ventures,<br />

parliamentary duties and community engagements,<br />

Inderjit has still managed to find time to write which<br />

is one of his passions. He is the author of The Art and<br />

Science of Entrepreneurship, a popular book capturing<br />

his entrepreneurial experiences. It was sold out when it<br />

was published and has become an important read for<br />

budding and experienced entrepreneurs alike.<br />

Born in India and raised a village boy in <strong>Singapore</strong> when<br />

he was only 10 months old, Inderjit’s success story is<br />

nothing short of phenomenal. He had the desire to want<br />

to excel and contribute to society. This resulted in him<br />

making significant contributions in the areas of n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

discourse, business and entrepreneurial promotion,<br />

and community development. He has, indeed, made a<br />

lasting impression on <strong>Singapore</strong>’s socio-economic and<br />

political landscapes.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

In Chinese and other Asian societies, a red envelope, red packet or<br />

hongbao (ang pow) is a monetary gift which is given during holidays or<br />

special occasions such as weddings, the birth of a baby or gradu<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

See www.fengshuiweb.co.uk/advice/redenvelope.htm.<br />

2<br />

Interview with Mr Inderjit Singh, April 9, 2015.<br />

3<br />

Parliament of <strong>Singapore</strong>. See http://www.parliament.gov.sg/mp/inderjitsingh?viewcv=Inderjit%20Singh.<br />

4<br />

Interview with Mr Inderjit Singh, op. cit.<br />

5<br />

MP Inderjit Singh confronts <strong>Singapore</strong>’s hard truths. See https://sg.news.<br />

yahoo.com/pap-mp-inderjit-singh-confronts-singapore-s-hard-truths-inwide-ranging-facebook-post-090404111.html.<br />

6<br />

Interview with Mr Inderjit Singh, op. cit.<br />


Jagjit<br />

Singh<br />

F<br />

rom the outset, he was <strong>at</strong>tracted to the complex world of law enforcement and criminal<br />

investig<strong>at</strong>ion. Therefore, it came as little surprise when Mr Jagjit Singh decided to join the<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Police Force (SPF) in 1967 as an Assistant Superintendent of Police. He rose rapidly<br />

through the ranks and held such posts as Director (Planning), Commander Areas, Director<br />

of Criminal Investig<strong>at</strong>ion Department (CID) and Deputy Commissioner (Oper<strong>at</strong>ions) before<br />

retiring in 2000. He is the only Sikh officer to have held these posts and was the second<br />

most senior Sikh officer in the Force, second only to the Commissioner of Police.<br />

Jagjit was born in 1940 in the town of B<strong>at</strong>u Gajah in Perak in Malaysia, where he received<br />

his early primary educ<strong>at</strong>ion. After his family moved to <strong>Singapore</strong> in 1952, Jagjit continued his<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion <strong>at</strong> Outram Primary School. He then joined Raffles Institution where he completed<br />

his GCE ‘O’ and GCE ‘A’ Levels, emerging as the top GCE ‘A’ Level student in the Arts stream<br />

in 1959. The bright young man, who devoured readings beyond the prescribed curriculum<br />

during his GCE ‘A’ Level years, gradu<strong>at</strong>ed with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) from the<br />

University of <strong>Singapore</strong>. Upon gradu<strong>at</strong>ion, his family and friends encouraged him to pursue<br />

a career practicing law. However, he followed his heart and instead joined the SPF.<br />

Jagjit elabor<strong>at</strong>ed: “The job was extremely taxing and the pressures to deliver quick and<br />

good results were intense. The hours of work were long, stretching into several days in the<br />

office with little rest on many occasions.” 1 These included the communal riots in May 1969<br />

when Jagjit was with the Internal Security Department. As Director of CID, he handled high<br />

profile murders, kidnappings and firearm robberies th<strong>at</strong> demanded fast results. He also<br />

led investig<strong>at</strong>ions into the Hotel New World collapse in 1986. 2 He made many personal<br />

sacrifices throughout his years of service because of his single-minded determin<strong>at</strong>ion to<br />


of whether the case occurred during the day or<br />

night. I wanted to know the facts first hand so th<strong>at</strong><br />

I could better direct my officers during the fortnightly<br />

meetings to review the progress of major cases.” 3 Out<br />

of such back-breaking effort came enormous rewards<br />

th<strong>at</strong> not only included effective n<strong>at</strong>ional crime control<br />

but also a strong bond and team spirit among his<br />

officers.<br />

deliver in his various roles and capacities during his<br />

years in the SPF.<br />

As Director CID from early 1984 to l<strong>at</strong>e 1987, Jagjit was<br />

in charge of policies pertaining to criminal and crime<br />

investig<strong>at</strong>ions. He supervised and directed the CID’s<br />

specialist units dealing with major crime, organised<br />

crime, secret societies, gambling, commercial crime<br />

and criminal intelligence. Crime <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> time was<br />

rel<strong>at</strong>ively high, with <strong>Singapore</strong> witnessing around 70<br />

murders per year. Yet, the CID was able to maintain<br />

a clearance r<strong>at</strong>e of 80 percent, which was high by<br />

intern<strong>at</strong>ional standards. To produce the best results,<br />

Jagjit was unflinching in his resolve and, in doing so,<br />

place tremendous pressure on himself. He st<strong>at</strong>ed th<strong>at</strong>,<br />

“I made it a point to personally go to the scene of<br />

every murder and firearm robbery case, regardless<br />

In the area of gambling, several major problems in<br />

the mid-1980s were brought under control through<br />

the oper<strong>at</strong>ions of the CID, helmed by Jagjit. One such<br />

oper<strong>at</strong>ion was against the Mini Turf Clubs (MTCs). The<br />

MTCs were oper<strong>at</strong>ed by illegal bookies mainly <strong>at</strong> the<br />

void decks of Housing and Development Board (HDB)<br />

blocks during weekends when horse races were in<br />

progress. They oper<strong>at</strong>ed <strong>at</strong> more than 400 loc<strong>at</strong>ions<br />

and were <strong>at</strong>tended by large crowds of punters. <strong>Their</strong><br />

presence irked the residents and prompted public<br />

complaints to the government. The first step taken<br />

by the SPF was to make illegal betting laws more<br />

stringent so th<strong>at</strong> the police could deal more effectively<br />

with the MTCs. Then, as Director CID, Jagjit planned<br />

an eight-weekend police oper<strong>at</strong>ion involving the CID<br />

and other police units to crack down on the MTCs.<br />

At the end of the oper<strong>at</strong>ion, the MTCs practically<br />

disappeared. Jagjit was also instrumental in another<br />

six-week oper<strong>at</strong>ion to clear the <strong>Singapore</strong> Turf Club<br />

(STC) 4 of illegal activities by bookies and their runners<br />

who were arrested or chose to cease oper<strong>at</strong>ions <strong>at</strong><br />

the Club. The results were remarkable – the quantum<br />

of legal betting <strong>at</strong> the STC, which stood <strong>at</strong> S$6 million<br />

per race day prior to the oper<strong>at</strong>ion, increased threefold<br />

after the oper<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Whilst Deputy Commissioner (Oper<strong>at</strong>ions), Jagjit<br />

shouldered additional important responsibilities as the<br />

Head of the Command and Control Group (CCG) in a<br />

wide range of oper<strong>at</strong>ion plans dealing with sensitive<br />


“<br />

I have known Jagjit since 1958 in school, university and in the course of<br />

our working lives in the uniformed services. Jagjit’s rise through the officers’ ranks<br />

to Deputy Commissioner of Police was due to his exceptional grasp of the law, in<br />

which he has a degree, and his strong leadership traits.<br />

He was consistently able to focus on essentials when dealing with the complex<br />

dynamics of law enforcement in <strong>Singapore</strong>’s multi-racial and multi-cultural<br />

environment. He effortlessly commanded the respect of his civilian and uniformed<br />

colleagues and subordin<strong>at</strong>es.<br />

“<br />

Colonel (Retired) Ramachandran Menon<br />

Director<br />

Public Affairs and MINDEF Spokesman (1991-1995)<br />

security oper<strong>at</strong>ions such as aircraft hijacking. As Head<br />

of the CCG, he worked directly under the Executive<br />

Group made up largely of Permanent Secretaries.<br />

The Executive Group made the policy decisions while<br />

the CCG transl<strong>at</strong>ed these decisions into action. In<br />

the <strong>Singapore</strong> Airlines flight SQ117 hijacking in<br />

1991, 5 Jagjit was in command of oper<strong>at</strong>ions from the<br />

outset until the culmin<strong>at</strong>ion of the incident when the<br />

Executive Group decided on storming into the plane.<br />

Through a coded message, Jagjit then conveyed the<br />

storming in instructions to his ground commander<br />

who immedi<strong>at</strong>ely activ<strong>at</strong>ed the <strong>Singapore</strong> Armed<br />

Forces (SAF) commandos. The oper<strong>at</strong>ion was highly<br />

successful – the four terrorists were killed and there<br />

were no other f<strong>at</strong>alities among the passengers and<br />

crew of the flight.<br />

As Deputy Commissioner (Oper<strong>at</strong>ions), Jagjit also<br />

had command and control responsibilities in a<br />

number of other major and security sensitive events<br />

such as the N<strong>at</strong>ional Day parades and the General<br />

Elections. He also chaired the Airport Bomb Warning<br />

Committee and was in control of air crash oper<strong>at</strong>ions.<br />

For some 10 years, Jagjit was also the Co-Chairman<br />

of the Explosives Safety Committee of <strong>Singapore</strong>. His<br />

Co-Chairman was the then-Chief Defence Scientist,<br />

Professor Lui Pao Chuen. 6<br />

Over the years, Jagjit represented the SPF <strong>at</strong> multiple<br />

intern<strong>at</strong>ional forums as well. These included the annual<br />

Interpol General Assembly meetings in Nice, Lyon and<br />

Rome, and the Interpol Asia Regional Conference in<br />

Seoul. He also led SPF deleg<strong>at</strong>ions to 12 <strong>Singapore</strong>-<br />

Malaysia CID liaison meetings. At the same time,<br />

he led an SPF team to Tokyo to study the Japanese<br />

system of community policing which was subsequently<br />

implemented, with modific<strong>at</strong>ions, in <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

as the Neighbourhood Police Post (NPP) system. 7<br />

Jagjit retired from the SPF in 2000. Not one to<br />

remain idle, the very next day, he started working<br />

with CISCO. 8 He led a project to enable CISCO<br />

to undertake a new area of work, namely, law<br />

enforcement and investig<strong>at</strong>ion on behalf of st<strong>at</strong>utory<br />

boards and government departments. This effort was<br />

accomplished in three years. Jagjit then worked with<br />


In recognition of his outstanding service to <strong>Singapore</strong>,<br />

Jagjit has received several medals from the SPF.<br />

He was also honoured with n<strong>at</strong>ional awards on<br />

three occasions. These awards were the Ping<strong>at</strong><br />

Berkebolehan (Efficiency Medal), 9 the Ping<strong>at</strong> Bakti<br />

Setia (Long Service Award) 10 and the Bintang Bakti<br />

Masyarak<strong>at</strong> (Public Service Star). 11 He is thankful for<br />

the excellent teams of officers with whom he worked<br />

in the SPF. Above all, he values the unwavering support<br />

and understanding of his wife – without her, success<br />

would not have been possible.<br />

the Public Utilities Board (PUB) in 2003. He headed the<br />

security unit responsible for planning the protective<br />

security of PUB’s w<strong>at</strong>er supply infrastructure in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> and in Johor. He continued to work in PUB<br />

until 2013 before retiring <strong>at</strong> 73 years of age.<br />

It has been some two years since Jagjit finally<br />

stopped full-time work. In his thirty-three year<br />

service with the SPF, he enjoyed a rewarding and<br />

enriching career. At the same time, he overcame<br />

numerous challenges and trying occasions to<br />

contribute significantly and successfully to effective<br />

crime control in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Mr Jagjit Singh, June 13, 2015.<br />

2<br />

The Hotel New World collapsed due to structural faults and poor-quality<br />

construction. The collapse left 33 people dead and was considered<br />

one of the worst disasters in post-war <strong>Singapore</strong>. A rescue oper<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

involving more than <strong>50</strong>0 personnel from the SPF, the Civil Defence<br />

Force, the Fire Service, the SAF and foreign experts lasted for four days,<br />

and the rescuers pulled out 17 survivors from the rubble. See http://<br />

eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia.<br />

3<br />

Interview with Mr Jagjit Singh, op. cit.<br />

4<br />

The STC was founded in 1842 as the <strong>Singapore</strong> Sporting Club. It is<br />

now one of the premier racecourses in the world th<strong>at</strong> provides worldclass<br />

quality horse racing. It is also an efficient, effective and socially<br />

responsible organis<strong>at</strong>ion. See http://www.turfclub.com.sg/Corpor<strong>at</strong>e/<br />

AboutUs.<br />

5<br />

SQ117 was hijacked on 26 March 1991 shortly after it took off from<br />

Kuala Lumpur. The hijackers were four passengers who claimed to be<br />

members of the Pakistan People’s Party. The plane landed <strong>at</strong> Changi<br />

Airport <strong>at</strong> 10.24pm. SAF commandos mounted a rescue oper<strong>at</strong>ion <strong>at</strong><br />

6.<strong>50</strong>am on 27 March 1991. See http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia.<br />

6<br />

Professor Lui was appointed to the newly-cre<strong>at</strong>ed post of Chief Defence<br />

Scientist, Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) in 1986. He retired in 2008 after<br />

serving 41 years in MINDEF and 22 years in the appointment as Chief<br />

Defence Scientist.See http://www.sutd.edu.sg/board_of_trustees.<br />

7<br />

The NPP was introduced in 1983 to allow police officers on the ground<br />

to perform community policing. It helped to reduce crime r<strong>at</strong>es and<br />

perceived positively by the general public. It was replaced by the<br />

Neighbourhood Police Centre, a mid-sized police st<strong>at</strong>ion, in 1997.<br />

See www.police.gov.sg.<br />

8<br />

CISCO Security Priv<strong>at</strong>e Limited has its roots as a department of the<br />

SPF which branched out as the Commercial and Industrial Security<br />

Corpor<strong>at</strong>ion, a st<strong>at</strong>utory board with a monopoly over most areas of the<br />

local priv<strong>at</strong>e armed security industry. It is now called Certis CISCO. See<br />

www.cisco.com.<br />

9<br />

The Ping<strong>at</strong> Berkebolehan was instituted in 1969. It is awarded to any of<br />

the following persons for exceptional efficiency or exceptional devotion<br />

to duty or for work of special significance: public officer; officer<br />

employed by any st<strong>at</strong>utory authority; any person who in the service of<br />

any organis<strong>at</strong>ion, associ<strong>at</strong>ion or body rendering services in the field of<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion; or any person employed in any company which is whollyowned<br />

by the government and which is carrying on business mainly as<br />

an agent or instrumentality of the government. See http://www.pmo.<br />

gov.sg/n<strong>at</strong>ionaldayawards.<br />

10<br />

The Ping<strong>at</strong> Bakti Setia was instituted in 1962. It is awarded to any<br />

person who has completed 25 years of continuous service in the service<br />

of the government; any st<strong>at</strong>utory board; any organis<strong>at</strong>ion; associ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

or body rendering service in the field of educ<strong>at</strong>ion or any company<br />

which is wholly owned by the government and which is carrying on<br />

business mainly as an agent or instrumentally of the government. Ibid.<br />

11<br />

The Bintang Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> was instituted in 1963. It is awarded to<br />

any person who has rendered valuable public service to the people of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>; or who has distinguished himself or herself in the field of<br />

arts and letters, sports, the sciences, business, the professions and the<br />

labour movement. Ibid.<br />


Jagjit<br />

Singh Sekhon<br />

O"<br />

kay dear, where shall I send my ambulance?” These are the oft-spoken first words of Mr Jagjit<br />

Singh Sekhon when he receives a phone call either <strong>at</strong> his office or on his mobile phone. Founder,<br />

Director and Chairman of Nightingale Nursing Home, Jagjit is a man larger than life and a man<br />

who has given so much to life – to the lives of many others, to be more precise!<br />

Known endearingly to community members as JJ, Jagjit grew up in Potong Pasir. Born into a<br />

family which owned c<strong>at</strong>tle, he too helped in grazing and cleaning them. Wh<strong>at</strong> took up most of<br />

his time, however, was walking around the village, especially during floods, to see how wh<strong>at</strong> he<br />

could do to help his neighbours. His commitment to this cause landed him the opportunity to<br />

serve as Chairman of the Welfare Clinic in his neighbourhood. Service towards others fe<strong>at</strong>ured<br />

very early in Jagjit’s life and it was here th<strong>at</strong> he decided to embark on a career of a care-giver.<br />

Recalling his school days, Jagjit candidly st<strong>at</strong>ed: “After Secondary Four, my f<strong>at</strong>her certified me<br />

unfit for higher educ<strong>at</strong>ion.” 1 However, he did pursue his higher educ<strong>at</strong>ion in a field of his choice<br />

and emerged with impressive results. First, he <strong>at</strong>tended a course as a Hospital Assistant <strong>at</strong> the<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> General Hospital (SGH), which earned him recognition as a St<strong>at</strong>e Registered Nurse.<br />

He then trained in Psychi<strong>at</strong>ric Nursing <strong>at</strong> Woodbridge Hospital (now, Institute of Mental Health)<br />

and went to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for training in Tuberculosis Nursing. Finally, he returned<br />

to SGH to complete a Ward Administr<strong>at</strong>ion Course. This marked the beginning of 17 years of<br />

service as a nurse and earned him the title of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s home-grown nurse leader.<br />

However, life as a nurse was no lap of luxury. Jagjit was assigned to the oper<strong>at</strong>ion the<strong>at</strong>re where<br />

working hours were excruci<strong>at</strong>ing and 20-hour shifts were the norm. Jagjit added th<strong>at</strong> the public<br />

kept the oper<strong>at</strong>ing the<strong>at</strong>res so busy th<strong>at</strong> he and his colleagues spent nights sleeping on the<br />


e a happy resolution for the nurses who received pay<br />

revisions and clearer definitions of their responsibilities.<br />

Jagjit also helped win arbitr<strong>at</strong>ion for recognition of nurses<br />

who continued to develop themselves professionally<br />

with courses so th<strong>at</strong> better services could be rendered<br />

to p<strong>at</strong>ients. Monetary incentives were given to nurses<br />

who adopted life-long learning through professional<br />

upgrading. Looking back <strong>at</strong> the whole episode, Jagjit<br />

c<strong>at</strong>egorically st<strong>at</strong>ed: “I think the strike could have<br />

finished me off. The media was quite ruthless and the<br />

government could have put me behind bars. ‘Home’<br />

could have been Changi or St John’s Island. However,<br />

I am glad th<strong>at</strong> the government engaged us fairly.” 3<br />

Jagjit’s role as the champion for nurses then witnessed<br />

a sea change in the way the nursing profession was<br />

viewed in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

hospital grounds in their on-duty uniforms. Analysing<br />

the situ<strong>at</strong>ion before him, with the welfare of his<br />

colleagues in mind, Jagjit, together with other nurses,<br />

issued a notice of a pending strike to the Ministry of<br />

Health. It was only on the third day of the strike th<strong>at</strong><br />

then-Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, engaged the<br />

striking nurses. Jagjit came forward and asked the<br />

nurses to quieten down so th<strong>at</strong> discussions could<br />

proceed and signalled to them to stop their agit<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Thereafter, Jagjit passed the floor to Mr Lee who told<br />

the nurses to prepare for arbitr<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Thus began six months of prepar<strong>at</strong>ion of documents<br />

consisting of duty rosters, responsibilities, incidents and<br />

diss<strong>at</strong>isfactions of the nurses. Jagjit added: “We piled<br />

up all the papers and they were stacked higher than<br />

our tallest nurse who was six feet.” 2 It turned out to<br />

While working as a nurse, Jagjit’s f<strong>at</strong>her fell ill and<br />

slipped into a coma. A day before passing on, his f<strong>at</strong>her<br />

told him: “I can hear all th<strong>at</strong> you and the nurses are<br />

doing for me. When I go, do something useful.” 4 It<br />

was then th<strong>at</strong> Jagjit decided to run his own nursing<br />

home. The entrepreneur in him established Nightingale<br />

Nursing Home in 1980 as <strong>Singapore</strong>’s first professionally<br />

oper<strong>at</strong>ed nursing home with emphasis on care of the<br />

aged, chronic sick and convalescing. Two years l<strong>at</strong>er,<br />

Jagjit introduced <strong>Singapore</strong>’s first ambulance service<br />

oper<strong>at</strong>ed by nurses, which has now grown to a fleet<br />

of 20 ambulances in <strong>Singapore</strong> and three in Malaysia.<br />

Not surprisingly, Jagjit has also extended his ambulance<br />

services for medical evacu<strong>at</strong>ion abroad in places such<br />

as Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia for <strong>Singapore</strong>ans<br />

who meet with unfortun<strong>at</strong>e incidents and need to be<br />

brought back to <strong>Singapore</strong>. This service is also extended<br />

to other n<strong>at</strong>ionalities who would like to seek medical<br />

tre<strong>at</strong>ment in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

On many occasion, Jagjit has provided his medical<br />

services free of charge. Apart from offering<br />


“<br />

I have known Jagjit for almost 30 years. He has always come across as a colourful,<br />

generous and warm-hearted person. He has devoted most of his life to the community<br />

<strong>at</strong> large and the Sikh community in particular. He is a firm believer in helping the sick<br />

and less fortun<strong>at</strong>e. He has always put service to the community before self.<br />

Jagjit’s calling to the field of nursing saw him single-handedly establish Nightingale<br />

Nursing Home from a humble single-level home to a multi-storey complex offering<br />

residential care for the sick and aged. He has been the lamp who brought light with<br />

dedic<strong>at</strong>ed care to the lives of countless aged, aged-sick and disabled individuals whom<br />

he served with total compassion so th<strong>at</strong> they could lead lives of dignity. In this respect,<br />

he ranks among the pioneers to offer holistic nursing care to the sick and aged. His<br />

has indeed been a life of inspir<strong>at</strong>ion th<strong>at</strong> many young <strong>Singapore</strong>ans should strive to<br />

emul<strong>at</strong>e.<br />

“<br />

Mr S Thavaneson<br />

Chairman, Balestier Khalsa Football Club, and<br />

Chief Executive Officer, Sports Equipment Holdings Pte Ltd<br />

complimentary ambulance service to the needy as well<br />

as accommod<strong>at</strong>ion <strong>at</strong> his nursing home to the destitute<br />

and those without families, Jagjit has also allowed<br />

the use of his ambulance for n<strong>at</strong>ional, community and<br />

charitable causes <strong>at</strong> no cost. At the same time, he makes<br />

generous don<strong>at</strong>ions to the Down Syndrome Associ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

(<strong>Singapore</strong>) as well as other rel<strong>at</strong>ed organis<strong>at</strong>ions.<br />

Jagjit has also been active in serving the Sikh community.<br />

In his capacity as Chairman of the Sikh Welfare Council<br />

(SIWEC), 5 he made it his personal mission to visit every<br />

needy family supported by SIWEC so as to ensure<br />

th<strong>at</strong> help rendered was congruent with the needs<br />

of the families. This groundwork also revealed th<strong>at</strong><br />

funding was grossly lacking. Jagjit decided to harness<br />

the resourcefulness of those within and outside the<br />

community to raise funds. One such instance was Jagjit<br />

engaging <strong>Singapore</strong>’s ex-President, Mr S R N<strong>at</strong>han,<br />

to raise funds for the community. Mr N<strong>at</strong>han’s book,<br />

Winning Against the Odds, was sold <strong>at</strong> S$10,000 a copy.<br />

A total of S$170,000 was raised to support needy Sikh<br />

families under the SIWEC banner. His other initi<strong>at</strong>ives<br />

included the Welfare Day <strong>at</strong> the Sikh temples and Flag<br />

Days as well as supporting events such as the annual<br />

Ride-for-Charity cycling from Malacca to <strong>Singapore</strong>,<br />

which raises funds for SIWEC.<br />

Jagjit is currently President of Khalsa Dharmak Sabha<br />

temple. One aspect of his leadership th<strong>at</strong> is particularly<br />

striking is in how he galvanises every member of the<br />

congreg<strong>at</strong>ion to do his or her part. For instance, he<br />

succeeded in achieving a win-win situ<strong>at</strong>ion with the<br />

youth in the Sikh community by getting them to do<br />

their part with kitchen chores and cleanliness of the<br />

temple’s premises. It is now a common sight to see<br />

these youth <strong>at</strong> the temple doing sewa (service). As in<br />


the case with his service to the larger society via his<br />

professional portfolio, Jagjit also lends his support to<br />

various socio-educ<strong>at</strong>ional and charitable causes within<br />

the Sikh community.<br />

When Jagjit was the President of the <strong>Singapore</strong> Khalsa<br />

Associ<strong>at</strong>ion, he reached out to the other communities<br />

by opening up sporting events to non-<strong>Sikhs</strong>. In his effort<br />

to project the Sikh community’s name in the sporting<br />

arena, Jagjit has been lending his support to Balestier<br />

Khalsa Football Club since its entry into the S-League. He<br />

is the current Vice-Chairman and Treasurer of the club.<br />

Jagjit’s message of service is so simple yet so profound:<br />

“Everyone can help everyone.” 6 Jagjit started his service<br />

to the community and n<strong>at</strong>ion almost half a century ago.<br />

His f<strong>at</strong>her’s final words of being of service to others<br />

spurred him to do even more. Even today, his f<strong>at</strong>her’s<br />

last words continue to ring loud in his ears and he<br />

continues to do useful things for those in need.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Mr Jagjit Singh Sekhon, August 9, 2015.<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />

3<br />

Ibid.<br />

4<br />

Ibid.<br />

5<br />

SIWEC was set up in 1995 to formul<strong>at</strong>e the overall community policies<br />

in respect of Sikh welfare services in <strong>Singapore</strong>. See http://www.siwec.<br />

org/.<br />

6<br />

Ibid.<br />


Jagrup<br />

Singh<br />

O<br />

ne fine morning, a military land rover drove up to the front of his house. He boarded it and soon<br />

after, together with two other persons, he was sworn into service in the <strong>Singapore</strong> Armed Forces<br />

(SAF) <strong>at</strong> Port Dickson in Malaya. Colonel (Retired) Jagrup Singh’s applic<strong>at</strong>ion to join the army<br />

was approved and it marked the beginning of his long and fulfilling military career, one which<br />

enabled him to make telling contributions to the n<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Jagrup was born in 1938. At th<strong>at</strong> time, his f<strong>at</strong>her was <strong>at</strong>tached to the police force and the<br />

young Jagrup spent most of his childhood <strong>at</strong> the police training school <strong>at</strong> Thompson Road.<br />

When he was four years old, he vividly recalled seeing the Japanese marching in from<br />

the MacRitchie Reservoir area and life drastically changing for him during the Japanese<br />

occup<strong>at</strong>ion. 1 Back <strong>at</strong> the police training school barracks, Jagrup’s f<strong>at</strong>her had a small plot<br />

of land where he planted rambutans and beans for his family. Jagrup’s family was l<strong>at</strong>er<br />

transferred to the Hill Street Police St<strong>at</strong>ion. They made a home for themselves there on a<br />

vacant plot of land <strong>at</strong> the premises. With his knowledge of farming, Jagrup’s f<strong>at</strong>her planted<br />

vegetables on the land.<br />

Around th<strong>at</strong> point of time, tragedy befell the family. One of his brothers was taken gravely<br />

ill. The doctor could do little beyond providing vitamins to his ailing brother. Given the<br />

limited resources, there was little his family could do to help his brother. Jagrup recounted,<br />

“Food was scarce and difficult to come by during the years of the occup<strong>at</strong>ion. My mother<br />

would cook rice when available and if possible but this was extremely rare. However, wh<strong>at</strong><br />

we really needed was milk for my brother in order for him to recover.” 2 His family prayers<br />

were somewh<strong>at</strong> answered when his f<strong>at</strong>her managed to rear a cow with the help of some<br />

Indian commissioned officers. The plan was to provide the commissioned officers with<br />


When Jagrup neared the completion of his educ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

<strong>at</strong> Raffles Institution, his parents wanted him to enter<br />

the university. However, he was apprehensive, especially<br />

given his family’s constraints. He knew th<strong>at</strong> if he went<br />

to university, his siblings would likely lose out. Instead,<br />

he wanted to become a planter in a rubber est<strong>at</strong>e in<br />

Malaya. As his parents had shown him early in life their<br />

capacity for sacrifice, he wanted to become a planter so<br />

th<strong>at</strong> he could earn an income and support his family.<br />

He completed his GCE ‘A’ Levels, which in itself was an<br />

achievement <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> time.<br />

milk in exchange for their help. At the same time,<br />

the family was very gr<strong>at</strong>eful to the Tamil community<br />

for providing space to keep the cow <strong>at</strong> no cost. To<br />

his family’s joy, his brother recovered, though not fully.<br />

This episode was just part of the travails endured by<br />

the family which made many sacrifices to ensure its<br />

collective well-being. Such travails were also important<br />

lessons of life for Jagrup.<br />

During the years of the Japanese occup<strong>at</strong>ion, Jagrup<br />

enrolled in a Japanese school. All the subjects were<br />

taught in Japanese. It was difficult for the local students<br />

to adapt to these changes as many, if not all, could not<br />

understand Japanese. Jagrup recalled: “I learnt nothing<br />

there.” 3 Fortun<strong>at</strong>ely, life eventually improved when the<br />

Japanese left <strong>Singapore</strong> in 1945.<br />

When Jagrup was in the first year in the GCE ‘A’<br />

Level programme, n<strong>at</strong>ional service was introduced in<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>. While <strong>at</strong>tending part-time n<strong>at</strong>ional service<br />

in a camp <strong>at</strong> Beach Road, a military officer approached<br />

him to consider joining the SAF. Jagrup confessed:<br />

“I did not know anything about the SAF. (The Major)<br />

explained it to me and passed me an applic<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

form. My parents left the decision to me and assured<br />

me th<strong>at</strong> they would support my decision. Despite<br />

the uncertainties, I chose the SAF.” 4 Th<strong>at</strong> marked the<br />

turning point in Jagrup’s life.<br />

Jagrup’s first posting in the SAF was to the 1st<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Infantry Regiment. He was briefed on his<br />

reporting details upon his arrival <strong>at</strong> the then-Tanjong<br />

Pagar railway st<strong>at</strong>ion. However, he would soon return to<br />

Port Dickson to be trained as an officer in the SAF. After<br />

undergoing training for two years, he passed out as a<br />

commissioned officer.<br />

In the course of his duty, Jagrup was posted as<br />

an instructor to Command and Staff College. He<br />

ensured th<strong>at</strong> his unit was efficient in its training. More<br />

importantly, he ensured th<strong>at</strong> his soldiers were always<br />

oper<strong>at</strong>ionally-ready. On various occasions, his unit<br />

emerged victorious in these competitions. He recalled:<br />

“During one exercise, a top Israeli General was invited<br />


“<br />

I have known Jag, as he is fondly known, since our primary school days.<br />

We were in the same standard. We separ<strong>at</strong>ed during our secondary school days but<br />

met again when I reported <strong>at</strong> the Feder<strong>at</strong>ion Military College for my military officer<br />

training. He was then in his second year. Jag went on to have a distinguished career in<br />

the SAF. During his service, he had a high degree of perseverance and discipline, and<br />

he expected th<strong>at</strong> as well from his soldiers and those who worked with him. Although<br />

a senior officer, he never abused his authority.<br />

Jag came from a humble family. His compassion<strong>at</strong>e and caring n<strong>at</strong>ure is reflective of<br />

his family’s environment. He is a good friend and is full of humour. We have a round<br />

of golf on Sundays when we are free. I bring along my son, <strong>And</strong>rew, and we have a<br />

wonderful breakfast <strong>at</strong> his house before setting out to the golf course.<br />

All in all, Jag and I have been friends for about 65 years and the friendship is still<br />

going strong.<br />

“<br />

Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Kesavan Soon<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Armed Forces<br />

124<br />

to inspect my unit. The General left impressed with<br />

the work of my team, especially the high standards<br />

expected of and delivered by the personnel in the<br />

unit.” 5<br />

During his time in the SAF, Jagrup was also deployed<br />

on several overseas posts and tours in various<br />

significant capacities. He was also sent to represent<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> and the SAF on various occasions. Some<br />

notable examples of such postings and his experiences<br />

included the 62nd Regimental Signal Officers Course<br />

in the United Kingdom; the Jungle Warfare Course<br />

in Kota Tinggi (Malaysia) and Australia, the Military<br />

Accounts Course in Perak (Malaysia) and the<br />

Command and Staff College Course in Australia. An<br />

important highlight in Jagrup’s military career was<br />

the privilege of being sent to England in 1963 to<br />

represent <strong>Singapore</strong> <strong>at</strong> the Queen’s birthday. Jagrup

was additionally also <strong>Singapore</strong>'s Military Attaché in<br />

Manila in the Philippines and <strong>at</strong>tended the United<br />

St<strong>at</strong>es Army Familiaris<strong>at</strong>ion Course in the United St<strong>at</strong>es.<br />

When he retired, it was no surprise th<strong>at</strong> Jagrup was<br />

well suited, with his vast experience, to continue to be<br />

involved in military work undertaken by the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Ministry of Defence. This included the sale of military<br />

equipment to overseas partners. He then started his<br />

own enterprise dealing in military equipment. Finally<br />

calling it a day, Jagrup decided to look after his family<br />

full time.<br />

Jagrup’s motto in life is “One should persevere and also<br />

be a keen learner. This applies to many, if not all aspects,<br />

of life. Only then will one realise one’s dreams”. He<br />

made sacrifices for the family, persevered in the face<br />

of adversity and took a leap of faith to join the SAF.<br />

He eventually went on to realise his dreams and in the<br />

process, made significant contributions to the n<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

As Jagrup laps up his retirement years, he recapitul<strong>at</strong>es<br />

th<strong>at</strong> the Japanese occup<strong>at</strong>ion was the one event which<br />

left an indelible impression on him. “I w<strong>at</strong>ched, saw and<br />

learnt lessons from the Japanese occup<strong>at</strong>ion. The same<br />

Japanese who were masters suddenly became prisoners<br />

of war. My f<strong>at</strong>her used to say th<strong>at</strong> this is life. Today, you<br />

may be the top man but tomorrow you may go down.<br />

My circumstances were wh<strong>at</strong> made me different.” 6<br />

Having gone through some trying times, his advice to<br />

young <strong>Sikhs</strong> is simple, “Work hard! Chardi kala! 7 Look<br />

forward to the future. If you are a Sikh, you are special.<br />

We are now much better off. Maintain your faith. This<br />

is very important. Maintain your beliefs. Work hard.<br />

Success is only a stone’s throw away.” 8<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Colonel (Retired) Jagrup Singh, October 6, 2015.<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />

3<br />

Ibid.<br />

4<br />

Ibid.<br />

5<br />

Ibid.<br />

6<br />

Ibid.<br />

7<br />

Chardi Kala is a concept in Sikhism th<strong>at</strong> refers to a mental st<strong>at</strong>e of<br />

optimism and joy. <strong>Sikhs</strong> are ideally expected to be in this positive st<strong>at</strong>e<br />

of mind as a sign of their contentment with the will of God, even during<br />

the times of adversity. See http://searchsikhism.com.<br />

8<br />

Interview with Colonel (Retired) Jagrup Singh, op. cit.<br />


Jarmal<br />

Singh<br />

A "<br />

nything and everything can be managed. If others can do it, so can you!” 1 ‘Difficult’ is a word<br />

th<strong>at</strong> is non-existent in the vocabulary of Assistant Commissioner of Police (Retired) Jarmal<br />

Singh. Whether it was defending against a stronger opponent on the rugby pitch, dealing<br />

with convicts, managing two jobs in a day or communic<strong>at</strong>ing the needs of the community to<br />

officialdom, Jarmal has not even once held the view th<strong>at</strong> these were unachievable. This is the<br />

mantra adopted by Jarmal throughout his life.<br />

Born in India in 1948, Jarmal landed in <strong>Singapore</strong> as an eight-year old in 1956. His early life<br />

was shrouded by challenges. Jarmal’s traits of working hard and never giving up were inherited<br />

from his f<strong>at</strong>her who played a major role in shaping his character. Growing in a zinc structure<br />

called home and situ<strong>at</strong>ed just behind the warehouse his f<strong>at</strong>her guarded as a w<strong>at</strong>chman, Jarmal<br />

witnessed his f<strong>at</strong>her holding two jobs to make ends meet. On his part, Jarmal tried his best<br />

to help. He paddled daily on a bicycle to school instead of taking the bus so as to save a few<br />

cents. While other w<strong>at</strong>ched movies in the cinema, he would stare intently <strong>at</strong> the entrance of<br />

the cinema with vague imagin<strong>at</strong>ions of the interiors of a cinema. He took up a part-time day<br />

job to earn a few dollars while studying the night away for crucial examin<strong>at</strong>ions. <strong>And</strong> he settled<br />

for handmade spiked running shoes instead of those th<strong>at</strong> were commercially produced due to<br />

the l<strong>at</strong>ter’s hefty price of S$20. The many hardships th<strong>at</strong> Jarmal witnessed his f<strong>at</strong>her and family<br />

having to deal with constantly reminded him to work hard.<br />

Jarmal’s perseverance and determin<strong>at</strong>ion saw him surpassing all expect<strong>at</strong>ions and entering<br />

the University of <strong>Singapore</strong>. He gradu<strong>at</strong>ed with a Bachelor in Science degree in 1971. He then<br />

applied for employment in the <strong>Singapore</strong> Police Force (SPF). Little did he know then th<strong>at</strong> he<br />

would spend the next 40 years of his life with the police force! During his time with the SPF,<br />


with the police. He was an exemplary officer who rose<br />

through the senior police officer ranks through hard<br />

work, self-belief and commitment.<br />

While <strong>at</strong> the Police Academy, Jarmal received the<br />

prestigious Public Service Commission scholarship to<br />

do his Master of Business Administr<strong>at</strong>ion degree <strong>at</strong><br />

the N<strong>at</strong>ional University of <strong>Singapore</strong>. In spite of having<br />

to manage work and studies <strong>at</strong> the same time, Jarmal<br />

completed his degree and gradu<strong>at</strong>ed in 1984.<br />

When Jarmal was the Director of Special Projects<br />

(NPC Redesign), he was tasked with building the<br />

Neighbourhood Police Centres throughout <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

so as to strengthen crime prevention efforts across<br />

the island. As the Commander of the Volunteer Special<br />

Constabulary, Jarmal spent his evenings administering<br />

and managing a team of volunteers from all walks of life<br />

who selflessly worked after office hours and weekends<br />

to assist the police officers in discharging their duties.<br />

During the day, Jarmal performed his duties as the<br />

Commander of the CISCO Auxiliary Police Force.<br />

he held numerous important positions. These included<br />

Director <strong>at</strong> the Police Academy, Officer-in-Charge <strong>at</strong><br />

Jurong Police Division, Head of the Commercial Crime<br />

Division <strong>at</strong> the Criminal Investig<strong>at</strong>ion Department,<br />

Director <strong>at</strong> the Police Academy (for a second time) and<br />

concurrent Director of Training <strong>at</strong> Police Headquarters,<br />

Commander of the Airport Police Division, Deputy<br />

Director of Oper<strong>at</strong>ions <strong>at</strong> the Police Headquarters,<br />

Director of Special Projects (NPC [Neighbourhood<br />

Police Centre] Redesign), Deputy Director of Oper<strong>at</strong>ions<br />

and concurrent Commander of the Volunteer Special<br />

Constabulary (VSC), Commander of the CISCO Auxiliary<br />

Police Force and concurrent Commander of VSC, Director<br />

of the Police Custodial Department, and Director of<br />

Sustaining Cost Optimis<strong>at</strong>ion and Policing Efficiency,<br />

among others. Jarmal has had a distinguished career<br />

Jarmal’s hard work, contributions and dedic<strong>at</strong>ion did not<br />

go unnoticed. He received numerous awards during his<br />

career with the SPF. These included the Ping<strong>at</strong> Pentadbiran<br />

Awam (Public Administr<strong>at</strong>ion Medal) (Bronze) (Bar), 2<br />

Ping<strong>at</strong> Bakti Setia (Long Service Award), 3 Minister’s Award<br />

for Home Team Achievement and <strong>Singapore</strong> Police Long<br />

Service and Good Conduct Medal. Jarmal also received the<br />

Commissioner of Police’s commend<strong>at</strong>ion for his impressive<br />

investig<strong>at</strong>ion work on the Robinson’s Department Store<br />

fire th<strong>at</strong> occurred in 1972. 4<br />

Jarmal’s contributions were not limited to <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

In 1993, he was handpicked to represent <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

on a Commonwealth Observer Mission to South<br />

Africa during the tension-stricken period just prior<br />

to the end of apartheid. He was part of a team th<strong>at</strong><br />


“<br />

Jarmal was elected by the players as n<strong>at</strong>ional captain in 1978. His election<br />

was amazing as he was from a non-traditional rugby playing secondary school and he<br />

started to play rugby as a senior police officer and l<strong>at</strong>e into his adulthood. Under his<br />

captaincy, <strong>Singapore</strong> won the Malaysian Rugby Union Cup after 44 years and we were<br />

awarded three of the four top awards during the <strong>Singapore</strong> N<strong>at</strong>ional Olympic Council<br />

annual ceremony in 1978.<br />

Jarmal was a highly respected utility player – small in size but strong in discipline,<br />

teamwork and role modeling. He was known as the ‘flying Sikh’ for his sprinting<br />

and tackling prowess. He was the only <strong>Singapore</strong>an to score a try against the mighty<br />

Western Samoa during the quarterfinals of the Main Cup <strong>at</strong> the Hong Kong Sevens in<br />

1979. We are proud of Jarmal’s contributions to our n<strong>at</strong>ional cause.<br />

Mr N<strong>at</strong>ahar Bava<br />

Former N<strong>at</strong>ional Coach<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Rugby Union<br />

“<br />

comprised represent<strong>at</strong>ives from Australia, Botswana,<br />

Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Nigeria and Zimbabwe.<br />

Jarmal was awarded the Overseas Service Medal in<br />

recognition of his intern<strong>at</strong>ional service.<br />

Jarmal’s n<strong>at</strong>ional and intern<strong>at</strong>ional contributions<br />

extended beyond his employment with the SPF. He had<br />

a keen interest in sports and was actively involved in<br />

<strong>at</strong>hletics, football and hockey since his school days. It is<br />

perhaps interesting to note Jarmal only picked up rugby<br />

in 1971, the year he gradu<strong>at</strong>ed from the university and<br />

on joining the SPF. However, this sporting activity was<br />

to give him fame and glory far beyond his imagin<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Jarmal played rugby for the next 10 years. He was a<br />

fast learner and was able to muster the sport so well<br />

th<strong>at</strong>, in 1973, he was selected for <strong>Singapore</strong>’s n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

rugby team where he played in various tournaments<br />

with Malaysian st<strong>at</strong>es. Jarmal’s impressive rugby skills<br />

were clearly evident and, soon after, he was elected<br />

the captain of the n<strong>at</strong>ional team. Under his captaincy,<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> experienced its best years in rugby history. In<br />

the Asian Rugby Championship, <strong>Singapore</strong> be<strong>at</strong> Thailand<br />

to emerge third in the intense tournament. One of the<br />

key contributors to the team’s success was Jarmal who<br />

received loud cheers from the crowd when he outran<br />

several Thai players for a try, bringing <strong>Singapore</strong> 7-3<br />

up <strong>at</strong> halftime. 5 Likewise, the strong fighting spirit in<br />

Jarmal and his fellow players led the <strong>Singapore</strong> rugby<br />

team clinching the silver medal <strong>at</strong> the Southeast Asian<br />

Peninsular Games in 1977. 6<br />

However, the best was yet to come for Jarmal in the<br />

rugby arena. In the Malaysian Rugby Union Cup against<br />

Malaysia, Australian Air Force Royal and the New Zealand<br />

and Infantry Regiment in 1978, <strong>Singapore</strong> emerged<br />

champions, winning the title for the first time after 44<br />

years of competition. As a result of the triumph, Jarmal’s<br />

rugby team bagged three out of four top trophies on<br />

hand <strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong> sports award ceremony th<strong>at</strong> year<br />


to his wife for his success. She took good care of his<br />

three sons while he was away on his career pursuits<br />

and sporting tournaments as well as encouraged him<br />

to pursue his dreams. Despite retirement, Jarmal still<br />

has the passion to serve. Recently, he authored a paper<br />

titled Crime Prevention: The <strong>Singapore</strong> Approach 8<br />

to<br />

share his valuable insights and knowledge from his long<br />

years of experience in the police force. He also provides<br />

consultancy services with the Ministry of Home Affairs.<br />

– the Team of the Year, the Coach of the Year and the<br />

Player of the Year under the <strong>Singapore</strong> N<strong>at</strong>ional Olympic<br />

Council (SNOC) umbrella. 7 Humbly, Jarmal <strong>at</strong>tributed<br />

the victory of his team to the ability and competency of<br />

the players instead of his captaincy brilliance. In 2014,<br />

Jarmal added another accolade to his glittering sporting<br />

career when he was recognised by the government as a<br />

N<strong>at</strong>ional Sports Pioneer.<br />

Beyond his career and sporting passion, Jarmal has<br />

also contributed to the community and society. An<br />

example of this service is his 26-year commitment<br />

on the School Advisory Committee of Gan Eng Seng<br />

Secondary School. Jarmal has also been active in the<br />

Sikh community. About 20 years ago, he became part<br />

of the first resource panel to consider issues rel<strong>at</strong>ing<br />

to the Sikh community. He currently serves as the<br />

Chairman of the Sikh Advisory Board, which acts as an<br />

intermediary between government bodies and the Sikh<br />

community.<br />

Today, the retired Jarmal smiles to himself as he speaks<br />

fondly about his two grandchildren. He remains indebted<br />

He lived through tough times but those challenges made<br />

him wh<strong>at</strong> he is today. Jarmal’s philosophy of humility,<br />

hard work, commitment, honesty and determin<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

has stood him well over the last 40 years or so. These<br />

<strong>at</strong>tributes have also enabled him to leave an indelible<br />

mark <strong>at</strong> the n<strong>at</strong>ional and intern<strong>at</strong>ional levels through a<br />

glittering police and sporting career.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Mr Jarmal Singh, February 28, 2015.<br />

2<br />

The Ping<strong>at</strong> Pentadbiran Awam was instituted in 1963. There are three<br />

grades of the medal, namely, gold, silver and bronze. The medal may<br />

be awarded to any of the following persons for outstanding efficiency,<br />

competence and industry – any person who is or has been a public<br />

officer; any person who is or has been an officer employed by any<br />

st<strong>at</strong>utory authority (other than a Town Council); any person who is<br />

or has been in the service of any organis<strong>at</strong>ion, associ<strong>at</strong>ion or body<br />

rendering services in the field of educ<strong>at</strong>ion; or any person who is or<br />

has been employed in any company which is wholly-owned by the<br />

government and which is carrying on business mainly as an agent<br />

or instrumentality of the government. See http://www.pmo.gov.sg/<br />

n<strong>at</strong>ionaldayawards.<br />

3<br />

The Ping<strong>at</strong> Bakti Setia was instituted in 1962. The medal may be<br />

awarded to any person who has completed 25 years continuous<br />

service in the service of the government, any st<strong>at</strong>utory authority, any<br />

organis<strong>at</strong>ion, associ<strong>at</strong>ion or body rendering services in the field of<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion, or any company which is wholly owned by the government<br />

and which is carrying on business mainly as an agent or instrumentality<br />

of the government, and whi is of irreproachable character. Ibid.<br />

4<br />

Robinson’s Department Store fire <strong>at</strong> Raffles Place (n.d.). <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Infopedia. Retrieved from http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/<br />

articles/SIP_797_2004-12-30.html.<br />

5<br />

They unwrap their guts to be<strong>at</strong> the Thais, The STAR, November 25,<br />

1978.<br />

6<br />

Stars of the year, New N<strong>at</strong>ion, December 25, 1977.<br />

7<br />

Atmosphere filled with nostalgia, The Straits Times, May 12, 1979.<br />

8<br />

Jarmal S, Crime Prevention: The <strong>Singapore</strong> Approach. N<strong>at</strong>ional Criminal<br />

Justice Reference Service Abstracts D<strong>at</strong>abase, 2000. Retrieved from<br />

https://www.ncjrs.gov/App/Public<strong>at</strong>ions/abstract.aspx?ID=191486.<br />


Jaswant<br />

Singh Gill<br />

O<br />

ne could easily mistake Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Jaswant Singh Gill for a man in his early<br />

eighties instead of his actual young age of ninety two. He still carries the stern authority and<br />

proud bearing from his <strong>Singapore</strong> Navy and teaching days. When he speaks, one realises th<strong>at</strong><br />

here is a man who has witnessed not only the many turbulences and challenges faced by<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> in its fight for independence, but also contributed gre<strong>at</strong>ly to the position in which<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> is today.<br />

Jaswant was born in Punjab, in India, in 1923 to a farmer. He began his educ<strong>at</strong>ion <strong>at</strong> Khalsa<br />

School in Moga, which was one of the few schools th<strong>at</strong> taught English language <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> time.<br />

At the tender age of six, Jaswant reloc<strong>at</strong>ed to <strong>Singapore</strong> with his uncle who was then working<br />

as a clerk in the <strong>Singapore</strong> Police Force.<br />

Jaswant started his formal educ<strong>at</strong>ion shortly after arriving in <strong>Singapore</strong>. Being knowledgeable<br />

in English beforehand, he was able to do well in his examin<strong>at</strong>ions to obtain a place in the<br />

prestigious Raffles Institution.<br />

To secure a proper job, Jaswant pursued a two-year course in commercial studies where he<br />

picked up valuable skills such as book-keeping and typing. He eventually joined the government<br />

clerical service where he met Justice (L<strong>at</strong>e) Choor Singh and struck up a long lasting friendship<br />

with him despite the l<strong>at</strong>ter being 15 years his senior. 1<br />

One of the first Sikh institutions th<strong>at</strong> Jaswant was affili<strong>at</strong>ed to was <strong>Singapore</strong> Khalsa Associ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

(SKA). The Associ<strong>at</strong>ion was started in the 1920s as a means for Sikh boys to meet for friendly<br />

sport games, with cricket and hockey being the two most popular sports among <strong>Sikhs</strong> <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong><br />


Building Committee to collect don<strong>at</strong>ions. As President,<br />

he also went around raising funds. He emphasises th<strong>at</strong>,<br />

without the support of the gurdwaras (Sikh temples) and<br />

the sang<strong>at</strong> (congreg<strong>at</strong>ion) who don<strong>at</strong>ed willingly, the<br />

don<strong>at</strong>ions would have been harder to secure. 3<br />

After purchasing the building, there were some funds<br />

leftover. Jaswant and some of the more foresighted<br />

members cre<strong>at</strong>ed the SKA Trust Fund. This was used to<br />

make some very wise investments and the initial sum<br />

of S$25,000 has now become about S$15 million. This<br />

sum is kept by a group of Trustees, including Jaswant.<br />

time. 2 He first became interested in SKA during his time<br />

as a student in Raffles Institution. Once he started<br />

working in 1941, he joined the Associ<strong>at</strong>ion where he<br />

helped collect don<strong>at</strong>ions for its various events as well as<br />

for the building fund.<br />

During the Second World War, the Japanese took over<br />

the SKA premises <strong>at</strong> Jalan Bahagia. At the end of the war,<br />

the building had been looted and needed much repair.<br />

However, when the government requisitioned the land in<br />

the 1960s, SKA had to scramble to acquire another piece<br />

of land for a new building. This land was <strong>at</strong> Balestier<br />

Road, where the current SKA building stands. As Jaswant<br />

was elected as the President of SKA continuously from<br />

1966 to 1981, the burden of the new building fell on<br />

him. The new building would cost S$7<strong>50</strong>,000 which, <strong>at</strong><br />

th<strong>at</strong> time, was a very big sum. The Associ<strong>at</strong>ion set up a<br />

From very early on, Jaswant had a passion for teaching.<br />

After the war, he went back to his old job in the clerical<br />

service but he did not stay there for long. In 1948, he<br />

was transferred to the Ministry of Educ<strong>at</strong>ion (MOE) as a<br />

teacher. He first taught <strong>at</strong> Outram Primary School and<br />

moved on to various other schools, including Raffles<br />

Institution. His passion for the job soon led him to<br />

being promoted to school principal. In this position, he<br />

oversaw several schools such as Sungei Kadut Primary<br />

School and Dunearn Secondary School. He took gre<strong>at</strong><br />

pride knowing th<strong>at</strong> many of his former students went<br />

on to become successful. Some of his brightest minds<br />

eventually entered politics and have served or are<br />

serving as ministers. After retiring from MOE in 1973<br />

<strong>at</strong> the age of <strong>50</strong>, Jaswant went on to teach commercial<br />

subjects <strong>at</strong> the United World College.<br />

While teaching, Jaswant took an interest in the Teachers<br />

Union. He was the General Secretary from 1959 to 1963<br />

and eventually Vice President from 1963 to 1964. During<br />

this period, the communists were trying to capture as<br />

much political power as they could in <strong>Singapore</strong>. They<br />

<strong>at</strong>tempted to take over the Teachers Union. However,<br />

Jaswant, along with other colleagues, prevented the<br />

Teachers Union from falling into their hands. He recalls<br />

being heckled by members of the Barisan Socialis, the<br />


“<br />

The words of <strong>And</strong>rew Carnegie th<strong>at</strong> “No man will make a gre<strong>at</strong> leader<br />

who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it” exemplifies Jaswant’s<br />

effort in mobilising the Sikh community behind his vision and leadership. Despite<br />

his countless achievements, he has always remained humble, accepted collective<br />

leadership and stayed resolute in ensuring th<strong>at</strong> <strong>Singapore</strong>an <strong>Sikhs</strong> do not forget their<br />

roots.<br />

I have known him for more than 30 years. A lasting legacy of Jaswant’s leadership is<br />

the significant role th<strong>at</strong> SKA plays in the lives of the <strong>Sikhs</strong>. As a founding member, he<br />

remains synonymous with the building which has provided the Sikh community with<br />

an important place to celebr<strong>at</strong>e its rich and vibrant culture, tradition and language in<br />

cosmopolitan <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Mr Philip Tan Kee Seng<br />

Director<br />

Former SKA Billiard Saloon<br />

“<br />

communist inspired party as they tried to subvert the<br />

authority of the Teachers Union and win its members to<br />

their side.<br />

As an educ<strong>at</strong>or, he recognised the importance of<br />

knowing one’s own culture and language. Jaswant<br />

placed an emphasis on the Punjabi educ<strong>at</strong>ion. The first<br />

Punjabi school, Khalsa Punjabi School was set up in the<br />

new SKA building. This allowed for the centralis<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

of the classes. With the introduction of the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Sikh Educ<strong>at</strong>ion Found<strong>at</strong>ion, SKA handed over its Punjabi<br />

school to the Found<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Another important milestone achieved by Jaswant is<br />

his service in the <strong>Singapore</strong> navy. From a young age, he<br />

had acquired a love for history and freedom struggles.<br />

Reading up on the Indian Freedom movement as well<br />

as Sikh history, he became so riled up. After the Second<br />

World War, when the British came back in 1945, he felt<br />

th<strong>at</strong> he had to do something to prepare himself to serve<br />

an independent <strong>Singapore</strong>. While teaching, he met a<br />

senior colleague who was serving as an officer in the<br />

Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) <strong>Singapore</strong>. He<br />

approached his colleague and asked him about the RNVR.<br />

On the promise th<strong>at</strong> he would become a naval officer,<br />

Jaswant joined the RNVR. After a year of scrubbing the<br />

decks and cleaning l<strong>at</strong>rines, he was commissioned Acting<br />

Sub Lieutenant in 1951. At th<strong>at</strong> time, he was the first<br />

and only Sikh officer and only the second Asian officer<br />

among a force of 100 British officers and 900 sailors.<br />

When <strong>Singapore</strong> abruptly gained full independence in<br />

1965, the Royal Navy pulled out of <strong>Singapore</strong> leaving<br />

a small group of local officers and sailors. Jaswant was<br />

then the highest ranking officer and he was made the<br />

Commanding Officer of the <strong>Singapore</strong> Naval Volunteer<br />

Force (SNVF). The SNVF was the pioneer of the modern<br />

day Republic of <strong>Singapore</strong> Navy. The SNVF had two old<br />

ships, RSS Panglima and RSS Bedok. Jaswant and the<br />

pioneers of the SNVF utilised them proudly during the<br />


Indonesian Konfrontasi. Commanding from the Panglima,<br />

Jaswant led the SNVF to Sarawak where his team and<br />

the Indonesians exchanged fire from their territory.<br />

As the British began pulling out of <strong>Singapore</strong>, important<br />

bases were being handed over to local senior officers.<br />

When Tengah Air Base was handed over to <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

in February 1971, as one of the highest ranking officers<br />

<strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> time, Jaswant was made its Commander. In<br />

December th<strong>at</strong> year, Changi Air Base was handed over to<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>. This was the biggest RAF base outside of the<br />

United Kingdom <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> time and was very important to<br />

the British. Jaswant was made Commander of the base.<br />

In 1972, he retired from the Armed Forces. 4<br />

When asked how the youth of today can serve <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

and continue the hard work of the pioneers, Jaswant<br />

said: “Stay loyal to the n<strong>at</strong>ion and always train in wh<strong>at</strong><br />

you are good <strong>at</strong> – be it sports, military or educ<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

By upgrading yourself and always learning, you do<br />

not only benefit yourself, you also benefit your n<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

as you contribute in ensuring <strong>Singapore</strong>’s excellence.”<br />

Jaswant followed this mantra throughout his life and<br />

succeeded in everything he set out to. He is indeed an<br />

officer and a gentleman – one the Sikh community and<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> can be proud to call their own!<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

C Singh, The Sikh Community’s Contribution to the Development of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>: A Collection of Essays and Personal Reminisces (1st ed., Vol.<br />

1). <strong>Singapore</strong>, <strong>Singapore</strong>: Justice Choor Singh, 2005.<br />

2<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>khalsa.org.sg. ‘About <strong>Singapore</strong> Khalsa Associ<strong>at</strong>ion’. N P,<br />

2015. Web.<br />

3<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>khalsa.org.sg, ‘Building History’. N P, 2015. Web. August 12,<br />

2015.<br />

4<br />

Mindef.gov.sg, ‘MINDEF-History-1966-The Early Years of the RSN<br />

(Volume 10 Issue 1)’. N P, 2015. Web.<br />

5<br />

Interview with Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Jaswant Singh, August 5,<br />

2015.<br />


Jeswant<br />

Singh Bandal<br />

B<br />

orn in December 1929, Mr Jeswant Singh Bandal lost his mother when he was just four years<br />

old. His early childhood was also r<strong>at</strong>her unsettling as he spent his early years living in different<br />

parts of the region. When he finally settled in <strong>Singapore</strong>, he embarked on a life journey th<strong>at</strong> saw<br />

him carving a name for himself in <strong>Singapore</strong> society and the Sikh community.<br />

As an infant, Jeswant was raised in Tronoh in Perak, Malaya. His grandf<strong>at</strong>her, Mr Ran Singh,<br />

was brought from India to Taiping in Malaya as part of the British military police to control the<br />

communists oper<strong>at</strong>ing in th<strong>at</strong> area. He finally retired in Tronoh and soon after, settled in India.<br />

Jeswant recalled his early years, “My f<strong>at</strong>her, Mr Assa Singh, served as a priest first in Sum<strong>at</strong>ra<br />

and then in Kuala Lumpur. We moved with him.” 1 When Jeswant lost his mother, the family<br />

decided to move to India. After a year, Jeswant and his family returned to Malaya.<br />

In 1935, Jeswant started his educ<strong>at</strong>ion in Sentul in Kuala Lumpur where he <strong>at</strong>tended the Loyola<br />

Institute. Subsequently, he moved to Kedah and enrolled into Sultan Abdul Hamid College for<br />

another two years before finally moving to <strong>Singapore</strong> and enrolling in Rangoon Primary School<br />

to complete his primary educ<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

The Japanese occup<strong>at</strong>ion of <strong>Singapore</strong> took place in 1942 when Jeswant was only 13 years<br />

old. For all <strong>Singapore</strong>ans, the arrival of the Japanese was a time of pain and suffering. However,<br />

Jeswant took advantage of the situ<strong>at</strong>ion and started learning the Japanese language and over<br />

time, honed his knowledge of the language and culture. This led to a recommend<strong>at</strong>ion for him<br />

to be a language interpreter initially for the municipal office and then with the Inspector General<br />

of the Japanese Police Commissioner. Jeswant continued to further study the language and was<br />

among one of only two <strong>Singapore</strong>ans who passed the ‘Tokkyu’ – the Highest Special Grade<br />


Jeswant decided to enter the teaching profession. By<br />

the age of 23 years, he was a qualified teacher and he<br />

started his teaching stint as a teacher demonstr<strong>at</strong>or<br />

for two years before becoming a M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics teacher<br />

<strong>at</strong> Outram Secondary School. Jeswant was appointed<br />

principal of a primary school when he was 30 years old.<br />

Thereafter, he was seconded to the <strong>Singapore</strong> Police<br />

Force as a Police Educ<strong>at</strong>ion Officer for three years. Such<br />

career progressions were the first of many for him and<br />

he took each and every posting professionally, believing<br />

th<strong>at</strong> it was an opportunity to further enrich himself. He<br />

went on to serve as the principal of Charlton Primary<br />

School and finally took on the task of guiding senior<br />

students who were dispassion<strong>at</strong>e when it came to<br />

their studies in his role as the principal of Baharuddin<br />

Voc<strong>at</strong>ional Institute. 3<br />

Examin<strong>at</strong>ion. The other individual is <strong>Singapore</strong>’s former<br />

President, Mr S R N<strong>at</strong>han.<br />

With the help of his uncle, then a senior teacher <strong>at</strong><br />

Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur, Jeswant was able<br />

to secure a place <strong>at</strong> Raffles Institution. He realised<br />

th<strong>at</strong> he was performing r<strong>at</strong>her poorly in M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics<br />

and needed help if he were to pass his examin<strong>at</strong>ions.<br />

He approached his M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics teacher, Mr K M R<br />

Menon, for additional help. Through his guidance,<br />

Jeswant gradu<strong>at</strong>ed with a credit average in the<br />

Cambridge Examin<strong>at</strong>ions. Unfortun<strong>at</strong>ely, his desire to<br />

study further was cut short when he could not pay the<br />

tuition fee. He st<strong>at</strong>ed th<strong>at</strong>, “I was superannu<strong>at</strong>ed to<br />

the effect th<strong>at</strong> I was suspended from classes for not<br />

paying my tuition fees.” 2<br />

Taking a break from his teaching and leadership stints,<br />

Jeswant took up a Public Service Commission scholarship<br />

and pursued a training course in the United Kingdom.<br />

During the two years, he trained to be a specialist<br />

M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics teacher <strong>at</strong> the Institute of Educ<strong>at</strong>ion in the<br />

University of Kingston Upon Hull, Yorkshire. Upon his<br />

return to <strong>Singapore</strong>, he was appointed as an Assistant<br />

Inspector of Schools (M<strong>at</strong>hem<strong>at</strong>ics). He was eventually<br />

promoted to the post of Inspector of Schools <strong>at</strong> the<br />

Ministry of Educ<strong>at</strong>ion (MOE). This would be Jeswant’s<br />

longest serving post – it lasted 22 years. In 1989, <strong>at</strong><br />

the age of 60 years, Jeswant retired from the educ<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

service. Not one to sit idle, he continued to lecture parttime<br />

<strong>at</strong> the <strong>Singapore</strong> Productivity and Standards Board 4<br />

for another eight years before finally deciding to devote<br />

most of his time to his family.<br />

Throughout his life, while Jeswant advanced in his<br />

professional career, he was also committed to giving<br />

back to the n<strong>at</strong>ion and community. In 1987, he formed<br />

the Board of Visitors (Drug Rehabilit<strong>at</strong>ion Centres)<br />

under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA). Through this<br />


initi<strong>at</strong>ive, he carried out inspection visits <strong>at</strong> various Drug<br />

Rehabilit<strong>at</strong>ion Centres to assess their conditions. He<br />

st<strong>at</strong>ed: “I had the strong desire to continue serving on<br />

the Board of Visitors for as long as possible. It was a<br />

noble effort.” 5<br />

At the same time, he was part of the Management<br />

Committee of Ashram, a half-way house for drug<br />

offenders under the Hindu Endowments Board (HEB). 6<br />

He also held the position of Chairman of the Sikh<br />

Advisory Board and was actively involved in fundraising<br />

efforts for community projects, including for the Central<br />

Sikh Temple. He is currently a Member of the Council of<br />

Elders in the <strong>Singapore</strong> Sikh Educ<strong>at</strong>ion Found<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

Jeswant's social and community contributions have<br />

not gone unnoticed. He is the recipient of various<br />

medals. In 1989, he received the Ping<strong>at</strong> Berkebolehan<br />

(Efficiency Medal) 6 for his service in MOE, the Ping<strong>at</strong><br />

Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> (Public Service Medal) 7 in 2006 and<br />

the Bintang Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> (Public Service Star) 8 in<br />

2013 for long and outstanding service on the Board<br />

of Visitors, and the Pingk<strong>at</strong> Bakti Setia (Long Service<br />

Award) 9 in 2009 for his service to the Ministry of<br />

Community Development, Youth and Sports.<br />

“<br />

I am blessed to have been associ<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

with Jeswant for more than 30 years.<br />

Both of us have been active volunteers<br />

in our n<strong>at</strong>ion's fight against drug abuse<br />

through SANA and on the Board of<br />

Visitors (Drug Rehabilit<strong>at</strong>ion Centres)<br />

under MHA. We have also been in the<br />

Management Committee of Ashram, a<br />

half-way house for drug offenders under<br />

the HEB, for many years.<br />

The n<strong>at</strong>ion-building role Jeswant played<br />

as an eminent personality in <strong>Singapore</strong>'s<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion service is remarkable. He is an<br />

honest and straight forward gentleman<br />

with an analytical mind. He mixes well<br />

with people and has a golden heart, ever<br />

ready to help others irrespective of their<br />

race or religion.<br />

“<br />

Dr Ramasamy Karunanithy PBM<br />

Former Professor of Pharmacy<br />

N<strong>at</strong>ional University of <strong>Singapore</strong><br />


In spite of his achievements, Jeswant remains a humble<br />

and unassuming person. Today, he is 86 years old and<br />

he still lives by the belief th<strong>at</strong> “you must keep on trying<br />

persistently and you are likely to succeed.” 10 Such a<br />

belief system cannot possibly be wrong – Jeswant<br />

kept on trying with determin<strong>at</strong>ion and persistency and<br />

despite hurdles along the way, he achieved success in<br />

the educ<strong>at</strong>ion and social services sectors in <strong>Singapore</strong>.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Mr Jeswant Singh Bandal, August 13, 2015.<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />

3<br />

Baharuddin Voc<strong>at</strong>ional Institute was part of the Voc<strong>at</strong>ional and<br />

Industrial Training Board which was the predecessor to the Institute<br />

of Technical Educ<strong>at</strong>ion, a post-secondary institution th<strong>at</strong> provides<br />

pre-employment training to secondary school leavers and continuing<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion and training to working adults. See www.moe.gov.sg.<br />

Baharuddin Voc<strong>at</strong>ional Institute was the first tertiary school dedic<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

to manual and applied arts in <strong>Singapore</strong>. See http://www.queenstown.<br />

org.sg/heritage-2.<br />

4<br />

The PSB was formed from the merger of the N<strong>at</strong>ional Productivity<br />

Board and the <strong>Singapore</strong> Institute of Standards and Industrial Research<br />

in 1996. It was the n<strong>at</strong>ional agency for productivity and standards. See<br />

http://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_26_2005-01-09.<br />

html. Today, it is called SPRING <strong>Singapore</strong>, an agency under the Ministry<br />

of Trade and Industry responsible for helping <strong>Singapore</strong> enterprises<br />

grow and building trust in <strong>Singapore</strong> products and services. See https://<br />

www.mti.gov.sg.<br />

5<br />

Interview with Mr Jeswant Singh Bandal, op. cit.<br />

6<br />

The HEB is a st<strong>at</strong>utory body set up under the Hindu Endowments Act in<br />

1968. Its role, as set out in the Act, is to administer those endowments<br />

placed under its administr<strong>at</strong>ion. See http://heb.gov.sg.<br />

7<br />

The Ping<strong>at</strong> Berkebolehan was instituted in 1969. It is awarded to any of<br />

the following persons for exceptional efficiency or exceptional devotion<br />

to duty or for work of special significance: public officer; officer<br />

employed by any st<strong>at</strong>utory authority; any person who in the service of<br />

any organis<strong>at</strong>ion, associ<strong>at</strong>ion or body rendering services in the field of<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion; or any person employed in any company which is whollyowned<br />

by the government and which is carrying on business mainly as<br />

an agent or instrumentality of the government. See http://www.pmo.<br />

gov.sg/n<strong>at</strong>ionaldayawards.<br />

8<br />

The Ping<strong>at</strong> Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> was instituted in 1973. The medal is<br />

awarded to any person who has rendered commendable public service<br />

in <strong>Singapore</strong> or for his or her achievement in the field of arts and<br />

letters, sports, the sciences, business, the professions and the labour<br />

movement. See http://www.pmo.gov.sg/n<strong>at</strong>ionaldayawards.<br />

9<br />

The Bintang Bakti Masyarak<strong>at</strong> was instituted in 1963. It is awarded to<br />

any person who has rendered valuable public service to the people of<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>; or who has distinguished himself or herself in the field of<br />

arts and letters, sports, the sciences, business, the professions and the<br />

labour movement. Ibid.<br />

10<br />

The Ping<strong>at</strong> Bakti Setia was instituted in 1962. The medal may be<br />

awarded to any person who has completed 25 years continuous<br />

service in the service of the government, any st<strong>at</strong>utory authority, any<br />

organis<strong>at</strong>ion, associ<strong>at</strong>ion or body rendering services in the field of<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion, or any company which is wholly owned by the government<br />

and which is carrying on business mainly as an agent or instrumentality<br />

of the Government, and who is of irreproachable character. Ibid.<br />

11<br />

Interview with Mr Jeswant Singh Bandal, op. cit.<br />


Kanwaljit<br />

Soin<br />

M<br />

ost people would be proud to have been recognised for their accomplishments in just one<br />

major field in their lives. However, it takes an exceptional person to be recognised for his or<br />

her achievements in several fields. One such exceptional person is Dr Kanwaljit Soin. She is<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>’s first female orthopaedic surgeon, first female Nomin<strong>at</strong>ed Member of Parliament<br />

(NMP) and, as a founder member of gender equality organis<strong>at</strong>ion, Associ<strong>at</strong>ion of Women for<br />

Action and Research (AWARE), is one of the most well-known feminists in the country. To d<strong>at</strong>e,<br />

she remains the only Sikh woman in <strong>Singapore</strong>’s history to have entered parliamentary politics.<br />

The eldest of four siblings born into a rel<strong>at</strong>ively well-to-do family in Gujranwala in present-day<br />

Pakistan, Kanwaljit’s birth in 1942 led her straight into the violence and conflict of the partition<br />

of India and Pakistan, of which she retains some horrific memories. Her family initially fled<br />

Gujranwala as refugees to Delhi, following which her f<strong>at</strong>her decided to move them to Jakarta,<br />

Indonesia, where he started a sports goods business to sustain the family. Kanwaljit started<br />

her educ<strong>at</strong>ion l<strong>at</strong>e because of all the upheavals of history she lived through in her form<strong>at</strong>ive<br />

years. She only began her formal educ<strong>at</strong>ion in school <strong>at</strong> the age of eight or nine, and was sent<br />

to <strong>Singapore</strong> in 1952 for better quality educ<strong>at</strong>ion. She <strong>at</strong>tended St Margaret’s Boarding School,<br />

then Tanjong K<strong>at</strong>ong Girls School and Victoria School, before obtaining her MBBS (Honours) in<br />

1966 and a Master of Medicine (Surgery) in 1970 from the University of <strong>Singapore</strong>. In 1972, she<br />

was the recipient of a Colombo Plan scholarship to train in hand surgery in Australia.<br />

The 73-year-old Kanwaljit says th<strong>at</strong> she decided to be a doctor when she was 10 years old –<br />

she met a very kind and humane doctor in Indonesia who inspired her to want to heal people.<br />

According to her, <strong>at</strong> th<strong>at</strong> point in time, many did not believe th<strong>at</strong> women were up to the task<br />

of becoming specialist doctors. She cites marriage pressure and the <strong>Singapore</strong> government’s<br />


th<strong>at</strong> she feels she has imbibed subconsciously and<br />

regrets th<strong>at</strong> this aspect of Sikhism is never emphasised<br />

enough.<br />

Feminism to Kanwaljit means equal respect and<br />

consider<strong>at</strong>ion for both sexes and she is unashamed<br />

about calling herself a feminist. In 1984, she was invited<br />

to speak <strong>at</strong> a forum on women’s issues called ‘Women’s<br />

Choices, Women’s Lives’ organised by the N<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

University of <strong>Singapore</strong> Society. She then began hosting<br />

follow-up meetings <strong>at</strong> her clinic th<strong>at</strong> eventually led to<br />

the form<strong>at</strong>ion of AWARE a year l<strong>at</strong>er. Kanwaljit was<br />

AWARE president from 1991 to 1993 and remains a life<br />

member of the organis<strong>at</strong>ion.<br />

previous one-third cap on female medical students<br />

(abolished in 2003) as additional obstacles for women<br />

wanting to pursue a medical career. However, female<br />

doctors rarely give up their careers even when they<br />

train as specialists where the demands are higher –<br />

this is evident in her pursuits and life experiences.<br />

Kanwaljit is married to prominent lawyer and judge, Mr<br />

Amarjeet Singh Bh<strong>at</strong>ia, and they have three children.<br />

She says maintaining a balance between her career,<br />

social activism and family has required a lifetime of<br />

negoti<strong>at</strong>ion and cheekily adds th<strong>at</strong> comb<strong>at</strong>ing a “head<br />

of the household” mentality with constant reminders<br />

th<strong>at</strong>, “we have a roundtable in this home” helps. This<br />

is where the old feminist adage th<strong>at</strong> “the personal is<br />

political” comes in. 1 She believes Sikhism is unique in<br />

its egalitarianism and focus on gender equality, values<br />

After some initial <strong>at</strong>tempts to convince a few women<br />

she knew to stand for the NMP post, Kanwaljit decided<br />

she should apply for it, and this paved the way for her<br />

foray into the political realm from 1992 to 1996. She<br />

entered parliament with very little prepar<strong>at</strong>ion <strong>at</strong> a time<br />

when civil society was not so vocal and describes it as<br />

“plunging into the deep end of an icy cold pool.” Even<br />

so, she stood up to ask a question (on childcare centres)<br />

on her very first day in parliament and never looked<br />

back. To this day, she has the reput<strong>at</strong>ion for being the<br />

NMP who has asked the most number of questions in<br />

parliament. However, a cap has now been placed on the<br />

number of questions one can ask.<br />

Kanwaljit did not ask questions for the sake of it. Her<br />

constant questioning was a valuable way to obtain<br />

inform<strong>at</strong>ion and st<strong>at</strong>istics on important issues –<br />

knowledge th<strong>at</strong> individuals and civil society could<br />

then use to help enact social change. She refuses to<br />

be pigeonholed by critics who felt she was dabbling<br />

in too many different issues and feels th<strong>at</strong> all citizens<br />

should have the right to be interested in all aspects of<br />

their country’s governance and socio-economic policies.<br />


“<br />

My wife and I have known<br />

Kanwaljit for many years. She was<br />

my wife’s contemporary <strong>at</strong> Medical<br />

School. My wife recalled th<strong>at</strong><br />

Kanwaljit topped her class and won<br />

all the prizes. Her husband, Amarjeet,<br />

and I were classm<strong>at</strong>es <strong>at</strong> the Law<br />

School. I have had the privilege of<br />

seeing her function in her many roles<br />

– as a medical practitioner, NMP and<br />

President of AWARE, as well as the<br />

founding Chairman of WINGS.<br />

Although the Family Violence Bill she tabled in parliament<br />

in 1995 was defe<strong>at</strong>ed, many of its provisions dealing<br />

with the problem of violence against women were<br />

l<strong>at</strong>er incorpor<strong>at</strong>ed into the government’s review of the<br />

Women’s Charter, including the introduction of Personal<br />

Protection Orders for survivors of domestic abuse. In<br />

addition, two of her parliamentary suggestions – an<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ional account for every adult <strong>Singapore</strong>an and a<br />

medical savings account for each elderly <strong>Singapore</strong>an<br />

– have now been implemented in the form of the<br />

SkillsFuture Credit scheme and the Pioneer Gener<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

Package. These measures give her immense s<strong>at</strong>isfaction.<br />

Kanwaljit has won recognition in various spheres<br />

for her achievements. She won the Woman of the<br />

Year award <strong>Singapore</strong> in 1992, Women Who Make<br />

a Difference award presented by the Intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

Women’s Forum in Washington DC in 2000, Lifetime<br />

Achievement award presented by the United N<strong>at</strong>ions<br />

Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) <strong>Singapore</strong> in<br />

2006 and <strong>Singapore</strong> Good Samaritan award presented<br />

by the Rotary Club in 2008. She is currently a council<br />

member of the Washington University Intern<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

Advisory Council for Asia, a global ambassador of<br />

Kanwaljit is a brilliant doctor and an<br />

important leader of <strong>Singapore</strong>’s civil<br />

society. She was an outstanding NMP.<br />

One of her legacies is the amendments<br />

to our Women’s Charter to protect<br />

women from domestic violence.<br />

Kanwaljit is an outstanding human<br />

being. The Sikh community should be<br />

very proud of her.<br />

“<br />

Professor Tommy Koh<br />

Ambassador-<strong>at</strong>-Large<br />

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

HelpAge Intern<strong>at</strong>ional, and immedi<strong>at</strong>e past president<br />

of the <strong>Singapore</strong> Orthopaedic Associ<strong>at</strong>ion. She was<br />

also a founder member of UNIFEM <strong>Singapore</strong> and the<br />

Associ<strong>at</strong>ion of Women Doctors.<br />

Not content to retire quietly, Kanwaljit continues to<br />

practice <strong>at</strong> her clinic in Mount Elizabeth hospital and,<br />

in 2007, set up and became the founding President<br />

of women’s active ageing non-profit organis<strong>at</strong>ion,<br />


Women’s Initi<strong>at</strong>ive for Ageing Successfully (WINGS).<br />

Her book, Our Lives to Live: Putting a Woman’s Face to<br />

Change in <strong>Singapore</strong>, which was co-edited with fellow<br />

AWARE founder Margaret Thomas was published in<br />

early 2015. 2<br />

Kanwaljit balks <strong>at</strong> having to choose her gre<strong>at</strong>est<br />

accomplishment, suggesting th<strong>at</strong> she may not have<br />

achieved her best work yet. She draws enormous<br />

gr<strong>at</strong>ific<strong>at</strong>ion from the synthesis of ways in which she has<br />

been able to make her contributions on an individual<br />

level through her medical work, <strong>at</strong> the systemic level<br />

through her activism and political work and on a<br />

personal level through her familial, friendship and social<br />

networks.<br />

Kanwaljit is an optimistic person and believes th<strong>at</strong><br />

there is no insurmountable difficulty in today’s context.<br />

She st<strong>at</strong>es: “There is strength in numbers. If you put<br />

your heart and mind to it, and if you have a group of<br />

people to brainstorm and network, you come up with<br />

gre<strong>at</strong> ideas, gre<strong>at</strong> str<strong>at</strong>egy, and there should be no<br />

reason why you cannot get ahead. If you really want to<br />

achieve something, you just have to find the route to<br />

do it.” 3 It seems th<strong>at</strong> this lady is all geared up for more<br />

achievements in her life.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Dr Kanwaljit Soin, June 24, 2015.<br />

2<br />

Our Lives to Live: Putting a Woman’s Face to Change in <strong>Singapore</strong>. World<br />

Scientific, 2015, Soin & Thomas<br />

2<br />

Ibid.<br />


Karan<br />

Singh Thakral<br />

I"<br />

should have gotten a doctoral degree. Th<strong>at</strong> is a regret th<strong>at</strong> I have in my life. I feel if I had<br />

university educ<strong>at</strong>ion, my thinking and perspectives would have been different.” These words<br />

would evoke some degree of regret and a feeling of lost hope for any other person but, in this<br />

case, the person is none other than Mr Karan Singh Thakral – successful entrepreneur, respected<br />

diplom<strong>at</strong> and a well-regarded member of the Sikh community in <strong>Singapore</strong>. It may come as a<br />

surprise to many th<strong>at</strong> someone like Karan has regrets. Well, th<strong>at</strong> just goes to show the man’s<br />

desire to aim as high as possible in life and be the complete man.<br />

Born in <strong>Singapore</strong> and raised in Thailand, Karan joined the business started by his grandf<strong>at</strong>her<br />

th<strong>at</strong> was eventually transformed by his f<strong>at</strong>her into the massive enterprise of the Thakral Group<br />

today. It used to deal mainly in the export and import of textiles and electronic appliances.<br />

Now, it has grown into a diversified business conglomer<strong>at</strong>e with numerous business activities,<br />

including life-style products, inform<strong>at</strong>ion technology products and services, manufacturing<br />

and export of yarn and branded readymade garments, luxury w<strong>at</strong>ches, hospitality, real est<strong>at</strong>e<br />

development and management and infrastructure services, among others.<br />

Karan represents Thakral Group as an Executive Director. Recollecting the massive strides<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> has made over the last five decades, Karan said: “<strong>Singapore</strong> has changed from a<br />

small village to a global city. Business wise, it is one of the most <strong>at</strong>tractive places for people to<br />

do business and invest. As a business concept, <strong>Singapore</strong> has done very well. We did not have<br />

malls then; we had small shops. High Street was one of the main places to shop <strong>at</strong>. Now, <strong>50</strong><br />

years l<strong>at</strong>er, there are no more such shops left on High Street. It is more of a tourist <strong>at</strong>traction.<br />

The Thakral Group has been able to remain viable because we evolved with the changing times<br />

and adapted accordingly.” 1<br />


Under Karan’s tenure, TiE <strong>Singapore</strong> also became more<br />

prominent worldwide. The parent chapter in the Silicon<br />

Valley was quick to acknowledge the tremendous<br />

progress made by TiE <strong>Singapore</strong> under Karan’s<br />

leadership. The fact th<strong>at</strong> Karan is an intern<strong>at</strong>ionallyknown<br />

businessman and th<strong>at</strong> he had strong business<br />

ties with many global personalities <strong>at</strong> a personal level<br />

certainly provided the fillip in transforming TiE <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

into an entity far gre<strong>at</strong>er than its size and st<strong>at</strong>us could<br />

justify. Also, apart from reaching out and serving the<br />

needs of local businesses, Karan also worked with<br />

academic institutions such as the N<strong>at</strong>ional University<br />

of <strong>Singapore</strong> (NUS) and SP Jain School of Management<br />

to promote entrepreneurship among students. “When<br />

I took over as Chairman, we decided to have a booth<br />

<strong>at</strong> the annual meet of TiE in the Silicon Valley and NUS<br />

particip<strong>at</strong>ed in the booth. It showed the level of interest<br />

and trust our local university had in TiE <strong>Singapore</strong>.” 3<br />

While the activities of the Thakral Group occupy a<br />

considerable amount of Karan’s time, he has still<br />

managed to find time to contribute to various n<strong>at</strong>ional<br />

and community initi<strong>at</strong>ives. One of his key contributions<br />

is the revival of the <strong>Singapore</strong> chapter of The Indus<br />

Entrepreneurs (TiE). 2 Karan took over the leadership of<br />

TiE <strong>Singapore</strong> in 2008 and totally revamped the once<br />

exclusive organis<strong>at</strong>ion. He opened its membership to<br />

individuals of non-Indian origin based in <strong>Singapore</strong>. He<br />

strongly believed th<strong>at</strong> this would allow the organis<strong>at</strong>ion<br />

and its members to gain from the wider and more<br />

diverse networking possibilities.<br />

The ambitious overhaul of TiE <strong>Singapore</strong>, with its diverse<br />

membership base and global emphasis spearheaded<br />

by Karan made the organis<strong>at</strong>ion an important partner<br />

of the <strong>Singapore</strong> government in its efforts to promote<br />

entrepreneurship here. At the same time, it provided far<br />

gre<strong>at</strong>er avenues for TiE <strong>Singapore</strong> members to explore<br />

business opportunities through regular networking<br />

sessions, events, business trips and meetings with<br />

intern<strong>at</strong>ional business personalities. Karan st<strong>at</strong>ed: “I<br />

wanted to develop TiE <strong>Singapore</strong> into a grouping th<strong>at</strong><br />

was more represent<strong>at</strong>ional and heavily focused on<br />

entrepreneurship educ<strong>at</strong>ion. The key goal was to nurture<br />

a whole new gener<strong>at</strong>ion of potential entrepreneurs and<br />

grant them access to business opportunities previously<br />

unavailable.” 4 Today, Karan is Chairman Emeritus of TiE<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> and Member Emeritus of TiE’s Global Board<br />

of Trustees.<br />

In his efforts to further promote entrepreneurship locally<br />

and regionally, Karan served as one of the judges on the<br />

reality TV series Angel’s G<strong>at</strong>e, which began broadcasting<br />

on Channel NewsAsia in February 2012. The show<br />

provided the opportunity for budding entrepreneurs in<br />

Asia to pitch business ideas to investors. Karan’s desire<br />

to share his entrepreneurial acumen led him to mentor<br />


“<br />

Karan is a dynamic, eclectic, energetic and astute leader who is well known for<br />

being successful in both the priv<strong>at</strong>e business sector and for his invaluable contributions<br />

to public service.<br />

He has played key roles in the Thakral Group, the South Asian Business Group of the<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> Business Feder<strong>at</strong>ion and TiE <strong>Singapore</strong>. He currently serves as <strong>Singapore</strong>’s<br />

NRA to Denmark, and previously as the NRA to Sri Lanka. He has served with distinction<br />

in all his posts and we owe him a debt of gr<strong>at</strong>itude.<br />

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan<br />

Minister for Foreign Affairs<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong><br />

“<br />

young entrepreneurs. He soon established <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Angels Network Pte Ltd to invest in start-up enterprises.<br />

Karan’s son works full time with him on this venture.<br />

To-d<strong>at</strong>e, the company has invested in about 80 start-up<br />

enterprises.<br />

When Karan took over the helm of the South Asian<br />

Business Group (SABG), 5 a unit under the <strong>Singapore</strong><br />

Business Feder<strong>at</strong>ion (SBF), 6 in 2010, he was involved<br />

in ensuring the organis<strong>at</strong>ion, which already boasted<br />

of a firm and solid found<strong>at</strong>ion, continued its growth.<br />

Particularly, he helped to boost the SABG’s ties with the<br />

South Asian n<strong>at</strong>ions through business trips and missions<br />

th<strong>at</strong> opened business possibilities for SBF members. His<br />

understanding and knowledge of the South Asian and<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong>an markets, and socio-economic and politics<br />

landscapes have been extremely relevant to the SABG.<br />

However, the n<strong>at</strong>ional role th<strong>at</strong> gives Karan most pride<br />

is th<strong>at</strong> of being <strong>Singapore</strong>’s Non-Resident Ambassador<br />

(NRA), first to Sri Lanka during a period when the country<br />

hosted the Commonwealth Games and currently to<br />

Denmark. He said proudly: “It is indeed a gre<strong>at</strong> honour.<br />

In my life, I could not imagine taking this on. When the<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> government asked me to become <strong>Singapore</strong>’s<br />

Ambassador to Sri Lanka, I could not say no. I felt it is<br />

my duty to serve the country. The government now has<br />

appointed me Ambassador to Denmark. It has been an<br />

enriching experience for me.” 7<br />

Karan is a firm believer in God and his philosophy of life,<br />

as well as th<strong>at</strong> of his family, is to extend assistance to the<br />

needy and less fortun<strong>at</strong>e in society. He said: “I grew up<br />

in a ‘giving’ family so this was my n<strong>at</strong>ural p<strong>at</strong>h. Giving<br />

back is a part of my family’s tradition. My grandf<strong>at</strong>her,<br />

f<strong>at</strong>her and brothers – all of us have served or are serving<br />

in different roles in different countries.” 8<br />

Among his many community roles is serving in the<br />

committees of Tanjong K<strong>at</strong>ong Girls School and St<br />

Hilda’s Primary School. In addition, Karan has served or<br />

is serving as Chairman and/or Trustee of a number of<br />

charitable/not-for-profit organis<strong>at</strong>ions in India.<br />

Whether it is focusing on the wider n<strong>at</strong>ional economic<br />

landscapes, serving the country, fostering a conducive<br />


usiness environment to nurture entrepreneurial minds<br />

or just helping his community, Karan has proven th<strong>at</strong><br />

the lack of educ<strong>at</strong>ional qualific<strong>at</strong>ions is no impediment<br />

<strong>at</strong> all. At the end of the day, one must have the desire<br />

to want to serve. One must be determined and most<br />

importantly, one must want to give back to society and<br />

do one’s best.<br />

In Karan’s words: “The person who knows how to<br />

give is a happy person when compared to a person<br />

who takes.” 9 Looking <strong>at</strong> his accomplishments, Karan is<br />

certainly a happy and contented man.<br />

Endnotes<br />

1<br />

Interview with Mr Karan Singh Thakral, June 15, 2015.<br />

2<br />

TiE was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by a group of successful<br />

entrepreneurs, corpor<strong>at</strong>e executives, and senior professionals with roots<br />

in the Indus region. There are currently 13,000 members, including over<br />

2,<strong>50</strong>0 charter members in 61 chapters across 18 countries. TiE’s mission<br />

is to foster entrepreneurship globally through mentoring, networking,<br />

educ<strong>at</strong>ion, incub<strong>at</strong>ing, and funding. Dedic<strong>at</strong>ed to the virtuous cycle of<br />

wealth cre<strong>at</strong>ion and giving back to the community, TiE’s focus is on<br />

gener<strong>at</strong>ing and nurturing the next gener<strong>at</strong>ion of entrepreneurs. See<br />

http://tie.org/about-us/ for details.<br />

3<br />

Interview with Mr Karan Singh Thakral, op cit.<br />

4<br />

Ibid.<br />

5<br />

The SABG is part of the Global Business Groups <strong>at</strong> SBF. It is a pl<strong>at</strong>form<br />

for the <strong>Singapore</strong> business community and their counterparts in South<br />

Asia to share business-rel<strong>at</strong>ed inform<strong>at</strong>ion. See http://www.sbf.org.sg/<br />

about-us/business-groups-committees for details.<br />

6<br />

SBF is the apex business chamber championing the interests of the<br />

<strong>Singapore</strong> business community in the areas of trade, investment and<br />

industrial rel<strong>at</strong>ions. It represents 21,<strong>50</strong>0 companies, as well as key local<br />

and foreign business chambers. See http://www.sbf.org.sg/about-us/<br />

overview-about-us for details.<br />

7<br />

Interview with Mr Karan Singh Thakral, op cit.<br />

8<br />

Ibid.<br />

9<br />

Ibid.<br />


Kartar Singh<br />

Dalamnangal<br />

T<br />

he story of the l<strong>at</strong>e Mr Kartar Singh Dalamnangal is fraught with a number of perilous occasions.<br />

Like any outstanding individual worth his or her salt, Kartar always prevailed in the end.<br />

Moreover, it seemed th<strong>at</strong> the compassion<strong>at</strong>e man undoubtedly had superhuman powers, given<br />

his proclivity for making the most of his circumstances.<br />

Hard work and the spirit of enterprise fe<strong>at</strong>ured prominently in Kartar’s life story. At the young<br />

age of just eight years, his mother made the difficult decision of sending him to <strong>Singapore</strong> with<br />

his uncle in the hope th<strong>at</strong> he would get an educ<strong>at</strong>ion and make a better life for himself. She bet<br />

on his prospects and future being better in <strong>Singapore</strong> than if he stayed on to become a farmer<br />

in Dalamnangal, a small village in north-western Punjab. His hopes of <strong>at</strong>tending school were<br />

quickly dashed when, shortly after arriving in <strong>Singapore</strong>, his aunt fell ill and was incapacit<strong>at</strong>ed<br />

until the time of her de<strong>at</strong>h. As his uncle had to work full time to support the family, Kartar took<br />

over the responsibility of caring for his two younger cousins. The lack of a formal educ<strong>at</strong>ion did<br />

little to dampen the spirits of the young Kartar, as his l<strong>at</strong>er life would <strong>at</strong>test.<br />

In 1942, Kartar was only 17 years old when the Japanese occupied <strong>Singapore</strong> during World War<br />

Two. His wife, Bibi Mendro recalled th<strong>at</strong> her bold and bright husband started serving the tea<br />

her mother made to the Japanese. Eventually, he found favour with them and got a permanent<br />

position as a ‘coffee boy’ for a Japanese trading firm. 1 The street smart young man quickly<br />

realised th<strong>at</strong> if he was going to make any progress, he would have to learn to speak the<br />

language of the Japanese and th<strong>at</strong> was precisely wh<strong>at</strong> he did. Before long, he had impressed his<br />

bosses with not just his linguistic abilities, but also his trustworthiness and work ethic. He was<br />

then given a promotion with an assignment to start providing labourers for the construction<br />

of the Jurong shipyard. It was here th<strong>at</strong> Kartar first displayed his business acumen – while the<br />


1957, he had saved up enough money to make a down<br />

payment on his first house. On one account, this is how<br />

his real est<strong>at</strong>e business started. Despite now owning<br />

his own house, Kartar continued to live in the British<br />

quarters, choosing instead to rent out his house to earn<br />

some additional income. On another account, his real<br />

est<strong>at</strong>e business started after he lost everything he had<br />

for the second time when an earlier family home, with<br />

all his hard-earned savings and belongings, was razed<br />

to the ground on Diwali day and the family was left with<br />

nothing but the clothes on their back.<br />

other suppliers were only paying labourers on a monthly<br />

basis, Kartar paid them on a daily basis. It is no surprise<br />

then th<strong>at</strong> he became the agent of choice for many of<br />

the labourers and this just <strong>at</strong> the fresh young age of 20<br />

years. In a short period of time, he became responsible<br />

for a few hundred workers.<br />

Unfortun<strong>at</strong>ely, after the surrender of the Japanese, all<br />

the money he had prudently acquired during the war<br />

was worth nothing. However, this did not get him down<br />

<strong>at</strong> all. His keen sense for cre<strong>at</strong>ing opportunities meant<br />

th<strong>at</strong> he would rise again through determin<strong>at</strong>ion and<br />

self-belief. Just after the war, Kartar decided th<strong>at</strong> he<br />

wanted a job th<strong>at</strong> would sustain him beyond peace time<br />

just in case war broke out again. He became a mechanic<br />

with the British Army and slowly built up his savings. In<br />

Before long, however, Kartar bounced back from this<br />

tragedy and never look back. Bibi Mendro shared th<strong>at</strong><br />

when the house burned down, they met a Mr Raju who<br />

ran a junk store. In order to furnish their new house, they<br />

bought furniture from him cheaply and then cleaned,<br />

varnished and restored the furniture till it looked good<br />

as new. 2 In typical fashion, this crystallised into another<br />

business plan for the savvy entrepreneur. He and his<br />

wife began to repe<strong>at</strong> this process en masse and started<br />

a small concern furnishing houses in the Fu Yong Est<strong>at</strong>e.<br />

Eventually, from just looking to him to help furnish their<br />

houses, the owners entrusted him with finding tenants<br />

to rent and then sell their properties. <strong>And</strong> these were<br />

the humble beginnings of Kartar Singh Realty Pte Ltd.<br />

At the height of his success, Kartar owned more than 10<br />

properties and held a portfolio of over 200 properties all<br />

over <strong>Singapore</strong>. In 1985, he built the now iconic Kartar<br />

Apartments (or Kartar Ghar) which still stands proud<br />

along Thomson Road.<br />

Another important facet of Kartar’s personality was<br />

his insight into the notion th<strong>at</strong> educ<strong>at</strong>ion was a key to<br />

bettering one’s self so th<strong>at</strong> one would be able to achieve<br />

the maximum out of life. It was this th<strong>at</strong> led Kartar to<br />

finally enroll in adult educ<strong>at</strong>ion classes in his twenties.<br />

Bibi Mendro recounted th<strong>at</strong> her husband would go to<br />

class, learn new English words and then diligently come<br />


home and teach her all those new words. 3 She admitted<br />

though th<strong>at</strong> she was not always as p<strong>at</strong>ient as him when<br />

it came to understanding the more difficult ones. Beyond<br />

th<strong>at</strong>, he also ensured th<strong>at</strong> each of his four children<br />

acquired tertiary educ<strong>at</strong>ion. In fact, the forward-thinking<br />

man ensured th<strong>at</strong> all his children studied Mandarin. On<br />

their part, his children understood his belief in the value<br />

of educ<strong>at</strong>ion and the insistence th<strong>at</strong> everyone should<br />

strive to better themselves. Mr Jagjit Singh, one of his<br />

sons, shared an account of a time after Kartar had<br />

passed away: “A Malay man came to the house to pay<br />

his respects. The family did not know who he was <strong>at</strong> all.<br />

On speaking to him, they found out th<strong>at</strong> in his younger<br />

days, the visitor had been lost in life but had crossed<br />

p<strong>at</strong>hs with Kartar, who had motiv<strong>at</strong>ed him to go back<br />

to school. The man then went on to make something of<br />

himself.” 4<br />

Throughout all the ups and downs in Kartar’s life, the<br />

one unshakeable constant would undoubtedly be his<br />

staunch faith in God. His favourite verse from the Sri<br />

Guri Granth Sahib, the Sikh Holy Book, is ‘If God is<br />

above you, who can harm you?’ This manifested itself<br />

in a number of ways, including the immense amount of<br />

sewa (service) he did throughout his life. In the words<br />

of the l<strong>at</strong>e Justice Dr Choor Singh, “Since the end of<br />

“<br />

I met Mr Kartar in the early<br />

1980s through one of his daughters.<br />

I am a paraplegic and wheelchair<br />

bound. Right from the start, he<br />

welcomed me into the family and<br />

tre<strong>at</strong>ed me like his own. He felt th<strong>at</strong><br />

it was very important for me to be<br />

independent and, as such, supported<br />

me in my business venture. When<br />

I went into insurance, he bought<br />

insurance from me for his family as<br />

well as introduced his friends to me.<br />

He did not just serve those in his<br />

community, but also those outside his<br />

community.<br />

Mr Kartar was also a generous<br />

donor to the Society for Aid to the<br />

Paralysed (now known as Society for<br />

the Physically Disabled). Like me, he<br />

inspired many of my disabled friends<br />

through his support and his ability to<br />

rel<strong>at</strong>e to them.<br />

“<br />

Englebert Eagle Alan Ho<br />

Society for the Physically Disabled<br />

the Second World War, he put his heart and soul in<br />

sewa <strong>at</strong> this [Sil<strong>at</strong> Road] gurdwara (temple).” 5 The Sil<strong>at</strong><br />

Road Temple held a special place in the heart of Kartar<br />

because he personally supervised the reconstruction and<br />

renov<strong>at</strong>ion of the temple. In fact, the conceptualis<strong>at</strong>ion<br />