About the SAB
The Sikh Advisory Board was established with a profound understanding of the diverse nature of the Sikh community in Singapore and the necessity of a unified voice that could effectively represent the community’s interests. Our role as a liaison between the Sikh community and various governmental bodies was born from a desire to facilitate better understanding, respectful dialogue, and collaborative decision-making.
SAB’s Response to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act
The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) was introduced in 1990 to maintain religious harmony in multicultural Singapore. However, society and its elements have changed considerably since then and we must take necessary steps to ensure that the scope and reach of this legislation are adequate to safeguard Singapore from new challenges. Specifically, two important developments have become more pronounced and require our immediate attention.
First, the porosity of Singapore’s borders to ideas, capital and people, as part of the greater global push on globalisation, means that we are vulnerable to foreign elements who may endanger our religious harmony. As a stable, prosperous and harmonious society, there will be many around the world who, for various reasons, may want to disrupt our peace and create divisions here. Second, the emergence of new technology since the 1990s has also increased the velocity and spread of information and ideas. Today, through social media and communication technologies, ideas, no matter how vile, can be magnified and divide societies at an unprecedented pace and reach. Singapore is no less vulnerable.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has engaged and consulted the Sikh Advisory Board (SAB) with regards to MRHA amendments and we are appreciative and glad that the amendments to the MRHA incorporate the feedback from the SAB. The SAB is encouraged that the review of the MRHA addresses both of the growing challenges highlighted above as well as other feedback. We welcome the proposed changes as it strengthens our safeguards for religious harmony, while not placing onerous requirements on communities, groups and individuals who are law-abiding and preserve Singapore’s social stability. The SAB is supportive of the amendments to the MRHA.
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Sikh Advisory Board (SAB) actively supports nation building by uniting theSikh Community, Employers, Schools and Government Agencies to foster awareness about Sikh traditions.
Conduit between the Government and Sikh Community
The SAB today is an important conduit between the government and the Sikh community, has helped to strengthen the Sikh community and contribute to institution-building while also playing an integral role when it comes to interfaith activities to promote religious harmony in Singapore.
On a daily level, the SAB deals with issues impacting Sikhs in Singapore such as addressing ambiguities around Sikh identity and practices at the workplace or in schools, as well as helping to liaise with government immigration departments on visa issues faced by Sikh temples in procuring religious workers from India.
Most recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the SAB continued to act as the key link between the government and Gurdwaras as Safe Management Measures surrounding religious services were adjusted to reflect changes in the public health environment.
In addition, the SAB served the community and nation in the following ways during the pandemic:
- Managing langgar advisories to gurdwaras including the serving langgar to members of the public, while working with the government to help with the resumption of langgar at an appropriate time
- Assisting the multi-level task force in dealing with issues faced by Sikh workers in the dormitories
- Working with the government agencies to allow post-funeral prayer rites at the Gurdwaras for a small and select group of family members
- Responding to media queries on how the Sikh community was coping with and managing the pandemic and what it was doing to help the society at large.
- Liaising with government agencies and the Indian High Commission in Singapore to assist with the repatriation of Indian students and workers stranded here
Besides the pandemic, here are some recent policy areas where the SAB facilitated two-way feedback and communication between the Sikh community and the government:
- Working with the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on the review of the conditions of social egg freezing among women in Singapore
- Playing a role in the MSF’s Alliance for Action for Strengthening Family Relationships and Marriages
- Working with the National Environment Agency to amplify sustainability messages within the community
- Working with the Ministry of National Development in the review of the tender framework for land sites for places of worship
- With MSF and other agencies on the repeal of Section 377A
A new dawn - bringing the SAB closer to the community
All of these measures led to some dissatisfaction among the Sikh community in Singapore who felt that they wanted better and more direct representation with the government when it came to matters of their affairs, especially since the community had grown over the years. Given the colonial government had ceded rule in India, and was still rebuilding after World War Two, there was general acceptance that they could afford more autonomy to the Sikh community’s affairs here.
Thus, in 1948, the SAB was reconstituted where it elected an all-Sikh board more reflective of the community’s interests and aspirations. Not only were proceedings now conducted in Punjabi, the Board now had 12 members – nine nominated by the then-five Gurdwaras, and three nominated by the government. The five Gurdwaras were Khalsa Dharmak Sabha, Khalsa Jiwan Sudhar Sabha, Pardesi Khalsa Dharmak Diwan, Sri Guru Nanak Sat Sang Sabha, and Sri Guru Singh Sabha. Mr. Sunder Singh Wasan.
Master Sundar Singh Wasan was elected Chairman, and Mr Choor Singh was elected Secretary. They were part of the first leadership team of the Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA) in 1931. Another founder member of the SKA, Mr Wazir Singh Wasan – son of Master Sundar Singh Wasan – also joined the Board in 1950.
At the first meeting of the newly reconstituted Board held at the Singapore Council Chamber, the Colonial Secretary, Mr P.A.B. McKerron expressed hope that the Board would assist and advise the Government in matters affecting the Sikh community and that Sikhs in this country would continue to observe their customs and habits and remain the “useful, law-abiding citizens they had always been”. Sardar Choor Singh was appointed Chairman of the Board in 1952 on the retirement of Master Sundar Singh Wasan.