IPOH: 14 April 2008 By : Jaspal Singh
For generations, Sikhs have bit their lips when mistakenly referred to as Bengalis.
Many usually excuse the gaffe by ordinary folk who do not know any better.Yesterday proved an exception when Menteri Besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin himself referred to Sikhs as Bengalis when wishing them a happy Vasakhi at a Pas function here.
His comment about the Sikh and Tamil new year celebrations raised eyebrows as the Sikhs gathered there had expected the head of the state government to know the difference between Sikhs and Bengalis. Some Sikhs immediately left the function as they felt it was an affront to the community.
Nizar, via an SMS to the New Straits Times, later admitted he had made a mistake in referring to Sikhs as Bengalis.Sikhs are Punjabis who share few, if any, similarities with Bengalis who are mostly Hindu. The two communities are separated by more than 1,500km in India.
In Malaysia, Sikhs have been mistakenly referred to as Bengalis for decades.Narinder Singh, 38, who came to shake hands with Nizar and congratulate him on heading the state government, left shortly after the comment.He was disappointed with Nizar for not knowing the difference between Sikhs and Bengalis.
"Sikhs are the ones who celebrate Vasakhi, not Bengalis. "Can't he (Nizar) get that fact right? I am terribly disappointed with him," he said.Harbhajan Singh, 32, said Malaysians, especially political leaders, should know the difference between Bengalis and Sikhs.He added that this was the first time he had heard a politician refer to Sikhs as Bengalis at a public event."Sikhs do not like it when they are referred to as Bengalis.
"What more when the person saying it is the menteri besar." In his speech at the luncheon, Nizar wished the Tamil community Puthandu Vazth-ukal or Happy New Year followed by "Happy Vasakhi to the Bengali community".Dheer Singh, chairman of the United Perak Sikhs Organisation, a consultative umbrella body representing nine Sikh-based voluntary organisations in the state, is upset with Nizar.
"Today we can learn about anything and everything from the Internet. "There are many websites on the Sikh religion and the Sikh people. "I feel sad that even though Sikhs have been in this country for close to 150 years, Malaysians still think we are Bengalis." Dheer said while many Malaysians may trivialise such references, the fact remained that the two communities were totally different in terms of religion, culture, and language.
He said Vasakhi, a religious festival dating back to 1699 and celebrated on April 14, was observed by the Sikhs.