Monday, April 14, 2008

Sikhs upset over MB's gaffe - NST

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.


Billgates said...


The Sikhs should not take offence to Perak Menteri Besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin’s reference to the community as Bengalis. Prominent Sikh politician Karpal Singh said it was obvious that Nizar did not mean to insult the community.

He said it was also obvious that Mohammad Nizar had not referred to the community in a derogatory manner.

Karpal explained that Sikhs had for decades been generally referred to as Bengalis out of ignorance by many.

“It is a trivial matter and Sikhs should not take offence to what has been said. A Sikh is a Sikh by any name,” he said after accompanying Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to the Wadda Gurdwara Sahib here.

Lim, who wore a bright red turban, later wished all Sikhs a happy Vasakhi and joined those present at the temple for langgar (vegetarian meal). Also there were his wife Betty Chew, Dato Keramat assemblyman Jagdeep Singh Deo and the temple president Sarjit Singh Naura.

Karpal was commenting on a New Straits Times report that some Sikhs in Perak were upset with their MB’s gaffe. It was reported that Nizar had referred to the Sikhs as Bengalis when wishing them a Happy Vasakhi at a function in Ipoh on Sunday.

His comment at 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 the two communities. Some Sikhs immediately left the function as they felt it was an affront to the community.

Nizar later sent an SMS to the NST admitting he had made a mistake in referring to the Sikhs as Bengalis.

Meanwhile, in an unrelated development, Lim said the Penang state government would consider a request from the Sikhs here for land to expand their temple.

He said the application would be put through the usual process and assured the community that the state government would try not to disappoint them.

Jong said...

Yes, I agree with Kapal Singh that it's trival matter, a small genuine mistake on part of Menteri Besar Mohammad Nizar who wasted no time to come forward and apologise for his ignorance and most importantly, there was no offence meant. I hope the Sikhs community will not take it too much to heart, just be a little forgiving.

Let's be frank about it, most non-Sikhs in Malaysia are not aware and don't really know the difference between Bengalis, Sikhs or Punjabis. My family and I just learnt about it from a friend not too long ago too.

shadow said...

Being a professional myself I used to call my punjabi friends "bengali" from those days till todate. None of my learned friends ever complained. To my knowledge the punjabis were called as bengali those days and the word punjabi came in between.