Gurdwara tells colourful story of Sikhs’ service in Malayan police force

The Petaling Street police gurdwara, built in 1898, is dedicated to the Sikh officers in the Malayan police force.

KUALA LUMPUR: Over 100 years ago, the Sikh community at Petaling Street here set up one of the first gurdwaras (Sikh temple) in the country. It was dedicated to the Sikh officers in the Malayan police force.

According to Hardev Singh, president of the Gurdwara Sahib Polis, Petaling Street, their history goes back to the 1870s when Captain Tristram Speedy, a former police superintendent, began recruiting Sikhs from India to work in the Malayan police force.

Hardev, a retired assistant director of the Special Branch secretariat at Bukit Aman, said the Sikhs were initially brought in to help Ngah Ibrahim, the territorial chief of Larut, Perak, restore law and order in Larut.

He said as the Sikhs managed to reduce the fights between the Ghee Hin (Cantonese) and Hai San (Hakka) triads, more were brought into the country to join the police force.

The original facade of the gurdwara in Petaling Street.

Hardev, who was also involved in the signing of the 1989 Hat Yai peace agreement marking the end of the Communist insurgency in Malaysia, said Speedy knew the bravery and loyalty of the Sikhs when he was in India.

“After the success in Larut, more Sikhs were brought in to serve the force in the Federated Malay States (FMS).

“Later, they were also employed in the non-Federated Malay States, including Sabah and Sarawak,” he told FMT.

The inside of the gurdwara where the Guru Granth Sahib (holy book) is kept.

He said many from the Sikh community also worked as operatives to obtain information about the Communists as they knew the jungles like the back of their hands.

After more Sikh policemen were deployed from India, he said, the Works Department under the FMS built the Petaling Street gurdwara in 1898.

It was the second police temple in Malaya. The first was built in 1890 at Jalan Parlimen, also in Kuala Lumpur.

Gurdwara president Hardev Singh holds a large copper tray used by the Sikh police officers 100 years ago to knead dough for chapatis.

“The Petaling Street police station was in the gurdwara compound,” Hardev said, adding that the temple also served as the first Punjabi school in Malaya for children of the police officers in the 1930s.

According to Hardev, there were about 200 Sikh families in the Petaling Street area back then.

The temple also acted as a transit home for police personnel to stay in temporary accommodation between their postings. It had seven or eight rooms.

Until today, the original walls of the gurdwara still stand firm, painted in white and blue to signify its history. Every Sunday morning, retired police officers and their families visit the temple to cook breakfast, pray and to mingle with one another.

“Our grandfathers and fathers grew up here. We know each other well. We are almost like an extended family, knowing each other’s grandchildren, too,” Hardev said.

The gurdwara’s longest-serving priest, Sham Singh, served for 56 years from 1910.

Volunteers wash dishes after Sunday morning prayers.

Because the temple was built on government land, Hardev said the temple committee had not carried out any renovations even though some parts of the wooden ceiling and walls had been eaten up by termites.

He said the situation worsened during the movement control order in March when the temple was shut down.

“Our wish is for the temple to be given heritage status. Once we have a heritage title, we can start doing renovations,” he said.

Hardev shows a window at the gurdwara damaged by termites.

He said the temple has also become a popular tourist spot along Petaling Street. It is a must-see religious site in the area with Masjid Negara, the Maha Mariamman Temple and St Mary’s Church nearby.

“Tourists visit these places as part of the religious heritage trail. It is, therefore, our hope that the government will turn the gurdwara into a heritage building, ” he said.