Friday, February 8, 2013

For Singh Only!!!

National Service is a huge thing in Singapore around this time of the year as different batches of conscripts take the ferry to Pulau Tekung for their basic military training before they are deployed to different army camps.  But like everything in Singapore, the procedure for enlistment and all notices given to conscripts are extremely clear, succinct and well thought out.  Nothing is left to chance or ambiguity.   You won't find here any of the lapses we see in the neighbouring countries.

Conscripts are all given a detailed packing list of what they should take with them to the camp and what they should not.  They are also given a list of what they will be issued with when they arrive at the camp.

While running through the list, I spotted an absolutely hilarious bloomer.  Here they are:

Look at items 27, 34 and 76.  Military helmets are clearly marked "NOT FOR SINGH" and turbans the colour of which we are specifically told is green are meant "FOR SINGH ONLY".  Presumably that is to stop the other recruits from asking for their green turbans.

I find it amusing that MINDEF (the Ministry of Defence) can overlook such a glaring error which some may say borders on racism.  But I really don't think this error was deliberate and was motivated by racism.  I'm positive it's not.  There are many racist names used on Sikhs but "Singh" is not one of them.  This is clearly a case of ignorance.  For all we know, the junior clerk who typed out this packing list probably wrote another word instead of "Singh" but that word which I won't repeat here is a common colloquial word used to refer to a Sikh man when I was a boy but which most people today would consider racist.  His superior saw the mistake and told him off, "That's racist!  You don't call them that.  They are collectively called Singh".

Of course his superior was wrong.  Calling a Sikh a Singh is rather offensive, I would imagine.  Supposing the SAF titled their Chinese menu "Food for the Chans, Lims, Tans and Chongs", wouldn't that be offensive to many of us who are the Chinese majority?  But that won't happen because we are the majority and we know what is offensive to us.

From my personal experience, Sikhs are a wonderful, peace-loving people with a huge capacity for tolerance.  They don't take offence easily and they are levelheaded and when someone makes an honest mistake, they will overlook it readily.

And this is an honest mistake.  It is easily overlooked and the Sikhs who see it probably just chuckle to themselves.  I've asked around and there are people who don't even see it as a mistake.  It is common for the Chinese in Singapore to know very little about other ethnic groups.  Many years ago, I saw a large group of Indians having a religious celebration in a field close to the pavement I was jogging on.  I asked a Chinese passerby what celebration it was.  He said he didn't know and it was a "Malay thing".  I quickly pointed out to him that they were Indians and not Malays to which he replied unapologetically with the monosyllabic "Same".  The Indians are the same as Malays?

I know of friends who would ask Indians who they know to be Christians if they are having a huge celebration for Deepavali.  When I quiz them further, they explain that Deepavali is an Indian festival.  I will remind them that Deepavali is a Hindu festival and no prizes for guessing what their reply invariably is.  "Same"!!! 

Finally, going back to the Sikh, almost every person I know thinks that "Singh" is the family name of every Sikh.  It's as bad as that!


  1. I thought an alternative to Sikhs would be Punjabis but when I googled it, found that I was wrong !


    1. That's right. A common mistake is to confuse their religion for their race. It's acceptable for individuals to make mistakes of this nature but the army should be more careful. In this day and age, a simple click of the google search button is all it takes. Thanks for your comment, John.