Called Bengalis, Malaysian Sikhs walk out of function


Kuala Lumpur : A group of Malaysian Sikhs walked out from a function when Perak state’s chief executive referred to them as Bengalis.

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Perak’s Mentri Besar Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin made the gaffe Sunday when he wished the Tamil community “Puthandu Vazth-uka” or Happy New Year followed by “Happy Vasakhi to the Bengali community”.

“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,” media reports from the Perak capital Ipoh said.

Jamaluddin admitted in an SMS to the New Straits Times newspaper that he had made a mistake in referring to Sikhs as Bengalis.

Monday is the first day of the Baisakh month as per the Hindu calendar. It is also the Tamil New Year. For Bengalis across the world too, it is New Year’s Day or Poila Baisakh.

Sikhs are Punjabis separated from Bengal by more than 1,500 km in India, the newspaper commented.

In Malaysia, Sikhs have been mistakenly referred to as Bengalis for decades, it said, offering no explanation as to why this has been happening.

Narinder Singh, 38, who came to shake hands with Jamaluddin and congratulate him on heading the state government after the election last month, left shortly after the comment.

“Sikhs are the ones who celebrate Vasakhi, not Bengalis. Can’t he 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.

Dheer Singh, chairperson of the United Perak Sikhs Organisation, a consultative umbrella body representing nine Sikh-based voluntary organisations in the state was also upset.

“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.