Interviewing a third generation Sikh in Uganda on Sikh centenary celebrations.
(J Kaur interviews Justice Choudry )
Q You are celebrating 100 years of Sikh Centenary in Uganda . How did the idea of issuing postage stamps come to you.?
Answer : In November 2012 I wrote to Posta Uganda informing them of the forth coming event of 100 years of Sikh Community in Uganda and that it was important to recognise their social and economic contribution to Uganda for the past 100 years by commemorating the event with the issuance of commemorative postage stamps .
Q Did Posta Uganda agree?
Answer: It a long process. In September 2013 after 10 months they agreed with my proposal and 4 stamps were to be issued .
Q Did you design the stamps ?
Answer: no I did not but I prepared the photos of the items that were to appear on the stamps and they were then designed by a lecturer in arts at Makerere University .
Q How did the triangular stamps come into existence?
Answer: it was the idea of Ounda Franciis the Production manager and myself to issue triangular postage stamps for the first time in Uganda and Africa. It brought more colour and excitement to philatelic world and the public to see something different. The event therefore becomes historic for Uganda in unveiling triangular postage stamps on 17th January. . Some Asian and European countries have already issued triangular stamps in the past.
Q How many Sikhs are there in Uganda?
Answer : not many may be under 900 but they are not Ugandans. There are very few Sikhs like me who are Ugandans and whose families came here 100 years ago. In fact there are not more than 15 indigenous Sikh families left in Uganda . Half of them are of mixed race where the Sikhs had married local Africans. I suspect there are probably not more than 150 Sikhs who can be recognised as Sikhs .
Question: When did the Sikhs come to Uganda?
Answer In 1880’s.
Question Why do you say you are celebrating 100 years and not 120 years.
Answer: The Sikh temple in Old Kampala was built temporarily in 1910 in Nakivubo and the foundation of Sikh temple on Sikh Road was laid in 1913. These temples served as icons of Sikh presence in Uganda . Hence 100 years is celebrated from then and not from their arrival on the shores of East Africa in 1880 as soldiers.
Question : You say the Sikhs came in 1880’s tell me more about it?
Answer: It is a long History . Sikhs are known to be one of the two martial races in the world and one of the best fighters in the world. When the Sikh empire that spanned from the borders of Afghanistan along North India to the borders of China was annexed by the British in 1850 , the Sikh forces became part of the British army. They travelled with the colonialists to the far ends of the British empire and were also brought to East Africa as soldiers and as soldier policemen . Some were also brought as indentured labour to build the railways. The first Police inspector in 1895 was a Sikh called Kapur Singh.
As soldiers they curbed Kabaka Muwanga’s mutiny against the British in or around 1898 and also fought the Germans in German East Africa. The British were thus able to establish its hold on East Africa before they created the territories of Kenya Uganda and Tanganyika . So that is the background.
Question When did your family come to Uganda.?
Answer: My grandfather the late Hari Singh came to Uganda in 1919 after serving with the British army in the first world war in the Middle East. My grand uncle came to Uganda in 1923 as a medical doctor and was one of the oldest doctors in Uganda at the time of Asian expulsion in 1972.So my family has been here for 100 years. My mother was born here.
Question: You have edited the Sikh Centenary Magazine which is of exceptionally high quality, historic and educational. How did you get the inspiration to write it.?
Answer: My Guru gave me the inspiration because anything that is good for the panth is blessed by the Guru. Well I finished the magazine from start to finish in 2 months .One Sikh told me that it was a tall order to write a magazine in such short space of time. I told him to shut up as it was not his area. I am a writer and I enjoy writing so the magazine was not a huge task for me. It is of course not exhaustive but has included samples of people from every walk of life from Police, railways, Posts , Civil Service , law, as well as medical and teaching professions. In politics Gurdial Singh is shown as the think tank of the UPC.
Question :What did your late father do?
Answer: My late father was recipient of Uganda’s 50 years Gold medal last October. He was a Senior Superintendent of Works with PWD and Officer in Charge for Northern Uganda .He came to Uganda in 1943 after serving with the British army in Burma where he was recipient of several medals He was also recipient of Uganda’s Independence medal.
Questions: What is the most important contribution of Sikhs in Uganda.
Answer. As technical people they were the pillars of Uganda and are the unsung heroes. They built the towns, the roads, the dams, bridges which we are enjoying today such as the Owen falls dam and changed the skyline of our towns. They controlled engineering industries as they do now and can fabricate anything from needle to any part of the aeroplane. They ran the long haul transport as they do now with their trucks running from Mombasa and Dar es Salaam to Rwanda. They ran the railways and were equally dominant in police and civil service. Most importantly they trained the skilled and semi skilled personnel filling an important education gap. So they had most important contribution in all the fields as the pillars of modern Uganda.
Question: You launched the stamps on 17th January 2014.. Is there any reason?
Answer: it was Post and telecommunications day of East Africa and the event was conducted jointly with Posta Uganda. Moreover people were away during month of December so it was convenient to hold the function after the New year .
Question: what was the programme 17th January. Can you give details?
Answer: The programme was launch of postage stamps by Posta Uganda. There were be speeches about Sikh economic and social contribution to Uganda in the past. We also awardee Sikh centenary Gold medals to those Sikhs who had made significant contribution to the economy and social development of Uganda. I also a written a book under the title ‘Human Rights of Women in Sikhism’ which was launched at the same time. it an interesting an colourful programme that will took place in Entebbe in a five Star Hotel – Imperial Resort Beach Hotel.
Question: Your the first Uganda born Asian to become High Court Judge before and after Independence .How do you feel.?
Answer: I feel very proud and humbled.