Sada-e-Watan Sydney ™


First Sikh Australian Bawa Singh who receive OAM, Celebrates with Community and Members of the Parliament
{Coverage by: Syed Zafar Hussain, Editor-in-Chief Sada-e-Watan Sydney}

On January 26, 2012, Mr Bawa Singh Jagdev of Sydney became the first ever Sikh Australian who receive an OAM (the Medal of the Order of Australia) as part of the Australia Day Honours. He is the Secretary of Sikh Council of Australia and has campaigned tirelessly on issues of significance, not just to the Sikh community, but over the past three decades in Australia to the wider community as well. On Sat, 16 June 2012, First Sikh Australian Bawa Singh who receive OAM, Celebrates with Community and Members of the Parliament at the Function Centre at Lidcombe Sydney.

AUSTRALIA Day has become the quintessential day to celebrate being Australian. How we celebrate can take many forms - attending a citizenship ceremony, seeing a concert, watching a regatta, playing cricket in the park, enjoying a barbecue with friends and family or watching the fireworks. What is important is that we do celebrate our successes as a nation and that each of us, in whatever way we want to.

The Order of Australia is an order of chivalry established on 14 February 1975 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, "for the purpose of according recognition to Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or for meritorious service".

The Criteria for the Order of Australia are summed up as “demonstrated achievement at a high level; made a contribution over and above what might be reasonably expected through paid employment; or whose voluntary contribution to the community stands out from others who may have also made a valuable contribution.”

The badge of the Order of Australia is a convex disc representing the Golden Wattle flower. At the centre is a ring, representing the sea, with the word 'Australia' below two branches of golden wattle. The whole disc is topped by the Royal crown of St Edward. The ribbon of the Order is blue with a central stripe of golden wattle flower designs.

Sikh-Aussie Awarded Medal of The Order of Australia

Being Australia Day, January 26 is always celebrated as a red letter day in the country. But for Sikh-Australians, this day in 2012 made history, as S. Bawa Singh Jagdev’s name appeared proudly in the roll of Australia Day Honours. Awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM), he has become the first ever Sikh-Australian to be bestowed with one of the country’s higher civilian honours.

“I truly feel humbled to be the recipient of this prestigious award,” said Bawa Singh. “I may be the first Sikh or anyone from the subcontinent to receive this honour, but I personally feel that the award belongs to all those who helped me and worked alongside with me over the years to solve our community problems, of which there were many, and achieve what as a community we have accomplished. I thank them all.” He is the Secretary of the Sikh Council of Australia, and has worked passionately to protect and gain recognition for Sikh rights, alongside working on human rights and humanitarian issues.

Already a recipient of the ‘Life time Achievement in Community Services Award’ from the Community Relations Commission of New South Wales ("NSW"), the Sydney-based Sardar reflected, “Life has been an amazing journey for me thus far, having lived a comfortable life across four continents. I was born in Punjab, educated in the United Kingdom, worked in Africa and finally settled in Australia.”

An academic who has taught in schools and colleges in various countries, Bawa Singh is one of the pioneers of recent Sikh migration into Australia. Born in a small village called Lohara (in district Jalandhar, Punjab), and earning his professional qualifications at Panjab University, he initially migrated to Kenya in 1959.
After further education at University of Exeter (United Kingdom), he returned to Kenya, only to find an inclement political situation there. So in 1975, he, his wife and two children moved to Sydney, adopting Australia as their new homeland.

He recalls: “When we first came here in 1975, there were just a handful of Sikh families in the Sydney metropolitan area.” So along with some friends, he helped establish the very first Sikh gurdwara in Revesby, Sydney, followed soon by the Sikh Mission Centre at Austral.

In the early 1990s, he advocated strongly for the recognition of the Kirpan, defending the right of every amritdhari Sikh to wear it in public. He worked actively with the Community Relations Commission and the Premier’s office, which resulted in the Knife Legislation of NSW being amended in 1998, granting exemption to Sikhs, so they could carry their article of faith without breaking the law.

With a vision for the future, Bawa Singh helped establish an umbrella body for Sikhs in Australia, named the Sikh Council of Australia Inc. Under the auspices of this organisation, he was instrumental in organising the first World Sikh Conference in Sydney in 2004, lobbied for Sikh employees of Public Works Department and also Department of Corrective Services, to be allowed to wear the Sikh articles of faith at their workplace.

He was a strong advocate for Sikh banana farmers in Woolgoolga (in northern NSW) who were going to be displaced by a new highway project and after numerous meetings with the authorities and submissions to the Senate enquiry, he helped the banana farmers receive an adequate monetary compensation. Currently, he is involved in lobbying for consumer rights over misleading food labelling - whilst some foods in supermarkets come with a ‘halaal’ certification, others are not certified as ‘non-halaal’, depriving the consumer the right to choose.

Perhaps his most significant contribution came by way of gaining recognition of the Sikh religion as a separate religion in Australia. For instance, an Anand Karaj performed at a gurdwara was not formally recognised since Sikh celebrants didn’t have any formal authority. Realising this, Sardar Bawa Singh (through the Sikh Council of Australia) wrote to the Attorney General, who corrected the anomaly. The Sikh Council of Australia has since been authorized by the Australian government as the nominating authority for the appointment of the marriage celebrants for the Sikhs.

It also goes to the credit of Bawa Singh that, alongside addressing the issues of significance to Sikh-Australians, he has lobbied actively for other communities too. He has made submissions for a ban of smoking, defended the right of Muslim girls to wear the hijab to school, supported the Hindu community when their temple at Auburn was attacked, and raised funds for victims of disasters like the tsunami in 2004 and the floods in Pakistan. It is only befitting, then, that he has now become the first ever Sikh Australian to be awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia.
Way to go, Sardar Bawa Singh ji!
Source: Mantreep Kaur Singh in Sikh Chic, 27 January 2012 [ ]


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