Hong Kong’s resolute first Sikh female prison officer


Sukhdeep Kaur
By Asia Samachar Team | HONG KONG |

Five months ago, Sukhdeep Kaur was beaming with joy as she marched along fellow batch mates after completing the Hong Kong Correctional Services Department (CSD) training. She conquered the physical fitness test as well as tests on aptitude and basic law.

After a determined chase, she realised her dream of a donning a uniform. And in the process, she had also made history by becoming the department’s first Sikh female officer. Yet another feather in the turban for Sikhs globally.

“I had decided to join the CSD after a career talk in my high school. I always wanted to wear their uniform, I found it quite attractive,” she told Asia Samachar in an interview.

Once she had set her mind, the Hongkonger was absolutely relentless in making her dream come true.

“Then I had to pass this physical test involving 5 tasks. I trained myself for that for almost three months, running 10k and doing gym. After passing that, I went through group interview in Chinese. And then final interview. I made it through all with God’s grace,” she said.

Donning her blue turban that matched her navy blue uniform, Sukhdeep’s photo was prominently splashed in a local newspaper that reported on the 6 Dec 2019 graduation ceremony at the Stanley prison.

South China Morning Post captures Sukhdeep Kaur’s story

But why the correctional services? “No other government job allows us to keep our hair during training. Only CSD did,” she said, as a matter of fact.

Now, what she says next would help us to make sense of the above. Asked what role does Sikhi or the Sikh faith plays in her life, she replied: “Very important role. In fact, Sikhi is what I am. It’s my identity. It gives me a direction for living. It is everything to me.”

She started wearing turban on her wedding in 2017.

Sukhdeep said that the local Sikh community was delighted with the news of her achievement. “They were kind of proud and even gave me saroopa. Some Sikhs asked me how I did it? They want their kids to enroll too,” she said.

There are some 12,000 Sikhs in Hong Kong. They are part of the roughly 6% of people in Hong Kong who self-identify as non-ethnic-Chinese (NEC), according to the 2011 Population Census by the Race Relations Unit of the Home Affairs Department. Many of them are second generation born with links to India, Pakistan and Nepal.

Born in Punjab, Sukhdeep was seven when she landed in Hong Kong along with her parents and grandparents who came here in search of new economic opportunities.

Graduation time: Sukhdeep Kaur with husband Shubeg Singh and Hong Kong Commissioner of Correctional Services Woo Ying-ming

On the language front, the ability to speak Cantonese – the predominant Chinese dialect – is vital.

“I wouldn’t say I am that fluent as I studied in the English medium school. I had realised the importance of learning Cantonese when I was looking for a job. Most required speaking Cantonese, so I spent some time in polishing my language skills,” she said.

She added: “Inmates and locals are surprised when I speak Cantonese as not many non-Chinese speak fluently. I’m not that fluent, but they feel it’s good enough. While locals tend to speak to me in English when they first see me but soon start speaking the local language when I reply in Cantonese.”

In an interview with a local newspapers, Sukhdeep said that speaking the local language was key to career prospects. Her hard work paid off when she got an A*, the top grade, at GCSE. Her passion to join a uniform force led her to the Project Gemstone, a community integration programme run by the police force, which offered more Chinese training. Eventually she passed the CSD job interview, conducted in Cantonese.

She can understand 95% of spoken Cantonese, but had to speak slowly and choose her words carefully as she still thought in English, she told the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

“But the first week I worked in the prison, I didn’t even know it when my superior said my name in the walkie-talkie, because he was talking too fast. He slowed it down when talking to me afterwards,” she told the newspaper. “I like speaking in Cantonese with persons in custody, because a big part of my job is communicating with them, knowing their hopes and dreams, and encouraging them to get a second life outside prisons. That’s why I want to become a prison officer too, because I believe in giving people a second chance.”

Now working in Lo Wu Correctional Institution, a place for women inmates, Sukhdeep believes her ethnic background can give her a unique edge in rehabilitating prisoners. She told SCMP: “Some persons in custody have asked me about my turban, which is a good place to start a conversation. Indians there may also feel more comfortable opening up to me in their own native language.”

On the whole, the CSD handles young offenders, drug dependants, first-time offenders and recidivists. It manages 28 correctional facilities comprising correctional institutions, half-way houses and custodial wards of public hospital.

An exciting journey awaits Sukhdeep.

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