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The Indian Community in Singapore

Q: What does diversity mean?


A: Diversity is knowing that we live in a heterogeneous society and respecting it.

Q: How does Singapore maintain racial harmony despite the diverse population composition?


A: Racial harmony is deep-rooted in our education system, and has been inculcated in all of us since a young age. This is seen from how our students start the day by reciting the national pledge: “We, the citizens of Singapore, pledge ourselves as one united people regardless of race, language or religion...”.


Laws are also put into place to make citizens more mindful of their language and actions. In 2012, a Chinese lady made an insulting comment about Malaysian void deck weddings on Facebook, and was not only faced with strong criticism but also police investigation.


We have a very supportive online community. In 2011, a Chinese woman filed a complaint against her Indian neighbors for cooking curry as she hated the smell. They were told that they could only cook when the Chinese family was not at home. This incident went viral online and the complainant faced vigilant attack. While vigilantism is not something to be encouraged, the fact that people hold such strong opinions against racism shows how much they care about the harmony among races here.


In Singapore, we have Racial Harmony Day, on which we are reminded to respect different races and maintain harmonious racial relationships. At school, events and talks are arranged to highlight cultural traditions, for example, epics in Hindu religion. This gives students the chance to learn more about the traditions and customs of different cultures.


Q: Is there anything other countries should learn from Singapore?


A: Mr Lee Kwan Yew, our first Prime Minister, made it a point to show respect to people of different races. What’s special about Singapore is that it was built by everyone. Harmony does not necessarily mean homogeneity - we have four national languages, and equal importance is given to our mother tongue and English in our education system. This reminds people not to forget their roots, and helps them find their identity. We know our backgrounds, but are also united with the common Singaporean identity.


Q: How are cultural differences bridged? How is racial harmony maintained?


A: Singapore has a very diverse society. I believe that peace and harmony in a society requires maturity and understanding. I heard from an Indian student a few grades above us that he felt excluded by his other classmates from different races when he was in high school. However, I feel that this is no longer a problem - people don’t really regard each other by racial background now. Youths who are educated in our modern system are able to correct the older generation’s stereotypes.


And that’s not all - we are still making improvements every day. Singapore cannot progress without help from foreign talents, and citizens are taught to be accepting, and embrace our cultural and racial differences.  Xenophobia has no place in our society, and the educated population knows not to be xenophobic. In primary schools, students even have the opportunity to learn how to play traditional instruments, which allows them to experience different cultures firsthand.


Q: Are there any cultural differences in the same ethnicity? Say, for example, between Singaporean Indians and Indian Indians?


A: (Background of the interviewee: His family comes from India and he has no relatives in Singapore. His girlfriend and some of his friends are Singaporean Indians.)


Indian Indians tend to care more about traditions, while Singaporean Indians are more “modern”. Moreover, Singaporean Indians come mainly from a specific region in India, so they give more importance to certain traditions.


In India, hospitality is very important, but it is not exactly the case here. Indian has a history of offering generosity to travelers, hosting them, and serving them fresh food, and it has become a deep-rooted tradition. Due to Western influence, Singaporean Indians do not put as much emphasis on this as their Indian counterparts. Other than that, Indian Indians value the Kampong Spirit and trust each other, while in Singapore, neighbors do not talk that much. On special occasions, Indian Indians perform rituals, while those in Singapore do not really appreciate them.


Tamil is spoken with less care in Singapore. In the Tamil language, there are three different “la” sounds and “na” sounds, which are used in different contexts and mean very different things when pronounced differently. Not many Singaporeans are aware of this. The words “milk” and “ruin” also have slightly different pronunciations, but they are not pronounced very clearly here. The sounds “da” and “tha” are often confused, and their differences are rarely addressed. As for grammar, the same root word paired with different suffixes can have completely different meanings, which people often overlook. Some extreme vulgarities, such as “pundeh” (vagina) are used too loosely by people who are not native speakers, even Chinese and Malays, and it really offends Indians.


Indian Indians and Singaporean Indians also have very different lifestyles. Indian youths spend a lot of their time outdoors, playing sports such as soccer or cricket, while Singaporean Indians spend more time indoors.


Q: Do Indian youths play important roles in society?


A: The youths of India are socially active and enthusiastic, and that is something we rarely see in Singapore, where no one is really involved in political affairs.


Reliance Jio, an Indian telecommunications company, gave everyone free mobile data access for two years, aiming to increase internet access in India. Telecommunication services became very cheap, and teenagers who used them started being increasingly aware of international news, and began to spread awareness within their own communities - for example, youths helped to mitigate the effects brought about by the coronavirus outbreak by clearing rumors among older generations.


The youth also played a huge part in the relief work following the 2015 Chennai Nadu floods. They came together and helped people out using online platforms, and also delivered supplies to those who were affected by the disaster. 


Moreover, young Indians are passionate about protecting their culture. Jallikattu, also called Indian bullfighting, is a traditional Indian sport, in which players have to grab onto the animal for a period of time to win. In recent years, there has been an increasing amount of concern due to the number of human deaths and the possibility of animal abuse, which prompted the Indian government to ban the sport. However, the species of cow used in Jallikattu are actually endangered and only protected because of this tradition. With the abolishment of this activity, an important part of Indian culture may also disappear. Because of this, many young Indians decided to stand against the ban to protect their culture, and eventually won over the government.


Q: As a youth leader, do you think there are enough media available to you for speaking your thoughts?


A: There are many platforms available to youth leaders to state their opinions, and the only requirement is that there is no hate or discriminatory speech. Instagram and blogs are examples of this, and they are often used as media for addressing important issues. For example, a Bollywood actor once suggested that rape should be legalized, that victims should just succumb to rapists, and “outrage of modesty is acceptable”. People felt that this was absurd and stupid, and posted on Instagram and Twitter saying they would rather die than get raped. With the wide availability of platforms, they were able to stand up against this and state their thoughts.


Q: Why is diversity important to humanity?


A: The progression of humanity requires knowledge and wisdom from everyone. People of different age groups, cultures and religions have different kinds of wisdom, enabling them to bring different things to the table. By embracing diversity, we will be able to overcome the limits of one individual person and find the next frontier for progress.


This interviewee wishes to remain anonymous.


Interviewed by Hunter Gao

Edited by Chloe Yeung

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