Singapore—A recent study concerning racial and religious harmony shows that certain behaviors and actions could lead to tensions within neighborhoods, such as cooking ethnic food or loud sounds in void decks.

The survey, conducted by the  Institute of Policy Studies (Institute of Policy revealed that at least four in 10 Singaporeans admitted to becoming upset by the burning of religious items within their surroundings, making it the highest-ranked cause of tension in a neighborhood setting.

The Straits Times (ST) reports that the survey gave examples of other behaviours that ranked high which included praying or religious chanting, the cooking of ethnic food, and loud activities held in void decks or other common areas.

The survey showed that among Indian and Malay respondents, only 25 percent had at some level encountered and become upset by the burning of incense, joss sticks or other religious items within their neighborhoods.

However, with the race of the respondents’ broken down, the survey revealed that 67.4 percent of Malays, 57.6 percent of Indians and 35.7 percent of Chinese indicated they were at least “sometimes” upset by the burning of religious items.

This led the study’s researchers to say, “This indicates the need for management of these issues to reduce the possibility of ill will between communities.”

Alvin Tan, who is the Chair of the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC), believes that there must be intentional and sustained initiatives to minimize incidents that would lead to interracial and religious tensions.

His group needs to make the effort, “to carry out activities on the ground very deliberately” because “people come from very different backgrounds and have different beliefs and practices,” Mr Tan said.

This has meant holding events and celebrations every month including a combination of people from various religions and races.

He added, ”We have community ambassadors present to help explain the practices and encourage everyone to dress in one another’s traditional costumes. We also visit different places of worship around Chinatown to help our members get a feel for the place and culture.”

Another thing that his group does is to aid in arbitrating common spaces since this could be the cause of tension. “We’ve seen how these little inconveniences can spark tensions in other societies. So we come in very early in the process and find ways to minimise disruption to residents and businesses.”

He expressed the hope for the next generations to join IRCCs as well. “We hope to see young Singaporeans make time to attend these events, to understand, feel and gain a sense of appreciation for other cultures.”

What would help, according to Tan Ern Ser, a sociologist from the National University of Singapore is for caps to be set on the duration of the activities, as well as on the noise levels.

He stressed the importance for people to intentionally meet others from different races and religions.

“Community organisations and leaders could bring residents together, while residents could take the initiative to greet their neighbours and, better still, get to know them.

Once residents interact with one another or even do things together, they would tend to be more understanding and considerate.” -/TISG

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