By Gaurav Sharma
The minister for environment and water resources Vivian Balakrishnan and People’s Action Party (PAP) MPs Hri Kumar Nair, Vikram Nair and Janil Puthucheary, recently attended a dialogue with about 300 grass-root leaders and residents organised by Narpani Pearavai, or “Good Activity Council”, which is an umbrella organisation of People’s Association 94 Indian Activity Executive Committees spread all over Singapore.
Vikram Nair, who represents Sembawang group representation constituency in Parliament, explained the issues concerning the Indian community in Singapore.
“The Indian community like any other race in Singapore is also concerned about high immigration which may lead to job losses for Singaporeans, affordability of healthcare, and increasing competition in the primary education. The government has already acknowledged these concerns, which is why the PM in his National Day Rally speech proposed various strategic shifts in policies,” Nair said.
“For housing, I can say only about my constituency, where because of the ethnic quota, it has become harder for the Indian community to buy an HDB flat. We have few such appeal cases as well. Educational under- performance has always been a issue for the community but I am heartened to note that self- help groups like SINDA are doing a wonderful job on this front.”
Though repeated attempts to contact the minister Vivian Balakrishnan were unsuccessful, earlier media reports noted his comments that “employment discrimination is a key concern raised by Indian community leaders” during the dialogue.
Even the recent survey findings by Institute of Policy Studies and OnePeople.sg have highlighted such concerns.
Narpani Pearavai, when contacted declined to comment on the matter as “the information requested do not come under their purview”, it said. Hri Kumar Nair and Janil Puthucheary were also not available for comments. On the concerns expressed relating to employment discrimination, the MOM was approached, which declined to comment.
What UN expert said on Singapore race relations
The UN Special Rapporteur on racism, Githu Muigai, visited Singapore on Government ‘s invitation between April 21-28, 2010, to gather “first-hand information on the main issues facing people living in Singapore in relation to racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.”
After eight days, and a series of meetings and discussions with Singaporeans from all walks of life, Muigai said, “The authorities have continuously and actively promoted social cohesion, religious tolerance and what they refer to as racial harmony, through a number of commendable policies and measures emphasizing tolerance, understanding and respect among the diverse ethnic and religious groups living in Singapore.”
“While there may be no institutionalised racial discrimination in Singapore, several policies have further marginalized certain ethnic groups,” he added, “this is a situation that must be acknowledged and acted upon in order to safeguard the stability, sustainability and prosperity of Singapore.”
Acknowledging the peaceful coexistence of diverse communities in Singapore as a remarkable achievement, Muigai raised various concerns relating to some “blind spots” in the policies and measures pursued by the Government in its quest for racial harmony.
These include “restrictions on public debate and discourse on the issue of ethnicity, and the importance of ethnic identity in daily life, housing, education and employment ”.
The ministry of foreign affairs (MFA), on its part, issued a press statement and clarified some issues raised by the UN expert.
Regarding restrictions on discussion of sensitive issues, the MFA said, “Here, we must emphatically disagree with Mr Muigai. Race, language and religion will always be sensitive issues in Singapore. This does not mean that they cannot be discussed, but a balance must always be struck between free expression and preservation of racial and religious harmony. This balance is only for the Singapore government to determine because only the Singapore government bears the responsibility should things go wrong.
The UN bears no such responsibility and we see no reason to take risks for the sake of an abstract principle. We believe most Singaporeans agree with the government ‘s approach.”
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