Grace Fu, the Minister for Culture, Community and Youth,said in a statement: “Over the last 50 years, we have built a Singaporewhere every citizen matters, regardless of race, language or religion. This hasbeen our fundamental approach to nation-building and will continue to guide usinto the future. Signing the InternationalConvention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) further entrenches our commitment to this end, to unequivocallyshow that racial discrimination has no place in Singapore.
” Towhat extent has Singapore done well in promote racial harmony over the past 50years?Firstly,Singapore has its pledge which we recite in school every morning: “We the citizens of Singapore,pledge ourselves as one united people.Regardless of race, language or religion,to build a democratic society,based on justice and equality,so as to achieve happiness, prosperity, and progress for our nation.” Wecan see the essence and importance of racial harmony from this pledge. The onlyand main reason why we are still standing strong as a nation is because of ourability to work harmoniously. Though Singapore has diverse races and cultures,we are encouraged to maintain our own uniqueness and distinctiveness whileliving together.
Secondly,the formation of organisations like the inter-religious Organisation (IRO) andCommunity Development Councils (CDCs) have played an important role to ensurethat racial harmony is preserved in Singapore. The Religious Harmony bill,which ensures that religious activities do not cause inter-ethnic tensionshelps to monitor IRO and CDC activities. TheIRO composes religious leaders of the nine major religions of Singapore(Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu, Sikh, Baha’i Faith, Jewish andZoroastrian) to promote inter-faith understanding and harmony in Singapore. TheIRO organises activities, workshops and talks on common beliefs with theobjective of promoting racial and religious harmony.
TheCDCs were formed in 1977 to strengthen community bonding in the variousdistricts. They organise many interesting activities such as family outings,sports carnivals, job fairs and cultural performances for residents to promotesocial cohesion. One of the successful CDCs programmes is the home stay andhome visit. Children will spend the day with families of other races.
They willeat with the family, learn and understand their cultural practices. Thirdly, the government’s initiativeto promote racial harmony is the “Singapore 21”. The logo of “Singapore 21” shows four figuresholding hands represent Singaporeans of all races in unity, sharing a commonSingapore vision and living and working together in Singapore. The key messagesthat help promote racial harmony are that each one of us is unique and cancontribute to Singapore’s success, regardless of who we are, and every citizenhas the opportunity to develop his/her full potential, regardless of his/herbackground.Amongmany government’s initiatives to promote racial harmony is the Housing andDevelopment Board (HDB). More than 80 % of Singaporeans live in HDB flats.
There is existing legislation governing the percentage of certain race isallowed to stay in the certain HDB block. Living in multi-racial housingestates allows different racial groups to interact with and understand oneanother better. However, we have also seen and read that this may also increasethe likelihood of friction between different races. Hence, residents have tolearn to tolerate differences and accept other races. Fromthe above few examples, Singapore has done well in addressing racial andreligious discrimination to a certain extent for the past five decades. Asurvey on Racial and Religious Harmony conducted by the Institute of Policystudies in 2013 showed that approximately 80% of Singaporeans are willing towork on building closer relationships with people of different race orreligion. However, the same study also revealed that 40% of Singaporeans feelthat racial tensions still exist. The survey also showed that 31% ofSingaporeans have had experienced some unpleasant encounters with anotherracial group.
In conclusion,there are still some traces of racism surface from time to time. Insensitive remarks or actions based on stereotypes about acertain race may cause offence, and social media magnifies both the effect andreach of the offence and the grievances of those who feel victimised. This inevitably leadsus to question ourselves if Singapore has doneenough in addressing racial and religious discrimination.