Why Indians in Singapore are the worst diasporical Indian community in the world?
Hi guys, my name is Advaita Rajeev Subrahmanyam and I haven’t been blogging for the past few months as I have been busy with examinations and have been enlisting into the army to do my National Service in Singapore. However, there is a very important issue that needs to unveiled to Singaporeans and the entire world, and that is, the status of Indians in Singapore and many areas in Southeast Asia.
Now I have been watching this video by this Indian youtube channel called FMF which discussed the issues that is faced by Indians in India today. In one of the videos the narrator discusses about how Indians in India are taught to hate India and be ignorant about our great 5000 year history that has been the core of western interest since the 18th century. In the video, the narrator tells us about how the western world took interest in learning Sanskrit since the 16th/17th century and studying many Indic scriptures and taking interest in learning about Indian philosophies and sciences. If you don’t believe me, I can give you the link to the video down below:
But according to the video, we in India are ignorant and have absolutely no idea about how great the history of the Indian Subcontinent has been, ever since we got independence in 1947, thanks to Pandit Nehru, our first and most hated prime minister of India.
But there is another issue that is far away from home that is not being discussed — the status of Indians in Singapore and Malaysia and parts of Southeast Asia.
In Singapore, the Indian community have a deplorable status. Let me explain to you what I mean. In many Singaporean films like Must Follow Law and the recent historical Singaporean film, 1965, the Indians in Singapore are always depicted to be coming to Singapore from India. Most Non-Indian Singaporeans also believe that Indians always come to Singapore as recent immigrants and I don’t blame them. Indians from the very beginning from the founding of Singapore till now have always been connected with India and have not properly integrated into the Singapore family. Today, we have a newspaper called the Tabla! which has a cover title underneath stating “Heartbeat of the Indian community”, and not Heartbeat of the North Indian, Gujarati, Maharashtrian, Telugu, Kannadiga or Malayalee community. None of the large communities of Singapore like the Chinese, Malays or the Eurasians have a special newspaper for themselves. In the Tabla!, there are issues related to India and the Indian community in the Indian International Schools of Singapore. Even the Tamil Murasu has more articles in connection with India today.
In Singapore, we are a divided community on the basis of language. Tamilians, who form 58.8% of the Indian community of Singapore are brought from India to Singapore mostly as construction workers and labourers while many Bengalis of the Subcontinent are also brought mostly from Bangladesh and not from India. The majority of Bangladeshis in Singapore are foreign workers and labourers like the Tamilians and like them, most of them do not bring their families and settle in Singapore. This is highly unlikely the other well educated Indian communities like the Gujarati, Indian Bengali, Kannadiga, Malayalee, Maharashtrian, Telugu, Punjabi and Hindi-speaking communities in Singapore. Since the Indians bring more labourers and construction workers to Singapore, they tarnish the image of Indians in Singapore and I have seen it in Secondary School where most Non-Indian Singaporeans have a negative mindset of Indians and would often taunt me that I will become a construction worker one day like most Indians.
It is even seen throughout the history of Singapore from the founding of Singapore in 1819. Despite being the first community to arrive on the island from 1819 onwards, Indians have not made their mark in history as one of the most Important communities of Singapore. Most roads in Singapore are named after Chinese, Malay and British businessmen who contributed to Singapore. Very few, like Nallur Road and Munshi Abdullah Avenue, which is named after a person who was half-Malay, are there in Singapore that give tribute to Indians. In fact, there are no MRT stations in Singapore named after any Indian entrepreneurs of Singapore. There have been stations like Boon Lay, Clementi and Eunos, which were named after the Western, Chinese and Malay entrepreneurs of Singapore, but none for Indians. Even Naraina Pillai, who built the famous Mariamman Temple in Chinatown, has never had a road or MRT station built and named after him.
Indeed, the governments of India and Singapore do not have the strongest relationship in the world like how India has the best relationship with the UK, the US and other western countries. In fact, the Indian diaspora in the west are integrated far better than the Indian diaspora in Singapore.
Despite India and Singapore having a long historical connection for two millennia, we have never never made any attempt to connect with this place and the rest of Southeast Asia in Modern times. We had influenced this area for many years from the time of Ashoka. In fact, long before Sanskrit had been introduced to the West in the Eighteenth century, it was Malaysia and Singapore which had been using the Sanskrit language and Indian influence in this part of the world for a very long time. Many words of the Malay language have their roots in the Sanskrit language like for example, Cerita, Keluarga, Agama, Perdana Menteri and Uttara. Even the word Bahasa, which is a word used as a prefix to indicate of the languages of the Malay peninsula, has its roots in the Sanskrit word “Bhasha’’ which means language. Throughout the entire Malay peninsula, many cities have names with Sanskrit origins. For example, Singapore, which is an anglicized form of the word “Singapura’’, which means Lion City in Malay, is ultimately derived from the Sanskrit word “Simhapura’’, meaning Lion City. “Simha’’ means lion in Sanskrit and “pura’’ meaning city in Sanskrit. Another interesting fact is that the term used to refer to honourable people in Malaysia and Singapore is Dato Seri which means “Honourable Sir’’ in Malay. I don’t know if Dato is of Sanskrit origin, but seri is a malayanized version of the word Sanskrit word “Sri’’ which means Sir. In fact, the English word Sir is derived from the word “Sri’’. In India today, we have forgotten this practice. For example, we do not address our Prime Minister as Pradhana Mantri Sri Narendra Modi Ji or we don’t address our President as Adhyaksh Sri Ram Nath Kovind Ji. So this ancient practice that we have forgotten in India today is practiced by the local Malay population in Singapore and Malaysia. The use of the word “Bhumiputra’’ in Malaysia to denote the ethnic communities in Malaysia who have special priveleges in Malaysia, indicates the use of Sanskrit and Indian influence in Malaysia.
In fact, the entire region of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the entire Southeast Asia had been the bastion of where the Sanskrit language had been taught centuries ago. When the Chinese Buddhist scholar Faxian was travelling to India from China to study Buddhism and bring back Buddhist texts from India to translate them from Sanskrit to Chinese, he had to stop at Sumatra in Indonesia to learn Sanskrit before continuing his journey towards India. Even students in those days, who were travelling to India, which had the most renowned universities at Nalanda and Taxila, all learnt Sanskrit in the Malay Archipelago and Peninsula, before making their way to India. The many local rulers of Singapore, long before Sir Stamford Raffles had set his foot on the Island, all had Sanskrit names like Parameswara and Sang Nila Utama, and were all Hindus and Buddhists before they converted to Islam, indicating the strong Indian influence that has been felt by the local population. In short, it was in this part of the world that Indian culture and tradition has had the greatest impact in the world. In addition to that, Southeast Asia and the Malay penisula was first influenced by Indians long before the Chinese made their impact here. Yet in today’s India, the government of India and the government of the UK is the strongest foreign bilateral relationship today and not the relationship between Singapore and Malaysia with India.
The problem lies with the fact that most Indians do not regard their history with this place as important and something to treasure. For example, most Indians won’t know about the various names of places in Singapore that are of Sanskrit origin like the Istana, or that the crest or each Beret of an National Serviceman has the logo “Yang Pertama Dan Utama” of which Pertama and Utama are of Sanskrit origin. They won’t even know that the man who first discovered Singapore as Temasek, was Sang Nila Utama, who was a Malay Hindu with a Sanskrit name, and that the Indic influence on the island has been long and prestigious to Singapore. The Indians don’t know how great their ancestors’ influence on this island has been over the many decades. They just behave as if their ancestors only recently arrived in the Island in the 19th century. The Indians don’t make any conscious effort to associate with this place more often as compared to this place and make India there source of origin. So let’s examine why the Indian community in Singapore generally sucks.
There are many reasons as to why this is so. But I am going to present five important reasons about why the Indian community is such an underperforming community in the region. First of all, the Indian community has the annoying habit of attributing the bringing of festivals and the historical connections with the Tamilians just because they form 58.8% of the Indian community. A video called “Bridging Worlds: Melting Pot - The Story of Indians in Singapore and Malaysia” has confirmed this. The link to the video is down below:
In the video, it states that the most important contributions of Indians to Singapore are largely from the Tamil-speaking community like the Thaipusam festival and stuff like that. Another thing that is implied in the video is that the Indian influence in the region only began when the Cholas and the Pallavas started trading with the Malay peninsula. It mentions the kingdom in the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago as the Srivijaya kingdom, but makes no mention of how old it is. The Srivijaya kingdom existed much before the Chola or Pallava dynasties had started, indicating that Indian influence in this region is much older. But how old is this influence and where has it come from? In Singapore, when Malays would refer to Indians, they would use the term “Keling’’, which is a malayanised version of the Sanskrit word Kalinga. This indicates the first Indians to bring the Indian culture to the Malay Peninsula and influence the locals to create the first Indianised kingdoms in this region, were from the East Indian Kingdom in Odisha called Kalinga. This indicates that East Indians had a long influence before any Tamil or any other South Indian dynasty had an influence in the region. Even the Pallavas, who were the first South Indian dynasty to start trading with the Malay Peninsula were a Telugu dynasty and not a Tamil one.
Secondly, when it comes to the Indian community, it will project itself as one community speaking only one language. Let me give you an example of this, the greeting “Vanakkam’’ is widely used amongst Non-Indians to greet all Indians, regardless of their background or their mothertongue, despite the fact that only a small majority of the Indian community in Singapore use this greeting in their everyday lives. Again, I don’t blame these people for doing so as this greeting has been used to stereotype all Indians in Singapore for generations. So people don’t care if saying Vanakkam or Sastrikal to a Punjabi Indian is a big deal, even when its clear that Punjabis don’t respond to the greeting Vanakkam. To a non-Tamil South Indian or to a Non-Punjabi Aryan(North, East and West Indians), saying Namaskar, Namaste or Namaskaram is not a concern to any Non-Indian.
It is also very clearly shown during every year’s National Day parade. Only one song “Munnaeru Vallibaa’’, which is in Tamil, is featured every national day to represent one community, blatantly ignoring the sentiments and feelings of the Indians who don’t speak Tamil as their mothertongue. The Hypocritical thing is that in Public schools, Non-Tamil Indian students have been given the option of choosing the following languages: Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali or Urdu, as their mothertongue from the early 2000s onwards. However, these languages grant a sense of privelege to certain communities who speak these languages as their mothertongue. This is due to the fact that there are some Indian communities who don’t have these languages as their mothertongue and are therefore, at a disadvantage. The Malayalee and Telugu Indian communities, for example, have large numbers in Singapore, but they don’t have any of their languages in public schools today and are forced to take Tamil or Hindi as their mothertongue in school. Many Malayalees in Singapore don’t speak Tamil and don’t want to speak Tamil, as contrary to popular belief. I know this as I have met Malayalees in Singapore who don’t speak Tamil. But nothing is being done to address the concerns of these two Indian communities since we are the most incorrigible community of Singapore.
Thirdly, the Sanskrit language has never been made an additional fifth official language of Singapore for the other Non-Tamil speaking Indians in Singapore, only the Tamil language. When India gained independence in 1947 and became a republic in 1950, the Indian leaders were deciding as to what language was to become the National Official language of India. B R Ambedkar, the greatest Indian ever and the Father of India’s constitution, suggested Sanskrit to be the National Official language. But the idiot Pandit Nehru opposed him and made Hindi the national official language of the country. So today, in India, we have people from the South and the Northeast fearing the hegemony of the Hindi speaking North India.
In Singapore, we had every chance to make Sanskrit an official language for the Non-Tamil Indian population, when we won independence in 1965, as Sanskrit was the language that linked all the Non-Tamil speaking Indians together. But no, we turned out to be worse than India when it came to this. We never got Sanskrit to become an official language in our public schools. The only place in Singapore where Sanskrit is taught is Ramakrishna Mission Singapore which has a campus in Bedok and Bartley, of which I am going to nowadays to learn the language.
If we had done this, there could have been a Sanskrit and Tamil song representing the entire Indian community every National Day. When Sanskrit is taught today in schools in the West and even in India from the 7th standard onwards, why is it that in Singapore, Sanskrit has not been taught to Indian students despite the fact that it was spoken in Singapore centuries ago? The Non-Tamil Indian students don’t need to learn their individual native Indian languages when Sanskrit is the mother of all languages in India, except for Dravidian languages of Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam which are highly sanskritised. These Indians can learn Sanskrit in various scripts, even though devanagari is the main script of Sanskrit. Students don’t need to ask about the usage of the language as they will understand that others in the west and India are using the languages. For those Non-Tamil Indian students who speak English at home, the first generation of Non-Tamil Indian students could have learnt Sanskrit and started speaking it to their family members and children. We could have done all this but we did’nt, which further inflames me and many others about the disgusting attitude that we Indians have.
The fourth reason, is of course, our relationship with the other races in Singapore. Take for example, the Chinese. The relationship between the Indians and the Chinese is just good, but not outstanding. In my army camp, I was talking to a Buddhist-Hindu Chinese guy who had intentions to build a temple inside the camp. Since I was more of a Indic person than an Indian, I focused less on what his race was and more on his interest of Hinduism and Buddhism. He told me that he worshipped Hindu gods like Brahma and Ganesha and he also worshipped Asita, the sage who visited Lord Buddha’s parents soon after he was born. I could’nt understand what he saying as I did’nt understand how he pronounced the word Asita. Only when he told me about who he was then did I understand what he was saying. I knew who sage Asita was as I had read the Amar Chitra Katha books which had stories on Lord Buddha and many great saints of India, but most Indians in Singapore do not read Amar Chitra Katha and hence do not know about the Buddhist religion, Buddhist saints, or any one of these ideas from our wonderful history that the Chinese can share with them. See, these are the things that bind Indians and Chinese together. We share so many things in common yet we believe we are different because of only three things: Our Skin colour, our food and eating habits and what festivals we celebrate. But when it comes to these things, we are no different.
One of these things mentioned above is that Chinese Buddhists, who form 43% of the Chinese community making them the largest religious group amongst the Chinese, worship Lord Ganesha and Lord Hanuman, yet we do nothing to strengthen the relationship between both our communities If we had made the Ganesha Chaturthi (Ganesha’s Birthday) one of the biggest Indian festivals in Singapore, this would be a great mingling of two ethnic communities. Instead, we have Thaipusam and many Chinese participate in the Thaipusam festival because they believe it is uniquely Indian. However, Thaipusam is not a popular festival back in India and is only popular in one small state in India called Tamil Nadu. But when it comes to the Entire India, Ganesh Chaturthi is popular in seven states and is widely supported by Hindu communities outside these seven states. Yet no one here thinks, “Hey! There are is no big Ganesh Chaturthi festival as there is with Thaipusam! Most Indians and Chinese Buddhists will celebrate this festival with great pomp. So how come there is no Ganesh procession in Little India during Ganesh Chaturthi day as there is with Thaipusam?’’ Ganesha is one of the deities that both Indians and Chinese venerate. Yet there are only three temples in Singapore where Ganesha is the main deity. I know for a fact that all Hindu temples that all Hindu temples have a deity of Ganesha as Ganesha is the first god of worship for Hindus, but followers of other Indian religions, of which Non-Indians have a large following, don’t want to worship any other deities as their main deity, excluding Ganesha and Hanuman.
The idea of puja done by Indian Hindus is nothing unknown to Non-Indians. Since Buddhism forms 33.3% of the Singaporean population, many Chinese who profess the faith venerate their deities with Pujas done. Outside the Sri Krishnan Temple at Waterloo Street, many Chinese devotees worship the Hindu deities with their Chinese Agarpattis(Incense Sticks in Sanskrit), and this is no different from the way we Indians worship. The only difference is that the Incense Sticks are placed in a Chinese golden urn. Even the Chinese Goddess Guanyin, who has her statue in Sri Rama Temple at Changi Village and in Sri Krishnan Temple at Waterloo Street, is from the Indian Bodhisatva Avalokiteshwara. Yet when we see Chinese worshipping at a Hindu temple, we consider it racial and religious harmony. Now I can understand that it is racial harmony as two different ethnicities are conjuncting with each other at the same place. But it is not religious harmony as the religions of the same sect are practiced at a common place of worship. But we Indians make no effort to understand and know more the many Indian holy saints, gods or mystics that Chinese venerate today as compared to the Chinese, who know some Hindu deities. Even Vesak Day, or Lord Buddha’s birthday, is not widely celebrated by the Indian community. We make no conscious effort to create an Ambedkar statue in Singapore, to commemorate the man who made Buddhism popular in the country who made Buddhism popular in the country where it originated. This indicates we don’t want to have a very strong connection with other races by making popular the things we have in common.
The fifth reason why Indians generally suck, is the fact that Hinduism is no longer being respected in Singapore. In Singapore, Hindus have to be sent to Hindu schools on the weekends as they would lose their Hindu culture and religion to the Christian religions or other faiths beside Hinduism. I was talking to one Indian lady about this, when I was going for one of my Sanskrit classes at Ramakrishna Mission. She told me that the Hindu children are sent to special Hindu classes on the weekends because they will be influenced by the Abrahamic religion and drift away from their Hindu religious values, like the Ramayana, Bhagavat Gita and the Mahabharata. This treatment makes the Hindu Indian community special as no other kids from other religious communities who have special classes to keep them attached to their religions. Indian parents of the Hindu religion don’t educate their children on important these books. Even the Amar Chitra Katha (Mythological and Indian classics section) and Chandamama comic books are not being read widely by the Indian Hindu community here to know more about the Hindu mythology, epics and about many great Indian poems like Kalidasa’s Raghuvamsa and etc.
The Indian community, in all its years after settling here, has not even set up any Hindu religious school in Singapore like how there have been Muslim Madrasahs, Christian schools and two secular Buddhist schools like Manjushri and Maha Bodhi Secondary Schools. We also could have established a number of Hindu schools for our Hindu children but we did’nt. In addition to that, we did’nt make sure that our kids who went to these secular Buddhist schools were welcomed inside with an idol of Saraswati into these schools. Saraswati is the goddess of learning in both Buddhism and Hinduism and this is another thing that I forgot to mention above in my fourth reason, which binds both Chinese and Indians together. If we had Hindu and Buddhist primary schools and Hindu Secondary Schools, we would not worry about the Hindu population today.
One sad thing that I get very pissed at, is the fact that the number of Muslims and Christians are increasing and that the number of Hindus are decreasing in the Indian community. Whenever I meet an Indian, I often come across them having the name Joshua, Samuel, Justin, Trisha and others Western names, indicating how Christian they have become. I come across less Indians with names like Anand Raj, Vijay Kumar, Aditya, Rohit, Adinath, Gopal, Govind and other traditional Hindu names. Even amongst Hindus themselves, I see a lot more people who don’t often don’t have traditional Hindu names and instead have ridiculous Tamilian names like Gunasekaran, Maniam, Mannickam, Paneerselvam and others. This indicates the loss of our traditional Indian culture.
Even our funerals indicate the loss of our traditional Hindu culture. Many Hindu funeral parlours have caskets so that the deceased Hindu, regardless of whether they be an adults or children, are mostly buried in the ground, like in most funeral traditions in Singapore, rather than according to the Hindu or Buddhist funeral traditions which mandate for the body to be cremated. Only amongst certain sects in Hinduism and in certain states of India like Kerala and only in certain states where the person was a famous personality like Tamil Nadu’s MGR and Jayalalithaa, is a Hindu body allowed to be buried. Otherwise, it is forbidden to bury a dead Hindu body, unless the deceased was a child. But in Singapore, being influenced by these foreign practices that we have become like the Non-Buddhist Chinese and the Muslims and Christians, denying respect to our age old Hindu traditions. I know that burial, along with cremation, was practiced by Hindus during the Vedic times, but that does’nt give us the right to disrespect our religion with moth outside influence.
The sixth and last reason, why Indians are a disgrace in Singapore is the use of Bindhi by an Indian Hindu woman on her forehead even when she is not wearing her traditional clothes. I believed that the Bindhi should be used on the forehead with traditional clothes and not with their everyday clothes. It was just like the Malay men who wear the songkok cap mostly with their Baju Kurong. This practice had been popular during the 1950s and 60s but is now disappearing. However, coming back to topic, many Indian women, and that too Hindu women, say that the Bindhi or the red dot is to be worn by a Hindu woman once she is married, making it look like the Muslim Hijab and the Malay Tudong, which is worn by a Muslim woman when she grows older, to many people. In some cases, yes, this is true. But in most cases, a Hindu Indian girl wears a Bindhi even when she is in Primary and Secondary School. Why are these girls wearing Bindhi all the time? Can’t you people integrate by modernising yourself like the Chinese and the Malays who do not wear any cultural head symbols when they wear modern clothes? Or do you always need to drag your Indian culture everywhere you go? Do you always need to keep your Indian cultural identity alive even when people know you are an Indian? Why aren’t public schools putting a ban on all religious and cultural headgear for all races? If we wear rod dots, even Indian men and women who are modern and practice the Hindu religion, and who don’t wear Bindhis, will be asked “Why don’t you wear a Red Dot?’’ I know this because I have been in Secondary School and one of my classmates asked me this question. Most people like me would find this question annoying as they want to be modern and fashionable, unlike most Indians in Singapore and we in Singapore will be stereotyped as the only community whose female population wears religious headwear all the time, regardless of age and marital status. This is even true on our posters which often shows Indians wearing Red Dots.
Guys, these are just some of the reasons why we as a community can’t be an outstanding community in Singapore and Malaysia. To be a better community, we have to fix all these flaws that we have as a community. If we don’t, we will get stereotyped and many Indians across the world will have a shit opinion of the Indians in Singapore and we will no longer be associating ourselves with this place like we did centuries ago. I am Advaita Rajeev Subrahmanyam signing off.