Sunday, 1 April 2012

A Pakistani speaks up: no transport 'apartheid' for Indians in Singapore

A polytechnic student recently tweeted a (seriously) racist remark against Indians. It follows an aspiring politician's earlier comments equating Muslim Madrassa students with terrorists. Certainly, there are or must be many other unacknowledged racist comments made by Singaporeans against one or another group of people, based solely on ethnic background or religious beliefs.

The Grand Moofti's readers note my tendency to write about Pakistan and all things Pakistani. However, in this instance, I am an Indian.
Not simply because the Singapore government has taken it upon itself to legally classify me as an Indian and put me in the same racial box as Tamils or Sri Lankans, but because in the minds of most Singaporeans, I am an Indian.
I can write as many blog posts as I like distinguishing Pakistanis from Indians but to the average Chinese Singaporean, I am an Indian. Some may recognize the difference between North Indian and South Indian, but Indian nonetheless.
So, when a seventeen year student calls Indians 'fkin dogs who need their own cabins,' I assume her tweet also refers to me.
A screenshot of the alleged tweet as reported by The Online Citizen
Of course, the remark upsets and hurts me. Particularly as I thought a Pakistani Muslim has enough stereotypes to deal with in the post 9/11 world. The statement suggests I am subhuman and unfit to ride with 'her kind.'
Now, I have to deal with my skin color and 'Indianness' on top of my name and religion.
Yes, the nineteen year old Nanyang Polytechnic student's comments can be dismissed as 'naive and immature.'
However, the sad reality is as follows: the tweeter is a young adult, intelligent enough to pursue a polytechnic education; probably lives in HDB mandated 'integrated' public housing; most likely attended racially mixed schools her entire life; and might even have some Indian acquaintances (friends?).
Yet, she thinks in terms of racial stereotypes, 'us' (Chinese) and 'them' (Indians).
Such racist social media comments indicate that integration in Singapore has some way to go. Singaporeans continue to think in terms of race. There are no 'generic' Singaporeans in this city, only Malays, Chinese or Indians. Some mixed race Singaporeans are legally 'double barrelled!'
Ultimately, however, everyone is legally categorized into one race or the 'other.'
Maybe, just maybe, there is a case to be made that Singaporeans have an unhealthy obsession with racial identity. Consequently, racial and religious harmony is maintained only through the legal framework, i.e. harmony is skin deep and maintained through threat of legal retribution. 'Voluntary' integration might still be a distant reality.
Until and unless, 'Singaporeanness' does not replace race and religion, racial stereotyping may remain a powerful force amongst us.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

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