Dialogue session with Dr Balaji Sadasivan
DIALOGUE SESSION WITH DR BALAJI SADASIVAN
The Community Outreach Group for Indian/Other Communities Organisations (COGIOCO) held a dialogue session with the Tamils Representative Council (TRC) and representatives of its 32 Affiliate Organisations, at Ceylon Sports Club on Sunday, 23 September 2007 at 2.00pm.
The dialogue session was attended by the Leader of the COGIOCO, Dr Balaji Sadasivan, Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Information, Communications and the Arts and Mr Baey Yam Keng, Member of Parliament (MP) for Tanjong Pagar GRC. 50 TRC members and representatives attended the dialogue session.
Dr Balaji said that TRC was established long before the setting up of SINDA. It had been serving the Tamil community well since 1951. During the earlier days in Singapore’s nationhood, our country was mainly concentrating on economic development. Now Singapore has come of age and has been competing globally. With globalisation, many local religious issues could become global issues. For example, the Danish cartoon episode in late 2005 could affect communal relations in a multi-religious society. Under our Community Engagement Programme (CEP), we need to develop networks of trust across communities in Singapore so that we may be better able to prevent the strain and tensions from terrorist violence or any other crisis undermining our communal harmony and social cohesion. The Indian community should play a part in building linkages with all the other communities. Network of trust and friendship should be established at different levels, such as through the community organisations, at business places and schools. We did not intend to harmonise the religions and cultures of many different ethnic groups. The Government wished to disseminate its policies to the grassroots level. Dr Balaji assured that the Government would be holding more luncheons with the religious groups on a monthly basis so as to better understand the needs on the ground.
KEY ISSUES RAISED AT THE DIALOGUE SESSION
Members raised queries on key issues faced by the Tamil Community and the Indian Community at large. Some of the points raised were:
- The status of the Tamil Language in Singapore. Number of people using the language is reducing. If this continues Tamil Language may disappear in 15-20 years.
- The influx of Non-Tamil speaking Indians into Singapore. This should be controlled and a quota system should be in place to ensure that enough Tamils are given priority.
- Tamil Language being an Official Language, it should be given the same status as the other official languages. Tamil should be present in all Government organized/supported events and notices. Use of other Indian Languages should be limited.
- During speeches like the National Day Rally, problems faced by Tamils should be addressed.
Dr Balaji Sadasivan pointed out that more families using English at home was not only unique to the Indian community; it had been prevailing in other ethnic communities as well. The community organisations had been promoting the use of Tamil at the community level. He assured TRC members that the Government was doing its best to ensure the effectiveness of learning the language in schools through debates, activities, etc. to promote Tamil culture. He mentioned that the Government could not force individual Indians to learn and use Tamil as changes in living and culture was not within the government control, but what the Government could do was to try to preserve the language for Tamil community. It would ensure that teachers were proficient in the language so as to cultivate the right knowledge to the next generation. He also assured that the position of the Tamil language as one of the four official languages in Singapore is safeguarded in the Constitution. DPM Prof S Jayakumar had stated categorically earlier this year that the Government had no intention of changing the Constitution. The statement was made to assure the position of Tamil language for Tamil-speaking community.
Dr Balaji also mentioned that the migration policy in Singapore is based on merit rather than race and on the immigrants’ potential contribution to the nation as a whole. He pointed out that the relative racial distribution in Singapore had roughly remained the same for the past few years. There are slightly over 7% of Indian immigrants of which not all are Tamil speaking Indians. The Government could not adopt a quota system for races in Singapore as such restriction would be dangerous to the stability of the nation.
Dr Balaji explained that PM Lee is not a Tamil speaking person and that he did not mention the Indian community as it had a good image, which was perceived to be more progressive and doing well as compared to other communities. He encouraged the Indian community to view it in a positive sense. He would convey the feedback about the need to mention Indian Community at NDR to PM Lee.
MP Baey Yam Keng commented that the Tamil language issue was not unique for Tamil community; it was also exist in Chinese community. He drew a parallel between the Indian and Chinese communities on the treatment of Mandarin and Tamil languages. He noted that parents had written to the Chinese press, lamenting the younger generation’s lack of proficiency of Mandarin and requesting to withdraw Chinese as a subject so their children could do better in school.
In conclusion, Dr Balaji stressed that race, language and religions were highly sensitive issues. The Government’s stand on Tamil, Hindu, etc had not changed over the years. The people should instead take note that if the sensitive issues were fully addressed, Singapore could not guarantee continuous harmony. He stressed that people needed to look beyond the trivial and internal problems and must not lose sight of the global problem. The people need to be more resilient and cohesive and look at the larger picture as a whole.
The session ended at about 5.00 pm. Members present were generally satisfied with the replies and assurance given by the Minister. TRC intends to hold such sessions more regularly and invite other Indian MPs.