Former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan: Singapore Indians must continue raising their education level
Last month, former Cabinet minister S. Dhanabalan became only the eighth person to be awarded the Order of Temasek (First Class), Singapore's highest civilian honour. In a recent interview with tabla!, he spoke about the issues affecting the Indian community in Singapore. Here is an excerpt...
1 ON THE SETTING UP OF INDIAN COMMUNITY SELF-HELP GROUP SINGAPORE INDIAN DEVELOPMENT ASSOCIATION (SINDA)
At first, I was not very much in favour of Sinda because I felt that this was a national issue which should be tackled at the national level. When we began to dive further into the issue, we found that Indians were very sharply divided.
Those in the upper levels of society were doing really well, but a large number, in fact I would say more then 50 per cent of the lower levels, were not doing well. They may have paid lip service to education but they did not really do it... I also think many Indians, especially the Tamils, tended to compare their lifestyle and what they could enjoy in Singapore with what their families in India were enjoying.
So I remember one union leader telling me that he once spoke to a chap who was a daily-rated worker. He was also washing cars and was doing well enough to own a three-room flat. And when he compared himself to his relatives in India, he felt he was doing very well... They compared themselves with the wrong group. They did not compare themselves with their neighbours who were Chinese... So we knew something must be done to improve the education levels.
And it's easier for an Indian to talk to an Indian, a Malay to talk to a Malay and say you've really got to pull up your socks, you have to do this and do that.... And so we had a committee led by Joe Pillay which studied what was happening and made certain recommendations and that's how Sinda started. I think we have made progress over the last 25 years. There is still some more room for improvement. But it's very, very encouraging to see the progress made and the involvement of the Indians who are doing better to try to uplift the community as a whole.
2 ON ISSUES FACING THE INDIAN COMMUNITY
Social practices like the alcohol problem, domestic violence problem. These tend to be more pronounced among Indians.
Not helped by the kind of programmes they watch on TV, which makes this all very much acceptable kind of behaviour. A man slapping a woman in an Indian film is nothing unusual. So you take it as a norm. And then of course, the alcohol problem.
So we have to do whatever we can in order to uplift the education performance and change the social behaviour of Indians in Singapore, and make sure we are respected by the other communities.
In a way, the sense of respect is changing, especially as a result of the new Indians coming in who are mostly professionals. So that's a good thing. But they bring other bad habits with them which most of the Indians in Singapore have forgotten or got rid off. They have a very strong sense of caste.
3 ON A REPORT ON FAMILY VIOLENCE RELEASED BY SINDA LAST YEAR
I think Sinda must be careful that it does not become distracted from its primary purpose, which is to uplift the Indians through education. That is the way to change people's life.
If we get distracted by all the social problems then we will lose the focus on what is the long-term solution to this issue. Nevertheless, we cannot ignore it.
Sinda is helping the women who are in this very difficult situation of the husband being very violent and not contributing to the family's well-being. Some of the women leave the families. There are special programmes in Sinda to help single mothers. They may be divorced, they may not be divorced, but they are separated from their husbands.
But they have to find some way of earning a living and taking care of the children. Sinda is trying to help them.
People in India might be upset by what I'm saying, but I think that the Indians, especially the Tamils, must stop looking to Indian social behaviour as the pattern...
When I was an MP, I was once approached by an Indian lady who was earning a living and supporting the family by working as a bus conductor. She came to the Meet-the-People Session as her husband had locked her out of the house.
So I asked her to wait until the Meet-the-People Session was over and I accompanied her to her house with my community leaders. The husband opened the door. He was obviously drunk. And I asked him why he had locked his wife out of the house. He said, "I don't want her to work." And then he showed me a photograph of her in her working attire wearing slacks. "How can she dress like this?" That was all he was interested in.
The fact that she was earning and supporting the family was completely lost on him.
So his sense of values of what a wife should be is completely different from reality. He didn't appreciate what his wife was doing to help the family. He was only focused on what she wore. I don't think it was an isolated case.