Police reports not the only answer to racial incidents: Experts
Open dialogue and education among other ways to de-escalate and resolve tensions, say experts
Caught in a situation where you believe you have been racially slighted?
Unless you feel threatened, there are other avenues to resolve the conflict than simply lodging a report with the police.
Open dialogue, education, and the intervention of community groups are some other ways tensions created from racial and religious encounters can be de-escalated and even resolved, experts told The New Paper.
Their suggestions come in the wake of an increase in the number of police reports made over racial and religious matters last year.
In a written response to a parliamentary question on Monday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said there were 60 police reports made under Sections 298 and 298A of the Penal Code last year, with a number of them filed during the general election.
These sections cover acts that deliberately wound the racial and religious feelings of any person, promote enmity between different racial and religious groups, or are prejudicial to the maintenance of racial and religious harmony.
There were 31 cases in 2019, 18 in 2018, 11 in 2017 and 23 in 2016.
Yesterday, Mr Shanmugam gave another written reply for the break down of the cases over the last 10 years.
Out of the reports made last year, 23 were cases where warnings were given, six where there were charges and four with convictions.
In his reply on Monday , Mr Shanmugam said the law cannot be the solution in every situation, as it could stoke people into making police reports for any perceived racial slight, real or misunderstood, or deliberately exaggerated.
"Over time, this could instead escalate tensions between races and undermine our hard-earned social harmony," he added.
National University of Singapore (NUS) sociologist Tan Ern Ser agreed.
He said: "Getting the police involved in every minor encounter may reinforce the boundary between racists and non-racists, denying the latter the opportunity to reach out to those who harbour racial and religious prejudices.
"We may miss a chance to help the perpetrator understand that we could all live harmoniously despite our differences in race or religion."
Dr Mathew Mathews, head of Institute of Policy Studies' social lab, said while those who threaten the safety of others should be taken to task, in situations where people are slighted or when someone does an action which can be culturally insensitive, dialogue instead of police reports should be employed to resolve such tension.
Community groups, for instance, can intervene in neighbourhood situations where someone makes unkind remarks or actions about a religious practice done at home.
"It would be useful to be able to make those concerns known to perhaps the neighbourhood Inter Racial and Religious Confidence Circles or some other group where community leaders can come in to mediate, explaining how important the practice is to those of a religion and what the ritual signifies," he said.
HEAL, NOT PUNISH
Even in cases where education fails with an unreceptive perpetrator, social media may be used to call out racism, but it should be used to heal, rather than to punish, said Prof Tan.
"I hope that we can give people a second chance, should they willingly repent," he added.
Associate Professor Daniel Goh, deputy head of NUS's sociology department, said whether the solution is to call out racism, confront it at the source or report it to the authorities depends on the situation and its gravity.
He added: "The key calculus for me is how to balance education with redress, and my hope is that the victim is not alone in calculating this and can depend on witnesses and friends, especially those from the ethnic majority, to help and support."