Thursday, May 30, 2024

Why Singaporeans are beginning to hate Indians? Is Lee’s prophecy coming true?

Singaporean social media has discovered a new villain: The India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), a free trade agreement signed between the two nations in 2005.

No doubt a lot of it is due to businesses closing and job losses mounting due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It has led to city-state’s residents losing their cool on foreign workers. And Indians are facing the brunt of anger.

Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), had to issue a statement in August, second time in nine months, dispelling the popular notion that the agreement had led to a large influx of Indian professionals in fields like finance and information technology.

The ministry clarified that the CECA doesn’t have provision for Indian nationals to become permanent residents and citizens of Singapore. It has strived to quash rumours that CECA required Singaporean authorities to automatically grant employment passes to professionals, managers and executives from India.

Yet, it hasn’t doused the fire. Singaporean social media is buzzing with anger against newly-arrived Indian nationals. And they are blaming them for losses in jobs.

In August, a picture of DBS Bank branch in Hyderabad went viral on twitter. It claimed that it was a photo of DBS Bank’s IT department at Singapore’s Changi airport and the user asked viewers to “find a Singaporean or Chinese” in the photo. It caused so much of anger that DBS Bank had to issue a tweet claiming that pictures being circulated were from their Indian office.

A Facebook group, SG Opposition with 52,000 followers, recently shared a picture of ethnic Indians in Changi Beach Park with a caption, terming it as “Chennai Park.” Similar groups are pouring venom against Indians.

Some call is xenophobia and racism. Some blame it on Singapore’s obsession with economic growth. The foreign workers are sought on low wages which depresses the wages of less-skilled Singaporean workers which in turns causes a bigger divide. Besides, there is a fear that cheap labour would impede the need for upgrading and innovation among Singaporeans.

Xenophobia and racism is not new in Singapore. Expatriate workers from mainland China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar and of course India have long been blamed for overcrowding on public transport and housing and of course employment. Indians in particular are mentioned. They are referred as Keling, a sort of racist slur.

Naturally, the Little India riots of 2013 are invoked time and again to stoke the anger. In those riots, Indian migrant workers set police and private cars on fire after one of their countrymen was knocked down and killed by a bus.

Most anger is directed at educated professionals, working in high-profile and well-paid sectors like banking, finance and information technology. These Indians live in upmarket condominiums in East Coast neighbourhoods.

In 1982, the founder of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew had made a speech, promising that the country would look to have a complete Singaporean workforce by 1991. Lee, who had ruled Singapore with a velvet fist from 1959 to 1990 had said that countries like France, the United Kingdom and West Germany were facing unrest due to large migrant workers. He had promised that migrants in non-traditional sector wouldn’t be renewed and that by December 31, 1984 all such workers would leave.

But that never happened. In 1986, economic growth picked up after a period of recession in the early 1980s. Foreign workers were again in demand. Since then the country’s foreign force, which was just about 10 per cent of the workforce in early 1980s, has now grown to 36 per cent or around 1.5 million people.

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