Singapore is a bustling metropolis. It is also one of the world’s most prosperous countries with strong international trading links and a per capita GDP comparable to that of the leading nations of Western Europe. However, the nation has also suffered from a turbulent history. Hence, the government has taken several steps to safeguard the present social security and stability of the nation. One of the most essential steps it has taken in ensuring social order is racial and religious harmony. Reasons as to why this is such a crucial step include Singapore’s multi-ethnic society, its turbulent past and the numerous ways in which harmony is promoted throughout the nation. To understand why racial and religious harmony is so important, one must first be familiar with the fact that Singapore is a multi-cultural, multi-racial and multi-religious melting pot. Different ethnic groups coexist in the land, and with these come a slew of different cultures and religions.
This multi-racial population make-up dates back to nearly two centuries ago, when Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore in 1819. Early immigrants of diverse backgrounds came from all over the world, mainly Malays, Arabs, Europeans, Indians and Chinese. They came in search of a better future, and most did not intend to settle down. However, many could not afford to go back to their homelands, instead settling down and becoming citizens of Singapore. As can be seen, the present-day composition of Chinese, Malays, Indians and Eurasians has been here since British colonial times. Also, our turbulent history is a clear testimony to the importance of racial and religious harmony. In the past, when there was not harmony, many racial riots broke out, claiming many lives and generally reducing the social security felt in Singapore at that time.
One such example would be the Maria Hertogh riots which started on 11 December 1950 and lasted for two days, leaving 18 people killed and 173 injured. The riot started due to outraged Muslims who resented the court decision to give the custody of Maria Hertogh, to her biological Dutch Catholic parents after she had been raised as a Muslim under the care of Aminah Binte Mohamed. This might have been prevented had the government been more sensitive to the minorities, such as the Muslims.
Another example would be the 21 July 1964 race riots, in which 23 people lost their lives and 450 people were injured. It started when a group of Malays beat up a policeman and attacked Chinese onlookers. Again, this tragedy might have been avoided had the people been more sensitive to those of other ethnic groups. These examples show the damage which can be done to society as a whole if there is an absence of racial and religious harmony. Thus, this harmony is essential in maintaining social order.There are many ways in which the Singapore government upholds racial and religious harmony.
This mainly comes in the form of ensuring equality amongst the different races and providing opportunities for them to mix while celebrating their differences. To ensure equality, the Singapore government has taken on a system of meritocracy. In this system, people are rewarded based on their personal achievements, with no regard to their ethnicity or background. In such a system, people of all races have equal opportunities to learn, achieve and excel. There are also ample opportunities for the different races to mix. For example, most schools are racially integrated. The younger generation starts interacting with members of different ethnic groups at a tender age. This will strengthen their ethnic ties in the future.
Another example would be the HDB Ethnic Integration Policy implemented in 1989. The policy makes sure that there is a minimum percentage of each race living in every HDB block. This acts as a regulatory tool in preventing a worsening of the ethnic imbalance in public housing estates and promotes racial integration and cohesion. As for celebrating the differences between each culture, Racial Harmony Day is celebrated on 21 July annually to commemorate the 1964 race riots. In schools all across the nation, this is celebrated with performances and games promoting ethnic cohesion. Students are also encouraged to wear traditional costumes to school.
All these efforts made by the government reflect the importance of racial and religious harmony in Singapore. In conclusion, Singapore has achieved social security and stability despite the fact that different ethnic groups exist. However, the people cannot afford to be complacent and take this harmony for granted. They must be continually reminded of the importance of racial and religious harmony through public National Education and must also practice respect and tolerance for other ethnic cultures in their day to day activities.