Wednesday, September 29, 2004

First, We're Singaporeans


At this year's Olympic Games, China proved itself as a sporting nation.

It finished second in the medal tally with 32 gold medals, second only to the United States. This performance represented an improvement on its showing at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, where it took home 28 gold medals and was ranked third.

Soon after the Games ended, I met a few Singaporeans who said: "As a Chinese, I am proud of China's performance!"

This remark took me back to 1994, when Indian beauties Aishwarya Rai and Sushmita Sen won the titles of Miss World and Miss Universe, respectively.

At that time, I met a few Singaporeans who said: "As an Indian, I am proud of India's performance!"

More recently, at a dialogue session to gather feedback from the Indian community on the National Day Rally, some of my fellow Singaporeans said they felt left out because Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong neglected to address "our Indian community".

On these occasions, I held my tongue. Instead of asking them, I asked myself:

"Wait a minute, aren't WE Singaporeans?"

Wouldn't it be more apt to say — after almost 40 years as a sovereign nation — that as human beings, we are proud of China and India?

It is a leap for humankind as a whole when an underdog nation achieves something once thought impossible.

During my time in England, I met many Chinese intellectuals. As I speak some Mandarin, most of these people were rather candid in expressing their views to me.

They see the Chinese migrants who settled in Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong as "outsiders" or "second-class citizens".

It appears that there is "one China", but some — namely, those born in China — are more equal than others.

At best, the Singaporean, Taiwanese and Hong Kong Chinese are regarded as catalysts for economic growth.

Likewise, the Indians that I have met share the same sentiment with regard to non-resident Indians.

But the Indian migrants are perhaps in a better position.

Under Article 8 of India's Constitution, any person whose parents or grandparents were born in India enjoys the right to be registered as an Indian citizen.

Unfortunately, such constitutional protection does not go far. Consider, for example, the resistance that Mrs Sonia Gandhi — an Indian citizen who was not born in India — faced when there was an opportunity for her to become India's prime minister.

Singaporeans who see themselves as Chinese or as Indian should take stock of such realities.

Last year, I met a Chinese businessman with substantial business interests in China. At the time, I found it a little bewildering that his partner was Indian.

I quizzed him about this. He replied, "We are Singaporeans. Our roots are here."

Three years ago, one of my neighbours challenged a friend who saw himself as Indian: "Why don't you spend three months in India? Then, come back and tell me you are Indian. There is a better chance that I'll believe you then."

Several months later, my friend left for India. After a mere four weeks, he returned and said: "Now I know why I am not Indian."

In attempting to instill national pride in the hearts of our countrymen, first we may wish to stop seeing ourselves as Chinese or Indians

Unless, of course, we wish to run back to where our predecessors ran away from!

We are Singaporeans, our roots are here.

Dharmendra Yadav

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