Unpack 'invisible baggage' that hinders multiracialism

National consciousness breeds multiracialism and exclusivism hinders it ("Reflect multiracialism in daily life"; Aug 26).

The reality - of Singaporeans accepting other races on a casual and social level, while preferring their own race in personal and political settings - indicates that the quest for multiracialism remains a work in progress.

While logic says that multiracialism is the way forward, our "invisible baggage" - our emotions and prejudices - makes us believe that living among others amounts to losing our individuality and cultural identity.

In order to create an environment conducive for multiracialism, it is vital that we unpack our "baggage".

I was born in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1946 and grew up in a predominantly Tamil Hindu environment in Jaffna, at a time when superstitions and exclusivism, dictated by caste-based social norms and order, were rampant.

Many of my countrymen came to Singapore and put down roots. Importantly, they also established strong ties with other races and settlers.

Indeed, by the time I came to Singapore in 1975, for all intents and purposes, they were no longer "Jaffna Tamils" but "Singaporean Tamils".

It was at a social gathering at the Ceylon Sports Club in 1975 that former deputy prime minister S. Rajaratnam, on realising that I was a newcomer to the club, asked me jokingly if I had unpacked my "baggage". Those words still ring in my ears.

It is heartening that the primary school Tamil curriculum here includes 30 couplets from the Thirukkural - the most popular Tamil text of secular philosophy - that are complementary to the National Pledge.

Indeed, the core of the Thirukkural is that people are born alike, no one is higher or lower in social status by birth. This draws a parallel to the core of the National Pledge - where we pledge ourselves as "one united people".

National consciousness and, hence, multiracialism, is the result of learning - the cornerstones of which are education, communication and upbringing.

Multiracialism weathers the elements best when its roots are planted early on in life.

I agree that thinking of Singapore as a nation for all its people - regardless of race, religion, language, caste, colour, sexual orientation or ability - is the right attitude that is worthy of internalising.

S. Ratnakumar

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 06, 2016, with the headline 'Unpack 'invisible baggage' that hinders multiracialism'. Print Edition | Subscribe