Be aware of racism issues that persist and take steps to tackle them in daily life: Janil Puthucheary

Ms Tiziana Tan, 23, and her husband, Mr Suraj Upadhiah, 29, trying to get the kite into flight at the first Racism Go Fly Kite eventat the Marina Barrage on Oct 22, 2017.
Ms Tiziana Tan, 23, and her husband, Mr Suraj Upadhiah, 29, trying to get the kite into flight at the first Racism Go Fly Kite eventat the Marina Barrage on Oct 22, 2017. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans should be aware of issues of racism that still persist and take steps to do something about them when necessary in their daily lives, said chairman of OnePeople.sg and Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information, and Education Janil Puthucheary.

His remarks were made at the first Racism Go Fly Kite event held on Sunday (Oct 22), a session where people flew kites and discussed issues related to racial harmony.

Led by OnePeople.sg, an organisation that promotes inter-racial and inter-religious understanding in Singapore, the session aims to provide an informal platform to bring people of different races and nationalities together and give them a space to discuss social issues.

Held at the Marina Barrage, about 200 Singaporeans, expatriates, foreign workers, international students and new citizens came together to have conversations and write messages of hope on kites.

The kites will then be displayed at an exhibition on Nov 11, as part of OnePeople.sg's annual Orange Ribbon Walk, which is in its fifth year and aims to foster inclusiveness and harmony.

Said Dr Janil: "It is about being aware that racism does exist, whether it is in casual jokes or stereotypes. It is also about both understanding and forgiveness."

Event participant Mr Suraj Upadhiah agreed. The 29-year-old, who runs a social enterprise, is married to a Chinese, Ms Tiziana Tan, 23.

"I think it is all about getting to know people better and hearing their stories," he said. "You can't hate somebody you know and love, but it is easy to throw around racial slurs when you don't know someone personally. When you know people, you realise they aren't that different from you after all."

He said his parents brought him up "colour-blind", so he saw everyone as Singaporeans rather than based on their racial groups. His family was also accepting of his interracial marriage.

"However, I have a close friend who is a Sikh and who went out with a Chinese girl. He didn't dare to introduce her to his parents, who are very traditional and, in the end, it couldn't work out. I've heard so many sad stories like that and, in the end, I think the solution is just to create a space where people can talk to each other and understand each other," he added.

Another participant was retired rugby coach Damian Pereira, 64. "It was hard back then in the 1970s to say you wanted to have an interracial marriage," he said. "I think racial understanding should start from a young age. If kindergarten children are taught to respect each other's religion and understand each other's cultures, they will grow up and ensure harmony in the community."