Inappropriate to mark anniversary of colonisation

Having lived in the colonial era, I cannot agree with Mr Michael Seah Swee Lim, who asked us not to be ashamed of our colonial past. He proposed that we mark the bicentennial of the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles (Bicentennial of S'pore's founding offers teachable moment; May 22).

I have to say that the period was a shameful and humiliating experience. We were a subjugated people and dubbed "lesser mortals".

The British and other Europeans living and working in Singapore were a privileged class. They had the best in housing, jobs, food, transport, recreation and other necessities of life. They were served first everywhere, even in hospitals.

Raffles did not come to improve our lives per se, but to colonise us for the cause of the erstwhile British Empire.

He certainly made several useful contributions to Singapore, including establishing us as a free port, instituting the rule of law, and drawing up a town plan.

We benefited in areas such as infrastructure, new businesses, jobs and education.

However, the colonial government did not do enough in nation-building to enrich our lives further, and life remained basic for most of us.

Singapore languished as a poor Third World country, defaced with slums. A 1947 British Housing Committee Report criticised Singapore as having "one of the world's worst slums... a disgrace to a civilised community".

There was a dire shortage of jobs, food, public housing, schools, hospitals, water, electricity, proper sanitation, public transport and other essentials of life.

The British also failed to defend us against the Japanese military invasion during World War II, resulting in more deprivation for us that lasted more than three years.

It was Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his government who salvaged us from the depths of poverty and exalted us into a prosperous First World metropolis.

In the light of this, I would say that Mr Lee was truly the founder of modern Singapore, not Raffles, and we should spare no effort in honouring him and our other pioneering, nation-building forefathers.

It would be inappropriate to go to town on a bicentennial celebration of Raffles' visit. One does not shout with joy over a person who invades and usurps one's household.

If we must mark the historical event, then a simple ceremony will do. We should use the occasion to remind ourselves to always be on our guard against hostile external elements, and vow that never again shall we allow ourselves to be ruled by any foreign power.

Anthony Oei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 26, 2017, with the headline 'Inappropriate to mark anniversary of colonisation'. Print Edition | Subscribe