Forum: Don't dismiss xenophobia as a factor in Covid-19 unhappiness

I read with interest the Opinion piece, "What lies beneath the unhappiness over Covid resurgence in Singapore?" (May 20), by former Straits Times editor Leslie Fong.

I fully agree with his analysis that much of the unhappiness comes from Singaporeans feeling that the Government has not paid enough attention to their feedback on immigration and the pandemic.

However, I think it is rather hasty to dismiss xenophobia as a contributing factor to some of this angst. The daily lived experiences of Indians in Singapore do reflect the presence of racism and xenophobia.

Over the past several years, there has been mounting pressure on Indians to "prove" that we are Singaporean. When I take taxis or talk to other Singaporeans, I am constantly quizzed about where I grew up and what my mother tongue is.

My son, a fifth-generation Singaporean, was asked during national service which part of India he is from. There seems to be a very narrow definition of who a Singaporean is.

I know some of this stems from the frustrations of people who perceive that they have lost jobs to immigrants, and who now fear that Singapore might face a second wave of Covid-19 cases due to the cases coming in from abroad.

However, none of this explains the laser focus on Indian migrants or on the cases of Covid-19 caused by the variant first detected in India. Singapore currently also has cases caused by variants first reported in Britain, South Africa and Brazil. Why the focus on the variant that was first detected in India?

Similarly, there are migrants coming to Singapore from many different countries. Why are Indians singled out for the vitriol?

We do need to identify and address the sense of helplessness that many Singaporeans might feel with respect to jobs or the pandemic, but making excuses for blatantly biased opinions is not the way to do it.

Otherwise, recent cases of verbal and physical abuse against people perceived to be from India may become more common.

Seetha Sharma

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