Malayalees 'show how diversity can be a strength'

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Singapore Malayalee Association's 100th anniversary dinner on Sept 29, 2017.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Singapore Malayalee Association's 100th anniversary dinner on Sept 29, 2017.ST PHOTO: TAMIL MURASU

Malayalees have long embraced and celebrated diversity, and shown how it can be turned into a strength, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

The community, which includes Hindus, Muslims, Syrian Christians and Roman Catholics, is also an example of the importance of staying open and outward-looking, he said.

Speaking at the Singapore Malayalee Association's 100th anniversary dinner, Mr Lee noted that the South Indian state of Kerala, where Malayalees hail from, has been a melting pot of cultures and faiths .

Today, it remains a diverse, open and outward-looking part of India.

This is one reason for the success of Malayalees in Singapore and around the globe, and is also vital to other societies that depend on globalisation and international trade.

"In many countries, exclusivity and extremism are growing, and breeding racial and religious distrust. Singapore is not immune to these diseases, but we can protect and strengthen our multiracial system to make our society more resilient against such external pressures," he said. "The Malayalee community has shown how we can turn diversity into our strength. Singapore needs to do the same on a national level with our different races and religions."

Mr Lee thanked the association for its work uplifting the Malayalee community and strengthening the social fabric, and said the endowment fund it set up two years ago, as part of SG50, has now doubled to $1 million. It supports bursaries which are open to all Singaporeans.

While the community may be small - numbering just 26,000 here - it has contributed significantly to the country's development, he said.

Mr Lee cited former president Devan Nair, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Monetary Authority of Singapore managing director Ravi Menon as some of its outstanding members. There are also three Malayalee MPs: Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary, and MPs Vikram Nair and Murali Pillai.

The association's centenary is also a reminder that Singapore's nation-building history goes beyond 52 years of independence, he said.

Since it was set up in 1917, the association has helped look after the welfare of thousands of Malayalees who travelled from Kerala.

Last night, several Malayalees were honoured for their contributions to Malayalam literature and arts, and to the wider community.

They were dance pioneer Santha Bhaskar, poet and social activist K. Bhasi and Ambassador Gopinath Pillai, who is senior adviser of the association and chairman of the Indian Heritage Centre.

Mr Lee said: "Your story is an important strand in our historical and cultural tapestry."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 30, 2017, with the headline 'Malayalees 'show how diversity can be a strength''. Print Edition | Subscribe