SINGAPORE - In the wake of the alleged murder of a 13-year-old at River Valley High School, several religious groups have come forward to pray with the bereaved and for the well-being of students, said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing on Wednesday (July 21).
"These heartfelt gestures of solidarity, transcending race and religion, have brought light in our nation's hour of darkness. They embody the inherent understanding that before all else - we are fellow Singaporeans," he wrote in a Facebook post to mark Racial Harmony Day in the country.
Schools, community groups and other politicians also took to the social media platform to commemorate July 21, a date set by the Ministry of Education since 1998 to remind students of the 1964 race riots and importance of racial harmony.
The riots resulted in 36 deaths and injuries to 556 people.
Mr Chan said the shared, multiracial Singaporean identity was not about the cultures of minorities being subsumed by the culture of the majority.
"Neither is it about all of us giving up our own identities," he said. "Instead, it is about building a shared and forward-looking identity based on a common set of values, with the foundation steeped in our rich and diverse identities."
Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman cited a prayer from St Joseph's Institution principal, Reverend Father Dr Adrian Danker, as an example of schools and communities standing together in solidarity, to bring solace to one another.
"This Racial Harmony Day will be a more muted and sombre affair for our students and schools. But these gestures of grace and support are testament that we have so much more in common than our differences, and that there are always more things that unite than divide us," said Dr Maliki.
Minister of State for Education Gan Siow Huang said Racial Harmony Day this year carries added significance, with different racial and religious groups having come together since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic to assist those affected.
Recent incidents of racism have also served as reminders, she noted, of how Singapore's multiracial, multicultural social fabric was painstakingly woven over the years by pioneers and seniors.
"(They) had witnessed the destructive nature of racism in the past and decided that racial harmony was the way to go to build a peaceful, happy and prosperous place for the future generations," said Ms Gan. "Our duty is to guard our racial harmony jealously and not allow anyone to weaken it."
Holy Innocents' Primary School said, in line with this year's Racial Harmony Day theme of "Common Spaces, Connected Communities", activities were focused on the roles students can play in building a cohesive Singapore.
"We continue to encourage our children to cultivate strong relationships with diverse individuals and groups," the school wrote on Facebook.
Marymount Convent School marked the event with activities emphasising the values of respect and harmony, with students wearing traditional costumes.
These experiences - designed by schools to deepen engagement and make celebrations more meaningful - matter, said president of the Young Sikh Association Sarabjeet Singh. "They are significant as part of a lifelong process of understanding others in our community and the diversity that exists in Singapore," he added.
Mr Chan urged Singaporeans to remember, on this day, that the country was founded on the belief of forging unity from diversity.
"Let us celebrate the richness of our multiracial society, and how it has nurtured our sensibilities in getting along with people from different backgrounds, and more importantly, forging a higher common purpose."
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, also writing on Facebook, described Singapore as one of the most diverse societies in the world today, without many of the conflicts that others struggle with.
“This is something that is both precious and fragile. Bigotry and intolerance can irreparably damage our society if we are not careful. Each of us can play our part in being sensitive in our words and deeds,” he said.
“So as we celebrate Racial Harmony Day today, let us rededicate ourselves to building a Singapore that has a place for all Singaporeans, regardless of race, language and religion.”
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