Tiong Bahru residents pen letter of support to family in National Day banner targeted by racist remarks

National athlete Thiruben Thana Rajan (first from left) and his family, with Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah (first from right). PHOTO: INDRANEE RAJAH/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - A day after a National Day banner depicting a Singaporean and his family was attacked online by commenters questioning their origins, national athlete Thiruben Thana Rajan stepped up to identify himself as part of the family.

What happened next heartened the 20-year-old university student.

Fellow residents of Tanjong Pagar GRC and Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Alvin Tan, an MP for the constituency, slammed the racist and xenophobic comments.

Last Saturday (Aug 7), Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah, who is Mr Thiruben's MP, dropped in to visit his family and see how they were doing.

And on Sunday night, a group of 41 residents from Tiong Bahru's Seng Poh estate sent Mr Thiruben and his family a letter, saying, "We stand with you against racism, race-baiting, xenophobia and ignorance".

Ms Indranee noted that people of all races were, of their own accord, calling out the hateful remarks and rejecting the racism and xenophobia exhibited.

This response shows people value a multiracial, multi-religious, multicultural Singapore, she added. "All they knew at that stage was that an Indian family had been unfairly and unkindly targeted, that this was not right and that they were speaking up against it," she said.

"National Day is not only a celebration of our independence as a country. It is also about who we are as a people and our values," added the minister. "We are a people who will put action to the words 'regardless of race, language or religion'. And we are a people who will reach out in support of each other when it is most needed."

As for Mr Thiruben and his family, the expressions of support from many who supported them hold more weight than the comments of a few closed-minded people.

On Aug 2, the 20-year-old had explained in an Instagram post that he and his family had been invited to be featured in one of 20 different posters showcasing families of different races and religions.

He added that his parents moved to Singapore more than 30 years ago from Malaysia, and that he and his siblings were born and bred here.

In a subsequent Instagram post on Aug 3, Mr Thiruben thanked those who extended their love and support.

"Whether you are part of the minority or majority, Singaporean or immigrant, I hope that our story has empowered you to stand up against those who constantly try to put you in a box," he said.

A runner, he has represented Singapore since he was 15 in several international competitions, including the World U-18 Championships in Nairobi in 2017, where he became the national Under-18 400m record holder, clocking 47.91 seconds.

His neighbours added in their letter to him and his family: "Thank you for flying our country's flag. We are with you."

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