Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Police ban on Tamil language discussion at Speaker’s Corner proves the liberalization is mere tokenism

An article by my fellow socio-political blogger Ng E-Jay.

As featured on sgpolitics.net (click the link to view the many comments made on his original post)
22 Sept 2008

If the public ever needed concrete proof that the recent liberalization of Speaker’s Corner for demonstrations is mere tokenism on the part of the authorities which hardly returns Singaporeans their basic rights, we should look no further than the banned event which was supposed to be held last Friday.

Mr Thamilselvan Karuppaya, a real estate agent, had intended to hold a demonstration at Speaker’s Corner last Friday to talk about the use of Tamil on public signs. Changi Airport had earlier dropped the use of Tamil on its public signs, replacing it with Japanese instead, in an apparent bid to appeal to Japanese visitors who make up an increasingly larger share of the tourist pie.

National Parks Board (NParks) referred the matter to the police when it received Mr Thamilselvan Karuppaya application to hold the demonstration. The police informed Mr Thamilselvan to apply for a Public Entertainment License last Tuesday, but rejected his application at the last minute. Mr Thamilselvan cancelled the event accordingly, but he said, “We are not going to keep quiet on this topic.” (ST, “Police turn down estate agent’s application to speak on Tamil language issues”, 19 Sept)

As expected, the police dished out the usual excuse on the need to maintain racial and religious harmony. A police spokesman said in a statement that “the topic of his speech is a sensitive one impinging on race”, and that “Singapore is a multi-ethnic society and maintaining community harmony is a key imperative that we must not take for granted”.

There are a few points I want to raise here.

Firstly, I feel that Mr Thamilselvan topic is not a racially or religiously sensitive topic, yet the authorities have framed it as such, and used it as an excuse to ban the event. This is unjustified.

Secondly, why in the first place must issues surrounding race, language or religion be kept out of public discourse? If we keep assuming that Singaporeans are unable to conduct public discussions concerning such issues in a civilized manner, then this assumption becomes reality.

Thirdly, the Government has always lauded Changi Airport as a national icon. It is thus reasonable that Changi Airport should use all 4 official languages, English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil, on its public signs. To drop the use of Tamil and replace it with Japanese purely for commercial reasons is unbefitting of Changi Airport’s iconic status.

May I remind readers that Changi Airport is managed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), which is a statutory board under the Ministry of Transport, and is funded by taxpayer’s money.

CAAS replied last week that “as English was India’s second language, it was advised by the Singapore Tourism Board that English signs were sufficient.”

Well, English is Japan’s second language too, so English signs should similarly be sufficient for Japanese visitors. Enough said.


Anonymous said...


"A foreign language is a language not spoken by the people of a certain place: for example, English is a foreign language in Japan. "


"India has two national languages for central administrative purposes: Hindi and English. Hindi is the national, official, and main link language of India. English is an associate official language."

Please do get your facts right.