The Straits Times | 19 August 2022
SINGAPORE - While he has never had an issue with his Chinese neighbours burning joss paper during the Hungry Ghost Festival, Mr Sunil Shetty now understands why they perform the ritual.
The 50-year-old database manager at a bank was one of 400 people who took part in the SG Core (Cohesion and Resilience) pilot programme aimed at promoting Singapore's multiculturalism.
They were acknowledged at a ceremony held at Shaw Theatres Lido in Orchard Road on Friday (Aug 19) after they completed the programme.
SG Core, organised by non-governmental organisation Humanity Matters and supported by Temasek Foundation, was launched by Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam last September.
Individuals can volunteer to join the programme or are encouraged by their agencies and organisations to attend it.
Mr Shetty, who took part in the programme last year, said: "Such rituals are significant to their (Chinese) culture and we need to be understanding. I also learnt more about other different religions through the many engagements and discussions during the programme."
He added: "It was eye-opening because I did not know there were people of so many various religions living in Singapore."
The four-hour programme, for a start, is for individuals who hold security-related jobs, national servicemen and Citizens on Patrol volunteers. It will be expanded to include those from uniformed groups in schools next year.
Mr Kim Zi Jie, 24, who attended the programme last year, said: "Even though the programme is only four hours long, it is a good starting point. It is a catalyst to spark our interest on such issues."
The third-year student at Nanyang Technological University added that after the programme, he took part in more interfaith and multicultural activities and volunteered at a food distribution initiative to help disadvantaged families.
Minister of State for Home Affairs Sun Xueling, who was the guest of honour at the event, said much work has gone into ensuring harmony among the races in Singapore, but the work is never over as racial and religious issues can arise from time to time.
She cited an incident where racist remarks were made by a Singaporean Chinese man against an interracial couple in June last year. In his outburst, caught on video, he said a Chinese woman should not be with an Indian man.
Ms Sun also brought up the example of an aggravated attack against a Singaporean Indian woman in May last year. A man had kicked her in her chest while she was exercising and used vulgar words to hurl racially charged insults at her.
Ms Sun said: "Although not all racist incidents make it to the headlines, we know that these acts can happen among us, in our neighbourhoods, our schools and our workplaces."
She added the unity, and racial and religious harmony present in Singapore today are not the "natural order of things".
"It is a state that we have worked hard to achieve and carefully nurtured over many years since the communal riots (in 1964), which are a distant memory for many of us. The harmony we enjoy today will always be a work in progress. As human beings, it always is easy for us to go back to our tribal tendencies."
While she noted that the Government takes a strong stance against threats to the country's harmony, she said: "Beyond legislation, we have to collectively reach out to fellow Singaporeans to foster stronger mutual understanding and trust among the communities and reiterate that we must not counter racism with more racism, or extremism with more extremism."