Group wants “race” removed from NRIC

Each time Mr Seelan Palay has had to fill in the “race” column in application forms, he feels “awkward”. “I’ve cultivated a practice of avoiding to fill it in completely, and many of my friends do the same,” he says in a brief interview with The Online Citizen (TOC).

Mr Seelan feels so strongly that “race” should be removed from the NRIC, an identification card which all Singaporeans carry, that he has started a Facebook group asking others to support the call. The Facebook group currently has 710 members.

A member of the newly-formed non-governmental organization, Singaporeans for Democracy (SFD) (website, Facebook group) headed by Dr James Gomez, Mr Seelan is not new to being at the forefront of championing causes. His latest endeavour saw him and his group make representation to the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Racism on 22 April 2010. At the meeting, SFD raised the issue of having “race” removed from the identity card (IC).

The Facebook group “will form part SFD’s efforts to monitor the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Racism who will present his findings on Singapore before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (in June 2011) and the UN General Assembly in New York (in November 2011),” it says on its information page.

Dr Gomez says on the Facebook group: “I believe the removal of ‘race’ from the Singaporean IC, will help us move one step closer to a Singaporean Singapore and faciliate a more genunie multiculturalism. And I will be prepared to defend this position electorally.”

Here’s TOC’s brief email interview with Mr Seelan on the issue:

TOC:  Why do you feel ‘race’ should be removed from the NRIC?

Seelan: It removes the psychological barrier on “race issues” and releases a latent feeling many Singaporeans have to be together and to share our common identity. It would also be good to take note of migrant societies like Australia, Canada and the US where more national identity is stressed.

TOC:  Are there any personal reasons or personal encounters which you have experienced which makes you start this initiative? Could you share them with our readers? As a member of the Indian community in S’pore, have you encountered any discriminatory practices, particularly from govt depts or the civil service, for example?

Seelan: My personal encounters with Singaporeans young and old show that there are positive views about removing such social classifications to build a better society in Singapore, and that is the main reason I’ve started this initiative. To show that there are people from all walks of life who share this sentiment.

As for discrimination from official channels, I definitely feel awkward when I have to fill in the “race” column in application forms. I’ve cultivated a practice of avoiding to fill it in completely, and many of my friends do the same. There are also other factors like the HDB’s racial quota and the GRC system, but as I’ve mentioned above, the main reason for this project is to build a better society.

TOC:  What is the main goal or end-goal of the initiative? A more inclusive society? A race-blind society?

Seelan: The main goal of this initiative is help create a truly Singaporean Singapore, something which a certain octogenarian claimed he’d create. But we might be well aware of his views on Race, Culture & Genes by now.

Beyond Facebook, Singaporeans For Democracy (SFD) will also be present at the UN Rapporteur’s press conference tomorrow (TOC note: The press conference was held in April 2010), where it will launch a monitoring committee. The committee will be headed by Dr James Gomez and will issue a reply to the Rapporteur’s findings.

TOC:  What’re your views on the recent changes whereby the govt is allowing parents/S’poreans to choose their race to be included on their NRIC/birth certs as a result of mixed marriages?

Seelan: The changes only go to show how ineffective and complicated such classifications can be, so its best to remove the classification altogether.

TOC:  What do you think of the consequences on security matters? Such as, the police would be better able to identify a person if his race was known to them, for example.

Seelan: International crime investigation practices have progressed quite a bit, if anyone in the Government has been watching CSI at the very least. There are face recognition systems and forensic DNA analysis which are far more efficient.

And even if someone identifies a suspect as looking “Chinese”, how would that information be of any use to the police if its printed on the suspect’s identity card which the police don’t have in the first place?