The president of the Universal Society of Hinduism (USH), Rajan Zed, has called on Singapore’s President, Tony Tan, and Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, to “put an end to blatant discrimination reportedly prevalent in the rental housing market of Singapore.”
In news reports carried by several India-based news outlets, Mr Rajan was reported to have said that “rental listings saying ‘no Indians’ should not be acceptable in the 21st century, especially in Singapore which claimed to promote multiculturalism and racial harmony.”
Although the reports do not mention the source of Mr Rajan’s plea, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) carried a report on Labour Day (1 May) which said that “online rental listings [in Singapore] shows many that include the words: ‘no Indians, no PRCs [People’s Republic of China]’.”
The BBC report, titled “No Indians No PRCs’: Singapore’s rental discrimination problem”, said:
“A count on 24 April found that there were more than 160 housing adverts on the website PropertyGuru that clearly stated that the landlord did not wish to rent to Indians and/or mainland Chinese.”
The report continued:
“One Indian expat said his agent told him that many landlords would refuse to rent to him because ‘Indians always cook smelly curries’. Another Briton of South Asian descent did not experience any direct discrimination, but was warned by his agent that some landlords could be difficult.”
Mr Rajan, an acclaimed Indo-American and Hindu statesman based in the United States, reportedly said that “race and country of origin should not be the criteria in the housing arena.”
He added that “racial discrimination should not be condoned and a legislative effort might be required for a more specific anti-discrimination law in housing”, according to news reports.
In Singapore itself, race and religion have always been seen as “fault lines” which must be constantly managed by the state.
The Singapore Constitution also bans “discrimination against citizens of Singapore on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth.”
However, the legislation does not extend to non-Singaporeans.
In recent years, the emergence of anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore has become a cause for concerns, with government ministers constantly urging Singaporeans to welcome foreigners and to help them integrate into Singaporean society.
However, with the massive influx of foreigners which now makes up some 40 per cent of the total population of 5.4 million in the city-state, friction has become more common, and is especially being highlighted on social media.
In December, a riot in Little India, an area frequented by South-asian workers, heightened concerns among Singaporeans, with the government installing new measures to prevent another outbreak of violence after the incident.
Last month, a group of Filipinos’ plans to hold a Philippines Independence Day celebratory event in Singapore came under fire from Singaporean opponents, with vitriolic attacks online directed at the group. Planned to be held at Singapore’s premier shopping district of Orchard Road, the venue became a point of contention, with the protesters seeing it as an affront to Singapore’s sovereignty.
The protesters wanted the organisers to move the event indoors or to the Philippines embassy instead.
The attacks against the organisers, which reportedly included threatening phone calls made to the Filipinos, prompted the Singapore Prime Minister to label the culprits as “a disgrace to Singapore”, and the Acting Manpower Minister to also label such behaviour as “bigotry”.
However, it was later revealed by the Singapore police that the organisers had not submitted any application for a permit for the 8 June event.
But there were also those who asked for the government to address the underlying causes of such outbursts against foreigners, and also for the authorities to be fair in their criticisms as well. Some have pointed to the alleged double-standards of government ministers in condemning Singaporeans’ behaviour towards foreigners while remaining tight-lipped over the bad behaviour of foreigners against Singaporeans.
These have served to underline Singaporeans’ uneasiness with the government seemingly being more tolerant of foreigners’ misdemeanour than that of Singaporeans.
With Singapore’s population projected to reach 6.9m (or more) by 2030 and beyond, and with the growing discomfort among many Singaporeans in many areas of life here, it would seem that such sentiments are set to feature for some time yet in the normally peaceful city.