Speaking at Temasek Holding’s Ecosperity conference yesterday (5 Jun), Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that Singapore must avoid the formation of any social enclaves here.
He added that the Government will “further refine” the design of precincts and HDB flats to “allow greater social mixing between people of different economic backgrounds”.
“This is especially important as society matures and social mobility and social mixing weaken,” he said. He reiterated that the Government “must do more to ensure that every town and every precinct is a microcosm of Singapore”.
“We want to have a good mix of housing, with people from different backgrounds living and socialising together,” said Chan. He also commented that social integration and mixing is “often neglected in the development of many societies”.
“We do not take for granted our people will not succumb to the natural human instincts to prefer to mix with people who are similar to them – be it in terms of race, language, religion or social economic status,” he said.
Little India in Simei
While Chan stops Singaporeans from forming social enclaves in public housing by imposing quotas and stopping our Singaporean minorities from openly selling their flats to non-minorities, thereby, depressing the prices of their flats, social enclaves are quietly forming at private condos.
It has been reported in mainstream media that “little India” is quietly sprouting out in Simei area in the East side of Singapore (‘Simei’s Little India‘).
At Melville Park, one of the largest condominium in Simei, has become “special”, reported ST.
“Its occupants are largely Indians – locals, permanent residents and expatriates,” it said. “Visit the condominium any evening and take in the sights, sounds and smells. You’ll hear screaming children, running about, speaking in more than a dozen Indian languages.”
“You’ll hear the whistles of pressure cookers. Get whiffs of onions frying in mustard oil, or spicy curries steaming in pots. Find groups of mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers exchanging notes on everything from domestic-help grouses to newest sari trends and India’s pathetic cricket performances,” it added.
“It’s a miniature India, a melange of people – loud, spiritual, enigmatic, eclectic and distinctly Indian.”
Indian “home-run businesses” in condo
Mr Markose Thomas and his wife Susan, both from India, bought a 3-room unit at Melville Park in 2008. “We felt very comfortable here. It’s like living in one big happy family, just the way it is in most neighborhoods in India,” Mr Thomas told ST.
For Mrs Markose, the appeal is the little comforts she enjoys as the condo has a mini shopping mart which stocks everything Indian – from Lijjat Papad to Amul milk. “In the last few years, we’ve visited Mustafa not more than three times, and that’s only because our guests from India wanted to see it. There has been no need,” she said.
Apparently, there are also many Indian “home-run businesses” in the condo like a beauty parlour which provides henna hair treatments. Or perky women residents who prepare motichur ladoos, vada pavs and other Indian snacks and sell it in the condo mini mart on weekends. Some run Bollywood dance classes.
But Mrs Markose’s biggest anchors are the bonds she has built with many other women like her who share a deep love for their adopted home, yet yearn for India, ST said.
She said, “In India, neighbours are never strangers. They become our extended family. In a new country, sometimes the absence of such relationships makes it harder for women. That is not the case in Melville.”
During her pregnancy a few months ago, Mrs Markose’s friends at Melville took good care of her. She says: “If I craved for masala dosa, it was sent over the next day. Aloo parathas, halwa, kheer, anything I wanted, someone would hear of it and send it to me. When my son goes down to play, I know my friends will keep an eye on him.”
The Melville women are a strong community, she noted.
A community group called Melville Moms was even formed to give support to the community. Mrs Ramya Prem said, “The idea behind it (Melville Moms) was to get together, have fun and help each other. Today, the group’s popularity has grown. We organise (India) Independence Day and Diwali celebrations which are for families and help our kids stay in touch with their roots.”
All the Indian festivals are celebrated apparently, with as much pageantry as a Karan Johar film, ST reported.
Other groups being formed at Melville Park include a cricket team made up largely of Indian nationals which, according to team member Prem Bhagat, “has lost more matches in the last few months than the Indian team, but still stands united”.
Melville Park was launched in 1996 and is often also called the IT condo, according to ST. Its proximity to the Changi Business Park, a hub for technology businesses, has led a lot of Indians in technology to take up residence there.
Mrs Gowri Rajesh, who is part of the management council at Melville Park, commented that the condo has all the amenities, but the real highlight is the sense of safety and camaraderie that the residents, especially those from India, share because of their common background.
“Kids have so many (Indian) playmates. There are kids in every age group. And even if a family were to return to India, the children would not feel out of place,” she said. She said that she and her husband have both applied for Singaporean citizenship.
But an Indian expat who lives in the West and deliberately avoids Melville Park commented, “My wife has made friends with her Singaporean and Australian neighbours, who have given us a peek into their culture. Living in Melville would be like living in any other Indian city.”
So, it seems a social enclave is really being formed at private condo Melville Park but Chan did not say anything against it. Perhaps he just didn’t want to see social enclaves forming in public housing side.