Sujatha Selvakumar, a lawyer, was prompted to share on Facebook her own experience as a child of migrant parents in Singapore, after several reports of attacks on people of Indian origin surfaced recently.
It was reported earlier that the Singapore Police Force (SPF) is investigating a Singaporean man who had allegedly uttered offensive remarks towards an Indian family, and confronted a male member of the family for not wearing his mask at Pasir Ris Beach Park on 2 May.
In a Facebook post on Saturday (22 May), Ms Sujatha described how such incidents can be disorienting to immigrant children, and called for Singaporeans to ally with the children of immigrant parents.
Her story was first reported by Mothership on Sunday (23 May).
According to Mothership’s report, Ms Sujatha shared that her father migrated to Singapore in 1979, and her family was subsequently offered citizenship in 1994.
Nevertheless, Singapore has always been a home to Ms Sujatha, even before her family was granted citizenship.
“I remember this day – because I thought it was so odd that my parents got me dressed and we went to a special place to recite the pledge and sing the Majulah Singapura, something I already did every day in school.
“The only national anthem I know how to sing. I didn’t understand its significance till much later,” she said.
Ms Sujatha is reported to have been active in community work, serving as a grassroots leader in Chong Pang and a district councillor at the North West Community Development Council. She was also appointed as a Legislative Assistant to help an MP in 2016 and as the first female chairperson of the SINDA Youth Club, among other roles.
She explained the difficulties to make sense of the dual realities that existed while growing up as an immigrant child – one with her immigrant family and the other with her school and the local community.
Ms Sujatha noted that the recent events will be disorienting to children of immigrant parents, and therefore called for an “allyship” between Singaporeans and immigrant children.
“More than ever, all the immigrant children and teenagers need your grace and allyship,” she remarked.
Ms Sujatha urged Singaporeans to check on their immigrant friends, students, and neighbours.
“Ask if their extended family is alright? Have they suffered loss?” she noted. “Be curious about their migration journeys and the rich cultures they come from. Ask them if they need support.”
Ms Sujatha then highlighted that the “willingness to listen” without judgment is what matters, rather than having answers to all these questions.
She ended her post saying: “For every person making xenophobic comments – think again before you rob a child of their home, safety and security with your words.”
Penning under the comment section of Mothership’s Facebook post, many netizens accused the local publication of “fan flames of racism” by publishing such an article which they think is blaming Singaporeans to be xenophobic, and urged Mothership to not “play the xenophobic card”.
One netizen wrote: “Let us deal with the pandemic first. No media outlet should create racial tensions at this point in time.”
Many netizens also voiced their disagreement with Ms Sujatha’s post, claiming that Singaporeans were only being concerned about the imported cases of COVID-19.
Referring to the case of a Singaporean man who allegedly uttered offensive remarks towards an Indian family at Pasir Ris Beach Park on 2 May, netizens noted that the man was only confronting the foreigner for not wearing his mask.
“In the case where a local Indian guy was ranting against a foreigner Indian man who refused to wear mask properly, it was the foreigner who was flouting locals laws blatantly, provoking the local man by filming him and taunting him and then circulated the video calling the local man ‘xenophobic’. That is disingenuous,” said a netizen.
Some netizens commented that the tensions arose from the Government’s “massive import of foreigners” into the country, which had caused job competition among locals and foreigners.
One netizen wrote: “Clearly, locals are displaced not because they are not good but because of policies. And its frustrating when people who voice these are label xenophobic and racists.”