repost: Syed Alwi 'Little India' racist tourist information board

When I first came across this sign about a year ago - and to which I've alluded to in this site intermittently - I was thoroughly taken aback. I kept silent and directed a couple of local Chinese mates whom were with me to take a look at it. After they had read through it, I asked them what they thought about it and if they saw anything amiss. They looked at me as if wondering why I would ask such a question. I smiled, and asked, "What place is this?" "Little India", they responded. "And the information here is about whom?" After a few seconds, as the British would say, 'the pin dropped', and they got it.

I've often said a decade ago, that the other ethnic groups became persona non grata the moment the government stated that singapore must always have a Chinese majority. With the SAP school system, the 'speak mandarin it's cool' and 'appreciate chinese culture' campaigns, the Chingay festival amongst others that elevated one culture and 'race' above all, and a host of other examples, ethnic groups would soon become non persona. That was what I said back in '93. I'll leave it at that, and let the pictures do the summation.

[click image for larger view]

Sign reads,

“First Chinese settlement at Syed Alwi Road, c. 1930 (collection of Mr. Ong Cheng Hoe, courtesy of National Archives of Singapore)

This road was originally named Syed Allie Road, after Syed Allie bin Mahomed Al Junied, a prominent Arab merchant in the nineteenth century. It was later renamed Syed Alwi after his son.

The first members of the Chinese community in Little India dwelled amongst the Indians on Syed Alwi Road. To the Chinese, the road was known as “the street beside the abattoirs”, referring to the cattle and sheep slaughterhouses that once filled the area. The Chinese in Little India settled near Syed Alwi Road because its naturally swampy terrain favoured vegetable cultivation, the community’s mainstay activity. As the area became urbanised, the Chinese farmers converted their attap huts into shophouses, a number of which still stand today. Their architecture is an eclectic mixture of Chinese, European and Malay elements, which let it to being known as the Chinese Baroque.

The Chinese lived peacefully on Syed Alwi Road until the Japanese Occupation (1942-5). Under the Japanese, they were rounded up and held captive in a nearby sawmill under cramped and filthy conditions. From this group of prisoners, the Japanese singled out those who were volunteers with the British Forces. These unfortunate men were taken away and never seen again.

In a nutshell, the Indians are presented as incidental, and props in a wholly oriental theatre. Their history, their contribution, their significance, has been wiped away. If anything matters, it is only what the chinese have done. That is grossly racist and utterly unconscionable. And to complement this, with the aid of institutional racism (sap school system, mother tongue policy, hdb quota system, political nepotism, maintaining a chinese majority, etc), and over time, the engendering of popular racism and self-absorption through the aforementioned means, the Indians have indeed been reduced in development, numbers, perspective, and ambition, to ensure that if any credit is to be given, it will only be to the Chinese.

For a more representative history:


This isn't a problem. It's a symptom of a more pervasive malaise.  Ask yourself to what degree this is illustrated in a host of instances.  This is not just one amongst many instances, but the result of many instances.  Racism and chinese self-absorption has to be really entrenched before such a sign can be produced, and pass unnoticed...even by 'friends'. Finally, this is not an effort to stir up racial hatred, but to address the causes of racial hatred.


[this article was first published in march, 2010]


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