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Speech By Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister & Minister For Finance & Minister For Manpower At Indian New Year Celebrations

13 Apr 2012

Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Foreign Affairs and Law,
Mr R Dhinakaran, Nominated Member of Parliament,
Mr VP Jothi, Chairman, Tamil Language Council,
Mr T Rajasegar, CEO SINDA,
Ms Vanaja Thekkat, First Secretary & Head of Chancery, Indian High Commission in Singapore,
Ladies and gentlemen,

1.   Good evening and a Happy New Year.

2.   I am honoured and delighted to be here celebrating the Indian New Year with all of you. The Little India Shopkeepers and Heritage Association (LISHA) has done an excellent job in organising this annual event to bring together all the various ethnic Indian communities to celebrate the New Year.

3.   Many groups are represented here today: the Tamils, including the Ceylon Tamils, the Telugus, Malayalees, Punjabis, Gujaratis, Kannadigas, Marathis, Sindhis and Bengalis.

4.   We also have a good exhibition this year, a result of LISHA’s collaboration with the Indian Heritage Centre to launch the Centre’s second community exhibition. Entitled “Our Indian Forefathers and Their Trades in Singapore”, this site-specific exhibition showcases the traditional trades and professions practised by our migrant forefathers who came to Singapore from the 19th century onwards.

5.   When the Indian Heritage Centre opens in the heart of Little India in early 2014, there will be more opportunities for it to collaborate with LISHA to record and project the heritage of the Little India precinct and, on a broader level, the fascinating heritage of the Indian community in Singapore.

6.   These projects and collaborations are all part of how we ensure that we remain a vibrant and cohesive society. On the economic front, we are embarking on a major restructuring of our economy. It will affect every sector, including the shops and restaurants who comprise many of your members.

7.   It will not be easy but there is no alternative  -  no alternative to restructuring our businesses, improving the quality of every job, making better use of technology and developing more efficient workflow, and improving our products and offerings. No alternative to raising productivity and hence the wages of our workers.

8.   The Government will spare no effort to help our businesses and especially our SMEs to make this transition to a higher productivity, higher skill, higher wage economy over this decade. I am sure many of your members will make this transition, bring in innovations, and be a vibrant part of our economy 10 years from now.

9.   We are also working continually to strengthen our society.  We must ensure that diversity is a benefit to Singapore, by maintaining and actively promoting communal harmony. It is not a natural outcome, not something that comes about from the natural workings of any society. It is something we must actively and consciously build and nurture. While we have always paid significant attention to fostering community bonding, it is even more important now as our society becomes more diverse and complex.

10.   This is why we have integration efforts at all levels, in our schools, workplaces and in the community. Indeed, we have made progress within the Indian community itself, besides strengthening the threads that bind us together with other ethnic communities in Singapore.

11.   The local Indian community is now more cohesive than it was in earlier decades. There are stronger links and interactions between the various Indian sub-ethnic groups. It is also now much more commonplace for the business and professional elite to involve themselves in the problems of those lower down the social ladder. Voluntarism is up, with many more successful Indians giving time and effort to help others, be it in helping children with their education or holding the hands of a family going through difficult times. The philanthropic urge too is stronger.

12.   Our many community bodies have worked together to promote these bonds. There is more goodwill and sense of affinity within the community. We must build on this goodwill and openness of mind in the coming years, especially as we encourage our newer citizens to integrate fully in the community.

13.   But we should never forget that what makes us special in Singapore is the openness that all our races and religions have towards each other. We are all Singaporeans at heart. I am happy to say that for this Indian New Year celebration – which was supported by the Community Integration Fund or CIF – LISHA has reached out beyond the Indian community to other Singaporeans. They reached out to invite students from schools, and have partnered with PA to bring in grassroots groups to experience the richness and diversity of the Indian culture.

14.   This is an active role. We must take on this role as individuals too, to learn more and understand more about the people and communities we live amongst. I urge our new immigrants to proactively find out more about their new home and build bonds with the locals whom they interact with in their daily lives. At the same time, I hope Singaporeans will extend a warm welcome to their new neighbours and friends, and help them settle down so that they can truly be a part of our society.

15.   Over today and the next couple of weeks, there will be cultural performances, exhibitions and other events showcasing Indian culture and heritage. I would encourage everyone – Singaporeans and foreigners alike – from other races and different walks of life, to drop in and discover something more about our Indian community. With many little efforts of our own and with openness of mind, we will ensure that Singapore remains a diverse and cohesive society.

16.   Thank you, and have a Happy New Year!