The Singapore government is resolute in its commitment to Tamil as an official language, Cabinet Minister S Iswaran has said, citing examples of it being used in parliament and as a subject in schools.
Mr. Iswaran’s remarks appeared in an interview published in ‘The Tamil Community and the Making of Modern Singapore’ -- a book on the South Indian community -- launched by Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan on Sunday.
“The government’s policy position and support for Tamil is clear. The rest is in the hands of the community, especially our youths, to embrace the language, use it in everyday life and make it a living language,” Mr. Iswaran said.
“The ‘Tamil Language Festival’ is one way to achieve this by engaging and involving the younger generation and wider community in this effort to celebrate and promote Tamil language and culture,” Iswaran, the minister in charge of Trade Relations as well as Communications and Information, said.
The book has been co-authored by NRIs Soundara Nayaki Vairavan, editor of ‘Online Voice’ with five other books to her credit, and A P Raman, a veteran local journalist .
Tamil is one of Singapore’s four official languages used in parliament, in schools as mother’s tongue subject and supported by print and broadcast media as well as in all other officials events. It is also printed on currency notes along with English, Chinese and Malay.
The book documents early days of Indians arriving in Singapore, some as sepoys, labourers, traders, money lenders, civil servants, among others.
The colonial government had been sending Indian convicts to Bencoolen in Sumatra since 1787 and to Penang in northern Peninsular Malaysia, since 1790, according to the book.
By 1830s, Singapore as well as Peninsula Malaysia’s Malacca and Penang port cities became penal colonies under British colonial rule, it pointed out citing scholars.
India had been the British rulers’ main source of unskilled labour and indentured labourers were used to build infrastructure and buildings in Singapore during the early days.
By nature, the South Indians, especially Tamils, were obedient in carrying out the orders of their superiors. They had little educational background and were ready to accept low pay and poor living conditions, according the book, which has references to a number of researches.
According to the book, as Singapore economically progressed after the colonial rulers left, the Tamil community progressed along and became part of the prosperous society.
The highest service to Singapore by the modern day community was the service of Sellapan Ramanathan, popularly known as S R Nathan, who served as the sixth President of Singapore from September 1, 1999 to August 31, 2011, as other Indians have served and are serving as ministers, senior civil servants, other civic positions as well as business leaders in the private sector.