Zulfikar Shariff: Don’t Dilute Role Of Malays In Building Singapore

Growing up, I read and heard about Lim Boh Seng, Tan Kah Kee, Tan Tock Seng, Elizabeth Choy.

And I wondered, apart from Lt Adnan and a few other rarely mentioned names, where are the Melayu, Indian, Eurasian personalities?

Surely Singapura was not built solely on the back of Chinese migrants.

It was later that I realised how Singapura’s history is Sinicised.

And why we need to make sure we magnify the history of the other communities. Insha Allah in this post, I will briefly discuss a little bit of the colonial history of the Indians in Singapura.

There were more than 100 Indians who arrived with Raffles in 1819, including Sepoys, clerks and the famous trader Naraina Pillai.

Naraina Pillai was a trader and philanthropist who gave out substantial amounts of his wealth to build temples and other social causes.

By 1873, there were about 12,000 Indians resident in Singapura. They were mainly labourers, financiers, traders, administrative workers and shopkeepers.

But the British also brought a substantial number of Indian convicts. When the British left Bencoolen in 1825, they brought 600 Indian convicts with them. By 1860, there were 2,275 convicts residing in Singapura.

However, British residents were not happy with the arrangement and by 1873, the remaining convicts were sent to the Andamans islands.

Skilled Indian convict labourers contributed substantially to the city’s development.

As Governor of the Straits Settlements, Colonel Blundell noted

“The whole of the existing roads throughout the Islands… every bridge in both town and country, all the existing canals, sea wall, jetties, piers, etc., have been constructed by convict labour. But not only is the community indebted for these essential works to the mere manual labour of convicts, but by the introduction among them of a system of skilled labour, Singapore is indebted for works which could not otherwise have been sanctioned from the State funds.”

The next time we walk pass St Andrew’s cathedral or the Istana….take note…

They were built by Indian convict labourers.

Sandhu, Kernial Singh. “Some Aspects of Indian Settlement in Singapore, 1819–1969.” Journal of Southeast Asian History 10.02 (1969): 193-201.

Picture: Construction of the Government House (Istana)


Source: Zulfikar Shariff

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