Indian Heritage Centre in Singapore and India’s lost migrant connection

source: national heritage board

Chennai: When the Chettiars of Tamil Nadu first made their journey to Singapore centuries back to explore business opportunities, India made her first connection with the island nation. Migrants from India to Singapore over the years consisted of traders, educated middle-class occupying positions in the British empire, indentured labourers, members of the Indian Army, and white-collar professionals in the recent 1990s.

The Indian Heritage Centre (IHC) in Singapore was inaugurated in May this year as a tribute to India and a reminder of its contribution in the country’s growth.

Itty Abraham, head of the department of Southeast Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, gave a talk ‘IHC Singapore: A Missed Opportunity’ at Alliance Francaise on Friday. In his talk, he stated that the four-storey building of the IHC blends traditional Indian and modern architectural elements, but unfortunately leaves out crucial details on the complex history of the migration of Indians and the assimilation of their culture in Singapore.

Abraham“IHC is constructed on the now irrelevant, strong racial lines of Chinese, Malay, Indians and others. It also does not seem to capture the changing face of Indian society in Singapore and concentrates only on what is aesthetically pleasing, thus providing a pointer as to why it is not a true reflection of the struggles and achievements of the Indian migrants,” said Abraham.

“Early Indians formed an indelible part of the cultural fabric of that country in ways that they have developed a distinctive characteristic,” said Abraham, pointing out how south Indians have always stood out with their cultural singularity in a country where everyone else had adapted. He further highlighted the diverse contributions of Indians in Singapore’s social and economic structure.

The IHC ignores the indentured Indian labourers from the mid-19th century who migrated to Singapore and actually helped in the construction of the massive structures in the country and kept their economy going, stated Abraham. The IHC includes that Indians have been known for their presence in the business sector as bureaucrats and as members of the police and army. The political complexities conclude with the simplified version of the former president of Singapore Deven Nair sacked by the then prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

“The IHC particularly fails in capturing the complexities of the Indians’ migrant story. It remains a museum and not a centre, which must have included the gritty tales of people who survived in a foreign land and helped make its foundations strong,” said Abraham.


(Inputs from TNN)