Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary
Chairman of Narpani Pearavai, Mr K. Ramamoorthy, PBM
Past Advisors and Chairpersons,
Ladies and Gentlemen
We are able to come together as such a large group of friends and volunteers because of the journey of transformation that the Indian community and the IAECs have experienced over the last few decades. It is cause for celebration amongst all of us here today, and especially our long serving grassroots leaders.
Indian Singaporeans are volunteering actively, both within the community and more broadly
An important mark of how we have progressed in this journey is the extent to which Indian Singaporeans are contributing to community life - both in Indian community activities and Singapore life generally.
Indians are actively involved in the grassroots community - in fact, Indian representation among grassroots volunteers (over 13%) is higher than our share in the population. And they are not serving in the IAECs alone, but represented in a range of grassroots activities.
Likewise, if we look nationally, at all forms of volunteerism, four out of ten Indians (41%) have volunteered their time and effort in one form or another over the last year. This is significantly higher than where it was a decade earlier, and also higher than the national average.
Keeping our own cultures alive, but serving the broader community
What all this shows is an Indian community that is seeking to keep its culture alive, and is also engaged in community service and public life, as an outward-oriented community.
It is no surprise. The Indian community, as a minority in Singapore, and as a community that itself includes several sub-minorities, believes strongly in a multi-racial and multi-cultural Singapore.
Multiracialism and meritocracy have indeed been the basis for our progress, in education or careers or business or in the arts or in sports. But it is much more than a matter of progress or achievements. It is a matter of identity, and why we feel Singaporean at heart.
And that feeling that we are Singaporeans because we are multiracial, is also why Indians engage actively in social activities and public life and want to contribute, both within the Indian community and in Singapore generally.
This is one of the many positive outcomes that have resulted from the significant contributions by our Indian grassroots leaders and volunteers. The IAECs have been a catalyst for Indians to participate in grassroots activities, to keep Indian cultures alive but also to serve the broader local community.
There are many good programmes, activities and events that have been developed by the IAECs, but they are not just aimed at Indians. They are frequently aimed at helping residents of all races to take an interest in Indian culture, and in encouraging Indians to strengthen bonds and build friendships with others in the neighbourhood.
That growing integration of Singaporeans, on the ground, is also what we celebrate on this 40th anniversary of Narpani Pearavai.
Salute to the Pioneers of IAECs
How did we get here?
Our pioneering leaders deserve special mention. Mr Chandra Das, in particular, was among the first to initiate the formation of the Indian Cultural Groups at the constituency-level in 1977; and was the first Adviser to Narpani Pearavai for 10 years from 1987. Under his guidance and leadership, the Council co-ordinated the activities of the ICGs, which over time went beyond cultural pursuits to include social, educational, recreational and sport activities. Chandra has over the years also served in numerous other capacities, such as Chairman of the Board of Tamil Murasu and in different ways served the needs of the Indian community, supported our volunteers and grassroots leaders. Chandra deserves our deep gratitude, for his enthusiasm, his advice and support for the Advisers who came after him, his cultivation of grassroots leaders, and his multiple contributions to the community.
We have been fortunate to have in our community, highly committed grassroots volunteers. They have been led by a series of outstanding GRLs, who took turns to chair the Narpani Pearavai Council.
Beginning with Capt (Ret) M Govindarajoo, who oversaw the start-up of the IAECs, followed by Maj (Ret) M K Thanaseelan, who formed the Narpani Pearavai Youth Committee, then Mr S Yogeeswaran, and most recently, the indefatigable Mr P Thirunal Karasu, who formed Periyor Mandram and Narpani Tamil Toast Masters, drove the formalisation the IAECs, and organised many National level events.
Now we have Mr K. Ramamoorthy, who like the others before him is an exemplary grassroots leader. Rama is also making a special effort to develop the next generation of grassroots volunteers.
The work of Narpani and the IAECs is ultimately about our many volunteers on the ground. I wanted to highlight a few senior grassroots leaders who are role models. Each of them also reflects the spirit and commitment of many others like them. So before I mention these few individuals, I want to emphasise that it is all the rest who also deserve our recognition and gratitude.
(a) Shaikh Aziz, BBM (71)
i. Mr Shaik Aziz began his grassroots journey more than 40 years ago, in 1974 in Kampong Eunos. He was heavily involved in a whole range of Grassroots organisations and was a pioneer in the IAEC in Whampoa, where he was chairman for 4 years. Shaik Aziz was also active nationally, on the Narpani Pearavai Council .
ii. Currently he is a project chairman for ‘City For All Ages’, a pilot programme by Ministry of Health.
(b) Letchimi Rajoo (71)
i. Madam Letchimi Rajoo was one of the pioneer members of the roving ladies team that went around to help in IAECs. Thereafter she was the NP ladies committee chairperson (1999 – 2002) and served in the council. She also served in NP Periyor Mandram (Indian senior citizens committee). Under her leadership, she brought together like-minded women, and organised holistic three-generational and inter-generational family events and competitions.
ii. She served as chairperson of Marsiling IAEC (1998 – 2006) and has since moved on to serve in the CCMC, C2E, WEC, SCEC and RC in Marsiling constituency, paving the way for young leaders to take over the running of the IAEC.
(c) Harban Singh, BBM, PBS (63)
i. Mr Harban Singh began his grassroots journey almost 40 years ago, in 1979. He was in Kebun Bahru IAEC from the time it was formed. He has been and remains an active grassroots leader in the CCC, CCMC and RCs.
ii. Mr Harban Singh too served in the Narpani council. He is an elected Adviser of the EXCO Central Sikh Gurdwara Board.
(d) Rani Murugammal d/o Veeraputhiran (53)
i. Madam Rani began her grassroots journey in 1999. She has been actively involved in the CCC, CCMC, WEC, RC and IAEC, and was a pioneer in the IAEC committee in Senja – Cashew since 2002. She had organised many social programmes with VWOs for children. This includes SINDA reading classes, Home visits, programmes for the disabled children and many others. Madam Rani has been in the WEC Council since 2012, and serves in the national Women’s Integration Network.
ii. Her involvement in charity organisations has enabled her to start her own centre Siva Sakthi Centre. Through this, she helps by counselling and coaching children, ex-drug addicts, and ex-prisoner. She has about 40 children under her care currently.
The IAECs have also attracted younger volunteers. A good example is
(a) Ms Preeya Mathava (26)
i. Ms Preeya represented the IAEC in Sorkalam 2014 and 2016 and was part of organising committee for the past 2 terms. She is the Assistant Secretary in Hwi Yoh IAEC and Secretary in Hwi Yoh YEC. She is involved in many GRC events, Deepavali Shows and Pongal events.
Let us pay a special tribute to all our pioneering leaders and volunteers, as well as the many others, young at heart or young in age, who have put great time and effort into bringing our IAECs to where they are today. Your dedication and your spirit of giving and caring, has helped strengthen the Indian community as well as to work actively with other Singaporeans to build One People, One Singapore.
The Way Forward
Today, our society faces changing needs and concerns.
Singapore has a much broader middle class, with increased education and aspirations. Our lifestyles and interests are also very different from 40 or even 20 years ago, and are also much less uniform.
And with social and economic change, and as new generations grow up, there is also, inevitably, a diminishing sense of our history and heritage as Singaporeans.
These shifts in our society have to be matched by innovations and adaptations by the IAECs and Indian grassroots volunteers.
This has three implications for how Narpani and the IAECs work and engage with the community.
The first is how we attract new, younger volunteers, and develop them into community leaders. As the experience of growing up in Singapore has changed, so has the expectations and aspirations of the young.
The way we involve the young must evolve and adapt to changing times. Dr Janil Puthucheary has been talking to many of you about this key priority for the future. He will be speaking more about this later.
Second, we must do more work on the ground to keep Singapore society cohesive. It means doing more to keep up social mobility, by helping families whose children start off with a disadvantage; doing more to help those families who have not been able to keep up with changes in our economy; and doing more to ensure that the elderly have friends in the neighbourhood and are never left without care.
We must actively network and partner with other agencies and organisations to help the Indian community fully participate in new opportunities, today and for the future.
Thirdly, even as we prepare for the future, we must remember and learn from our past, and keep alive the heritage we inherit - a heritage that gives us confidence in our future.
The recent launch of the Singapore Bicentennial is an opportunity for our IAECs and other Indian Organisations to recall this long history of Indians in Singapore and the region around us, and to share our heritage and living traditions with all Singaporeans.
Please encourage others to get involved, volunteer, and especially encourage the younger members of the community to join in this national effort to remember and learn from our history as we prepare for the future.
As a community, we can record many stories, strengthen our collective memories and ensure that the next generation has a deep sense of their history and heritage.
My deepest appreciation to Narpani Pearavai, our IAECs, our grassroots Advisers and volunteers for your strong commitment and selfless contributions in helping both the Indian community and our broader Singaporean society to progress, and to become more integrated over the decades.
May our grassroots organisations continue to grow from strength to strength, nurture more volunteers, develop new ways to serve the community, and help bind Singaporeans together even more than we are today.