PM Lee Hsien Loong delivered this speech at the Singapore Malayalee Association 100th Anniversary Dinner on 29 September 2017. PM Lee thanked the Association for its work in uplifting the community and strengthening the social fabric in Singapore.
Mr Jayakumar Narayanan, President of the Singapore Malayalee Association, Mr Gopinath Pillai, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I am very happy to celebrate the centenary of the Singapore Malayalee Association with all of you this evening. This is a notable milestone. You are one of the oldest registered Indian associations in Singapore. Over the course of a century, you have witnessed economic depression and world war, independence struggles and political battles, Merger with Malaysia followed by Separation, the development of a modern, prosperous economy and the building of a self-confident, multiracial identity.
Your centenary reminds us that our nation-building history goes back considerably beyond our 52 years of independence. In fact, as you have heard from Mr Jayakumar just now, the Malayalees were already here around the time when Sir Stamford Raffles came in 1819. You story is an important strand in our historical and cultural tapestry.
When the Singapore Malayalee Association was set up in 1917, it was simply to send a greeting message to the Maharaja of Travancore on his 60th birthday. Since then, the Association has helped to look after the welfare of the thousands of Malayalees who made the journey from Kerala to Singapore.
The community in Singapore is still quite small, about 26,000 people, but Malayalees have contributed significantly to Singapore’s development. Outstanding Malayalees include Mr Devan Nair, our third President; Mr Sundaresh Menon, our Chief Justice; and Mr Ravi Menon, Managing Director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. Currently, there are three Malayalee MPs – Dr Janil Puthucheary, Mr Vikram Nair and Mr Murali Pillai. I should say that I have had two, at least, Malayalee teachers when I was in school. One taught me English, his name was Mr K. Joseph – little man, compact, very strict. He said to me Malayalam is the only language that reads the same forwards and backwards, because “Malayalam” – when you spell it forwards it is like that, and when you spell it backwards it is like that. I had another teacher who taught me math and physics, Mr Ravi, and later on, he became a principal. Tonight, I just said hello to him. It was such a pleasure, Mr Ravi. I
t is an outstanding community. The Association has done good work. It has helped the less privileged, and supported children from low-income families to receive a good education. As part of SG50 two years ago, you set up an endowment fund for needy students going to university. I am happy, as you have heard just now, the fund has now doubled to $1 million, and will support bursaries which are open to all Singaporeans.
The Association has also worked to preserve and promote Malayalee culture within Singapore’s multiracial context. I am glad you are recognising several members of your community tonight, for promoting Malayalam literature and the arts, and for contributing to the wider community. Including Mr M K Bhasi, the poet and social activist; Mrs Santha Bhaskar, known for her Indian classical dance as well as cross-cultural choreography; and Ambassador Gopinath Pillai, who has had a long and illustrious diplomatic career. As Senior Advisor of the association and Chairman of the Indian Heritage Centre, has also helped build a vibrant and cohesive Indian cultural identity – and as you can see, continues to keep a very close interest in the affairs of the association.
As Gopi recounted just now, and those of you who are old enough like him and me, will remember we attended the 80th anniversary celebrations Onam festival of the Malayalee Association in 1998, at the People’s Association’s old premises at Kallang. Those celebrations were a vibrant showcase of your rich cultural heritage. I was struck then by how inclusive your celebrations were, because you had invited other community groups, including Chinese and Malays, to share your joy.
Indeed, Malayalees have long embraced and celebrated diversity. Within your community, there are Hindus, Muslims, Syrian Christians and Roman Catholics. From the earliest times, Kerala has been a melting pot. Christians and Jews landed on the Malabar coast in the first century. As the Indian Ocean trade grew, ports like Calicut attracted sailors and traders from as far away as Arabia, Persia, Egypt, China, as well as Southeast Asia. Malayalee merchants helped to spread Islam in Southeast Asia. Centuries before Raffles landed in Singapore, our region already had regular interactions with Kerala.
Today, Kerala remains a diverse, open, and outward looking part of India. This is surely one reason for the success of the Malayalees in Singapore and around the world. It is also a factor which can be vital to other societies which depend on globalisation and international trade, like Singapore. In many countries, alas, exclusivity and extremism are growing, and they are breeding racial and religious distrust. Singapore is not immune to these diseases of the spirit. But we can protect and strengthen our multicultural system to make our society more resilient against such external pressures. The Malayalee community has shown how we can turn diversity into a strength. Singapore needs to do the same on a national level, with our different races and religions.
Today, I would like to thank you for your good work in uplifting the community and enriching and strengthening Singapore’s social fabric. Keep it up! I look forward to many more contributions from the community. Many more distinguished sons and daughters of Malayalees making their contributions to Singapore. I wish the Singapore Malayalee Association many good years ahead. Thank you very much all.
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