SM Tharman Shanmugaratnam at HEB's 50th Anniversary Tribute Dinner

SM Tharman Shanmugaratnam | 24 November 2019

Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for Social Policies, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, at HEB's 50th Anniversary Tribute Dinner on 24 November 2019.

Mr Jayachandran, Chairman HEB

Mr Rajan Krishnan, Chairman HAB

Past and Present Board members and their families

Distinguished guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

A very good evening to all of you.

It is a real pleasure for me to be here today. The 50th Anniversary for the Hindu Endowments Board is a significant milestone, following the enactment of the Hindu Endowments Act in 1969.

As Jaya mentioned, this evening we paying tribute to all who have served on the HEB as well as those who have served on the Hindu Advisory Board (HAB).

While they play different roles, in practice the HEB and HAB have been working very closely together, with joint meetings. In fact several of you have served on both sides, with commitment and passion.

For many of you, this has in fact been a lifetime commitment, for the betterment of the community.

As board members you chose to give their time and energy, to make things better than what you saw and to elevate the lives of Hindus. It is an intense type of volunteering, frequent and often in the forefront. So what we see today is a cumulation of all of your contributions put together. The members were directly involved in conceptualising and implementing many of the ideas which has stood time. And in the process, many of you who started out as like-minded individuals in pursuit of the greater good have also become friends for life.

You also came from different professions, and some as entrepreneurs. Together, you brought specific knowledge and expertise that has been helpful in the running the Boards and the temples.

Jaya mentioned some of you by name – we are all familiar with the many visionary and inspirational leaders of the HEB and HAB. I want to say a big thank you to all of you. I also wanted to express our gratitude to the families of all the Board members past and present, including of those members who are no longer with us. Like Mr V R Nathan, who chaired the HEB for 15 years.

Over the years, HEB and HAB have provided quiet, steady and critically important leadership in the Hindu community.

Management of our temples has seen significant strengthening.

The HEB and HAB have also collaborated with the Commissioner of Charities recently to provide shared services and to guide all Hindu temples on governance matters, and on improving their operations.

The HEB itself has managed its finances prudently. As Jaya mentioned, this has enabled significant growth of its endowment, which enables monies to be spent where needed each year.

The steady hand of the HEB and HAB has also helped advance the interests of the Hindu community during Thaipusam, while managing broader public safety considerations, to make the annual festival a fulfilling experience for devotees.

The members of the Boards work closely with the Temple management from Perumal and Tank Road temples, with the Kavadi carriers and their families and supporters, as well as with the Police.

As a result of these positive engagements, the authorities have been able to progressively relax restrictions and allow for more music points along the procession route, enabling both a smooth and fulfilling religious experience for devotees.

Another major effort by the HEB has been in helping some of our Hindu temples relocate as a result of redevelopment needs.

This has included helping non-HEB temples. HEB took the initiative to form a Protem Committee for a new temple that negotiated with the HDB to secure a new piece of land at Sengkang, bringing three temples under one roof. The Protem Committee raised almost $7m to purchase the land and build the AVGMT (Arulmigu Velmurugan Gnana Muneeswarar) Temple in 2006 before handing over to a management team.

However, besides matters related to our temples, the HEB has also taken on a larger community leadership role.

In 2010, the Hindu Endowments Act (HEA) was amended to provide HEB with a broader mandate and enable it to conduct activities of social, cultural and educational benefit to the community.

Many of the services Jaya mentioned speak to this enhanced role. HEB’s Health Festivals for example, organised with partners such as MediaCorp Oli 96.8FM, help to amplify our national programmes, to get people to watch their diets and lifestyles and take care of their own health.

HEB has also redeveloped the area now known as Little India Arcade, a cluster of neoclassical shophouses conserved to commemorate the spirit of commerce of the district’s early Indian settlers.

It is now wholly owned by HEB and as we all know features a good mix of restaurants and shops featuring textiles and the arts, besides others. It has become a cultural landmark at the start of Serangoon Road, and also attracts thousands of tourists each day.

HEB is of course very active during Deepavali. It has been partnering Moulmein-Cairnhill CCC and the Tamil Language and Cultural Society to organise the annual Deepavali Trade Fair for over three decades, which continues till today. The Deepavali Light-Up was originally started by HEB in 1998. LISHA organises the light up now with strong support from HEB. It grew from a small-scale to include all of Serangoon Road, and transforms Little India with its instagram-worthy decorations and bright festive lights.

Equally important has been HEB and HAB’s work to build multi-religious harmony.

The Hindu faith is tolerant by its very nature, and has had a long history of accommodating other religions. However, inter-ethnic and inter-faith tensions are a heightened feature of today’s world. For us in Singapore, that must mean that we put even more effort into cultivating peace and harmony and building social trust.

It is to the credit of our Hindu community leaders that they have played an active role in promoting inter-faith harmony. Our Hindu leadership, both nationally and in our various local constituencies, walks the talk in nurturing strong networks with their other faith counterparts.

This year in May, HEB and HAB also came together with Singapore’s other religious leaders to affirm our shared Commitment to Safeguard Religious Harmony, the values and norms of social interaction across our religious communities that foster a cohesive society.

It was a ground-up initiative and two-year effort. The Hindu leadership rallied more than 40 Hindu and Indian organisations to affirm the Commitment, in a show of solidarity.

The HEB and HAB have come a long way in the last fifty years, and are now well-regarded institutions. They exercise strong community leadership, grounded in the beliefs of the faith.

Let me once again salute each of you who have built up and led the HEB and HAB over the years, including those who are no longer with us. Collectively, you have made a valuable contribution to the Hindu community, to multiculturalism, and to Singapore.