Singapore will fail if it allows racism and xenophobia to become prevalent, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam said in response to an apparent hate crime incident involving a 55-year-old Indian-origin woman who was kicked and subjected to racial slurs allegedly by a Chinese man.
Hindocha Nita Vishnubhai, a private tutor, was brisk walking when a man approached her and asked her to pull the mask up from her chin before hurling vulgarities and racial slurs at her. Singapore police have arrested a 30-year-old Chinese man for assault.
Addressing parliament on the issue, Shanmugam said such "racist behaviour" cannot be justified by saying, "the Indians are behaving badly" or blamed on the government policies such as the India-Singapore Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA), a free trade agreement signed in June 2005.
"There have been several canards about CECA, promoted by a whispering campaign," he said, adding that any lawmaker who believed the agreement was a problem could put up a motion to hold a debate.
The alleged assault of the woman, which is currently being investigated by the police, drew condemnation from several ministers, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who said it "goes against everything that our multiracial society stands for".
Such behaviour should be condemned, said Shanmugam. Singapore has been able to manage racism and over time "sought to reduce it", he said.
"We will fail if we allow racism and xenophobia to become prevalent, and it's contrary to everything that has made us successful and proud to be Singaporean," the minister warned.
Shanmugam said certain parties, which he did not identify, were "deliberately stoking the fears, encouraging racism and xenophobia, and dog whistling", asserting that it is "dangerous for Singapore".
"First, it will be the expat Indians. Then, it will come to Singaporean Indians," he said, noting that not all would be able to distinguish between India-born in Singapore and those born overseas.
"The lady who was attacked has been a citizen for 25 years. If we go down this route, eventually all Indians can be a target of hate," he said, warning that this could create an "outgroup" based on race.
The Singapore Police Force (SPF) stated that hate crimes will be dealt with swiftly and in accordance with the law.
“The police take a serious view of such acts that have the potential to damage racial harmony in Singapore,” it said.
If found guilty of public nuisance, the man could be jailed for up to three months, fined up to SGD 2,000 (USD 1,509), or both.
For uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the racial feelings of any person, the punishment is an imprisonment term of up to three years, a fine, or both.