Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh: Government to blame for anti-Indian racism amidst rising COVID cases

On 3 May 2021, author and freelance writer at The Economic Intelligence Unit Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh made a Facebook post expressing his anger that Singaporeans are “dancing on the graves of Indians”. He does not understand why many of of us are irritated with them, and thinks that we are being racist and xenophobic because of our government.

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① He says that Singapore has a “toxic environment” today due to our prejudices.

“There is really quite a toxic environment in Singapore today, with prejudices and discrimination against almost every group, depending on your own position and lived experiences.”

Firstly, even without Covid, some of us have experienced enough of having our jobs taken away by foreign “talents”. With the Covid crisis now, many of us are more worried and naturally want to protect our families. It is definitely a valid concern. By saying that we have racist prejudices, isn’t Sudhir blindsiding our lived experiences and fundamental concerns while trying to argue for the lived experiences of the Indians?

② He asked that Singaporeans do not “take it out” on them

“I understand that there are legitimate complaints around the behaviour of some Indian migrants. But while we sort through them, please don’t take it out on individuals you meet. The vast majority are just honest, decent people trying to make a living.”

This is an act of generalizing some racist behavior of a few individuals (cue the Hwa Chong MRT aunty and a few Facebook comments) to ALL Singaporeans. At the same time, in an act of hypocrisy, he faults us for generalizing the behavior of a few problematic Indian migrants to all Indians.

Irresponsible comments are a minority. The vast majority of Singaporeans are also honest and decent people trying to make a living. We feel distraught when we work hard but our jobs are taken away from us, even if it’s because of the pandemic. This is why some of us would feel angry that after a long period of “back to normal”, we are going back to square one. Our effort over the past year is wasted because travelers from high-risk countries are still trying to come. Moreover, some import cases even seem to transcend the 14-day SHN period that the government previously had in place.

③ He doubts we give immigration preferences to Indians, saying that many of our policies are Chinese-centric

“With immigration – whether work permits, residencies or new citizens – there is a suggestion that over the past few decades, preference has been given to Indians, as opposed to being just purely meritocratic. And some blame a trade agreement, CECA, for it. I am not sure how true this is, especially given Singapore’s historic Chinese majoritarianism policies.”

Sudhir does not seem to understand how the CECA works. A press release at the time of CECA’s implementation said that the agreement would enhance bilateral ties by encouraging the flow of talent between the two countries. This means that 1) Indian nationals will be favored over people from countries we don’t have an economic agreement with, and 2) Singaporeans will not be given a chance to develop our PMET skills because we can just “import” these talents.

Also, in terms of COVID, Singaporeans’ arguments are based on the fact that recent import cases originate mostly from India. The assumption for those coming in is that they are coming in because of the CECA agreement (be it to work, or to be with their families who work here). This is in no way meant to be a racist comment.

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There was no need for Sudhir to bring race into the picture. Yes, there are people who are racist and xenophobic. However, most of us are just worried for our own health and safety – like when the pandemic first emerged, there were a lot of complaints about allowing people from China into the country as well.

Sudhir is just using Covid-19 as another basis for his arguments about racism. This fixation on race that he has is a counterproductive argument that in no way makes the racist people less racist. What he does is make the divide between races more clear. Singaporeans are not that shallow. We need to be given more credit.

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