In Singapore, a public reminder to keep Deepavali celebrations litter-free has sparked a significant backlash within the Indian community.
Susiilaa Shanmugam, a veteran media professional, shared a photo of two banners at Mountbatten SMC on Facebook, igniting the controversy.
The upper banner from Lim Biow Chuan, MP for Mountbatten SMC, offered festive greetings, while the lower banner, linked to the National Environment Agency (NEA), called for a litter-free celebration. This has been perceived as insensitive stereotyping, especially since similar messages are not disseminated during other cultural festivals.
Ms Shanmugam wrote, “Thank u for the reminder Sir. Just curious if you have ever used this message during Chinese New Year or Hungry Ghost Festival? Though the message appears to have a positive intent, it is being used at a very wrong time given festivals are a time when those who have endured a tumultuous time come together as one to unite with their family and friends. I hope to see the same message for the coming Chinese New Year.”
One community member expressed their exasperation, stating, “This is absurd and it reflects typical stereotyping mentality… We should not condone this…. We have been too tolerant to one full month of burnt ashes, waxes and rotten offerings… To be an inclusive society, tolerance should uniform across the board.”
The banners, one featuring Mr Lim with festive greetings, and the other from grassroots organizations supported by the National Environment Agency (NEA), pointed out the cleanliness aspect.
Critics argue that such messages are not promoted during other cultural celebrations, such as Chinese New Year or the Hungry Ghost Festival, highlighting what they perceive as an inconsistency in addressing different racial and cultural groups.
Veteran journalist PN Balji wrote, “Well, it is aimed at Indians. That is obvious.”
Another netizen’s frustration was palpable: “its this kind of ignant and obtuse statements that drive people apart… food and shit do not go on the same plate la…. I have Chinese friends and colleagues that are equally excited abt Deepavali… For every statement made that supposedly builds racial tolerance…. There’s always a numskull making statements like this that scars the surface of the glacier…”
The debate intensified when individuals pointed out the unfair targeting of Indian cultural practices, citing the need for a universal approach to environmental advisories. “At least you have voiced it out. Thanks for that! This has been going on for way too long and has to stop. Either give general advice to the entire Singapore for all festivities and rituals or don’t advise at all. Not target just one,” remarked another member of the community.
In response to the heated feedback, Lim Biow Chuan addressed the issue on his Facebook page. He stated, “My banner on top is just a festive greeting and does not contain any litter-free messages.”
He explained that the NEA, as a government agency, is tasked with maintaining cleanliness and that the message stemmed from complaints about litter following Deepavali celebrations. He also acknowledged the potential for misunderstanding and requested the removal of his greeting banner.
Despite Lim’s clarification, the explanations did not suffice for many. One individual responded, “Hi Sir, Thanks for your wonderful wish! It is truly unfortunate that your banner seems to be placed above NEA’s banner… It would have been nice if you had shared the feedback about this insensitive messaging back to NEA instead of pointing fingers at the contractor or NEA.”
Another comment pointed to the deeper implications of the banner: “What is the necessity for such a banner to be put up before Deepavali? It feels as if we the minority are barbaric and do not know how to celebrate Deepavali in a civilized manner, thus a banner as such has to be put up as a reminder to keep it clean?”
While Mr Lim stated that the banner under his festive greeting banning was put up by the NEA, it clearly indicated that it was actually put up by the residents’ network while supported by the NEA.
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