11/17/2021, 15.31
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Singapore facing a ’curry conundrum’

by Steve Suwannarat

While boasting about its interethnic harmony, the Singaporean of Indian origin and immigrants with an Indian background are refused housing by Chinese landlords because of their “smelly” cuisine. Members of Singapore’s ethnic minorities complain of hidden racism. Indo-Singaporeans represent 9 per cent of the country’s population.

Singapore (AsiaNews) – The “curry conundrum” is becoming a controversial issue in Singapore.

Increasingly, landlords and property managers are taking into account the ethnic background of people looking for a place to live, often rejecting applicants with an Indian background, both locals and immigrants.

The odours of Indian cuisine are being used as means of racial profiling against people who can trace their origins back to the Indian subcontinent. The latter represent 9 per cent of the population of the city-state.

Discrimination is often indirect in a multiracial society like Singapore’s, where strict laws and a constitution promote social and racial harmony despite diversity.

This leaves those who encounter such discrimination perplexed. This was the case of young British-Indian couple who sought a new life in Singapore. After a deal was reached for a flat, when they went to close it in person, the landlord backed out.

More than others, their story seemed to open the eyes of the country’s mass media to a situation that cannot always be solved by sifting through real estate ads.

Tense relations between people of Indian origin and Chinese owners are nothing new. So much so that since 2017, listing site PropertyGuru has required agents not list owners’ ethnic or racial preferences, threatening to suspend any who do.

Still, Singapore has no anti-discrimination legislation in the housing sector; consequently, steps to raise awareness or dissuade have obtained few results.

Questions like “Do you cook with spices?” and statements such as "I hope you are not related to the “Indian’ race” will continue; indeed, during the COVID-19 pandemic, hate speech and interethnic tensions have increased.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long recently announced plans to introduce a bill on racial harmony, noting however that it would not include punitive measures against violators.

At the same time, he denied that ethnic Chinese (75 per cent of the population) are privileged, this despite the fact that the government mandates ethnic quotas in public housing, which represents 80 per cent of the market.

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