‘Little India’: Diverging Destinies in Heritage Spaces


As a colonial legacy of the spatial and political management of immigrant groups, Little India has evolved during Singapore’s post-independence era to service the needs of a developing community. While closely identified as an ‘Indian’ space by Indian Singaporeans, it has developed significant appeal to other locals and foreign tourists, as well as migrant workers from South Asia. This area, showcasing one component of Singapore’s imagined CMIO community (Chinese, Malay, Indian and Other), has since the tumultuous events of 8th December 2013, become the  inadvertent focus of a much broader discussion on Singapore’s national multiracial resilience in an era of hyper-globalisation. This paper considers and questions the apparent destiny of Little India as one of Singapore’s most identifiable precincts in the context of post- 8th December policing responses, the introduction of the new “Public Order (Additional Temporary Measures) Bill” and the expected findings of the established Committee of Inquiry (COI). Overwhelmingly, the government’s inclination to segment identity spaces within the heritage precinct as a means of social control and public order, specifically through the restriction of alcohol sales and consumption, appears to be a case of managing the visibility of marginalised groups in order to contain evolving tensions. We argue that this path of action does not adequately address the complexity of underlying causes that cannot be dismissed simply as alcohol related. A more nuanced analysis with more emphasis on the economic and social realities confronting the South Asian foreign worker in Singapore is required to understand the new multiculturalism now apparent in the city-state. Official bureaucratic demarcators of “foreign worker”, “foreign talent” or “permanent residents” (PR) mask an inequity of social, economic and personal dignities and destinies that further fragment Singapore’s carefully managed ethnic balance and social mosaic. We need to move beyond the managing and controlling of differences of 1965 to embrace the Brave New World of contemporary reality.


An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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