Singapore needs to talk about rights and equality


Human rights is to Singapore is as David Wolfe is to a scientist: new age, hippy, nice to have but unnecessary. It is a shame that the fight for these causes have become synonymous with rebellion, stubbornness, vengeance and slander.

In Singapore, a confrontative approach had never worked. Each time someone turns combative, the Government builds a stonewall around them. Yet time and again, the proponents carry on with the same tactics and run into the same walls. Then they wonder why no one listens to them.

The fight for human rights and equality, does not need to be synonymous with political or executive change. In fact, political ambitions need to be isolated and distinguished.

We need more collaboration, co-operation and trust.

Let’s take a lesson from the Unions. It had been decided long ago, that in order for the nation to progress for the greater good, our Unions had to relinquish some of their regressive methods. The right to strike was not extinguished, but the means by which they could carry out one was narrowed.

The message was clear to the unions – make peace, not war. This country cares more about feeding mouths first and not empty ideals. Over time, a good tripartite relationship formed between the government, the business community and the workers. Salaries have increased and continue to increase. Workers are being taken care of without resorting to street fights.

This is the Singapore model of nation building.

Peace, progress and prosperity should remain aspirations to pursue and we should never let that veer from our vision. To supplement those aspirations, we ought, in this day and age to think about the concept of happiness. What does happiness mean to us?

As I drove to work this morning, I think of my experience in a typical Singaporean day. “…am I happy today? Are my fellow Singaporeans happy?” No sooner do I think those thoughts, an impatient driver cuts into my lane without signalling.

Later, I observed a taxi blaring his horns at a elderly pedestrian who didn’t manage to cross the road in time.

I queued up to buy my breakfast. A woman was “tsk, tsk-ing” impatiently because someone had a large order ahead of her.

Our news, gossip pages and Stomp is riddled with passive aggressiveness. Bad drivers, abused maids, employers who exploit, congestions, foreigner bashing.

Perhaps it is our fervent pursuit of economical growth that caused us to become a very “me, myself and I” people. When we talk about rights, it is always in the perspective of “my rights”. This has got to change.

We need to start changing our language to reflect -our- rights. Human rights. Our rights to pursue happiness freely relative to our place in community. Change our thinking from “me” to “we”.

And we need to codify these rights and give them a place in our Statutes and our Constitution. We need to enforce these rights in a Court of law. We need effective remedies should these rights be breached.

Some of these concepts are so new to Singaporeans, we hardly understand them at all. Consider these common human rights: the freedom to life, freedom from torture and servitude, a fair trial, privacy, private and family life, freedom from discrimination, marriage, conscience and religion.

These are themes I hope we can discuss more in the future. For example, should the blanket reason of “national security” be sufficient to snuff out all inquiries into its purpose? Should our policies always center on efficiency and economics? Many a times our happiness does not come from efficiency and economics.

I believe a national discussion on human rights and equality will help us think less like robots and more like people.

There are so many conversations to be had, let’s start :)



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