Wednesday, April 29, 2015

SINGAPORE::: Recognise foreign workers as fellow human beings

RECENTLY, Singaporeans witnessed two remarkable incidents involving migrant workers.
In the first, a teen assaulted migrant workers, apparently to practise his martial arts skills ("Teen who beat foreigners: AGC files notice of appeal"; last Thursday).
It was an attack so shocking that Law and Foreign Minister K. Shanmugam spoke out about it, calling such behaviour "completely unacceptable", adding: "It's sickening conduct, the kind of conduct that you would not approve if somebody did it to animals."
Just a few days later, we saw the dramatic rescue of a toddler from the second-floor parapet of an HDB flat in Jurong East by two Indian migrant workers ("Rescuers' only thought was to save toddler"; l
ast Saturday).
It was particularly dramatic to see the worker dangling precariously from the parapet, trying to reach the child.
These two contrasting tales beg the question of what value we place on these men who have left their homes to come to a land where they are often not appreciated and sometimes beaten.
These are the very men who built the homes that you and I live in.
We see them, but do we really see them?
Many Singaporeans may not realise that migrant labour is very much part of our history. Many of our most cherished buildings and landmarks, including the Istana, St Andrew's Cathedral and Sri Mariamman Temple, were built by Indian convict labourers brought in by the British in the 19th century.
It would be easy for the cynic in us to say that these men were brought in or paid to do this work, but the fact of the matter is that they are doing the work that none of us wants to do, and they are building our heritage for us, brick by brick, with the sweat of their brows.
Do we recognise them as fellow human beings no different from us, who are deserving of the same respect and appreciation that we accord one another?
It has been said that a nation's greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members.
How do we measure up?
Joseph Thambiah
(Associate Professor)
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