Singapore Khalsa Association’s National Day Observance Ceremony - Speech by Mr Desmond Tan, Minister of State, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment

Published: 07 August 2021

1.   First, let me send my greetings to Mr Hernaikh Singh, President of Singapore Khalsa Association as well as Mr Malminderjit Singh, Chairman of the Sikh Advisory Board who is present, and everyone of you ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, I see some children as well. Let me start off by wishing everybody happy National Day, in fact happy 56th National Day to our nation.

2.   I would like to thank the Singapore Khalsa Association (SKA) for organising today’s Observance Ceremony even though we are right now in the midst of a pandemic and also for inviting me to this special occasion to usher in our 56th birthday.

3.   I must say that the last time I joined a SKA event was probably two or three years back during the Vesakhi Mela, I think it was 2018 or 2019. I still very clearly remember the very highly energetic Bhangra dances that were performed in the middle of a very hot afternoon. It stuck in my memory for a long time. Very happy to be back. That was the time that I was still in the People’s Association (PA). Right now, I am back in a different capacity but I am still very grateful to be connected with the community. Thank you all for having me.

4.   None of us would have guessed that two years since the last event that I joined you, we will be marking our National Day in this virtual screen platform. It has indeed been a challenging 18 months or so since the pandemic hit our shores. Last year we were all trying to figure out what this virus is all about. Having to adjust to new ways of working, new ways of going to school, learning, new ways of playing, new ways of interacting with one another. Just when we thought that we have it slightly under control, this year we had the Delta variant that again threw another curveball and we all had to deal with together as a community.

5.   There have been uncertainty I am sure. It has resulted in a number of disruptions – circuit breakers, heightened restrictions, safe distancing measures and many, many kinds of restrictions and limitations in the way we have to go about our daily lives.

6.   I am sure also among us we have personal experiences or know of people who have to postpone a wedding for example, missed out on our graduations, not being able to attend funerals of our loved ones, some of us may have lost a job, had our business disrupted and many, many other things we had to adjust. We have all had to grapple with it, one way or another, with the impact of the pandemic – whether it is in the physical, the emotional or even in the mental well-being of each of us. I think it is something we go through as a community. While it is tough, I think it also important for us to recognise that we have come quite far since the beginning of the pandemic. I am heartened to know that even through the COVID-19, our people in Singapore have rallied together to overcome this challenge that has faced us.

7.   What are the things that we can be proud of? I think for a start, we should be proud that as a community we have started to look out for each other a bit more. We have taken care of not just our loved ones, but our neighbours, our community. We have practised the safe management measures, and adjusted to some of the new guidelines.

8.   Our vaccination rates have steadily been increasing, that is a good thing. I think today we are close to 70 per cent, close to two-third of our population that has been fully vaccinated. This has meant that especially for our seniors, they would be better protected as a community. Today we still have one of the lowest COVID-19 mortality rates in the world. That’s pretty much thanks not just to our healthcare system, but also I believe, it is thanks to many of us putting the interest of the community above ourselves. By adopting all the safe management measures and cooperating with all those guidelines that were given.

9.   A very recent global attitude survey done by the Pew Research Centre has shown how the COVID-19 affected either national unity or national division of countries around the world. You can be proud, and we all can be proud that actually Singapore emerged one of the highest, if not the highest country, where 86 per cent of Singaporeans feel that Singapore is more united now, than we were before the COVID-19 virus. That is something we all can be proud of. It is the highest score among the countries that are being surveyed.

10.   I just want to also mention especially for the Skih community in Singapore, who has adapted very well and stepped up to the challenge. For instance, I was told that the gurdwaras, like other places of worship, have already started to introduce live-streaming services so that devotees can be part of the congregation, although they are attending it virtually.

11.   I have also been told stories of how the community, both young and old, have quickly learnt how to leverage platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and Zoom in particular, like this one now, to keep ourselves occupied, to continue to be updated on the news, and to stay connected with our loved ones and our friends. That we are gathered here today over the screen, in this format, instead of in person is yet another example of how the Sikh community is very adaptable and very resilient. Thank you very much for that.

12.   Not only looking after your own community. I think the SKA has also been very instrumental in helping to rally the rest of our society in the other communities. During the circuit breaker last year as I knew it, SKA partnered with ground-up initiatives like SGSewa to show care and concern to stranded families and individuals, by providing rations and also some necessities to them for seven weeks. For each week, I also learnt that more than 1,000 people benefited from this initiative. Thanks very much. I know that the volunteers spent more than 10 hours every week on this initiative. I just want to thank SKA for this initiative and rallying your community to reach out to those in need during this critical time.

13.   These are just a few examples that are worth mentioning. I am sure that there are many, many more. It is really a true reflection of the Sikh tradition of Chardi Kala, the commitment to remain positive, even in the face of adversity. It is also the embodiment of one of the key tenets of the SKA’s philosophy – which is to constantly work in harmony for progress, prosperity and community bonding. The Sikh community may be small in terms of population numbers in Singapore, but I do believe that it has, without doubt, contributed very significantly to making Singapore what we are today.

14.   While we have all done well in steering through the challenges so far, we cannot let our guard down. We are still not quite out of the woods yet. The President (of SKA) mentioned that we heard good news yesterday, measures are going to be eased earlier starting from 10 August. But we must continue to keep at it if you ask me. Not just through this pandemic. Nation-building is an ongoing effort, and what each of us in different community do, does matter a lot. As the pandemic stretches on, we cannot be certain of what new challenges it could bring. One moment we have original variant, next moment there is the Delta variant. It has an impact not just on the economy, the healthcare, our jobs, and also on social integration. This prolonged uncertainty has indeed strained our physical and mental well-being, and it is even more important now for us to continue to look after ourselves, and not only ourselves but to extend this kindness and support to those around us. I do believe that we are strongest against the virus when we remain united as one people.

15.   This National Day, as we celebrate Singapore, as we fly our flags in our neighbourhood, it is also timely for us to pause and reflect on how far we have started with very little that we have and how far we have come in 56 years, how far we have progressed because of the collective efforts and the resilience of our people. We have overcome many adversities and difficult times before, and I am confident that we can do it again. I hope that today’s dialogue session is also about hopes and aspiration of a nation. I hope that when we finally emerge away from COVID-19, we will – as a nation – become stronger, closer, and hopefully with greater wisdom in our back pocket.

16.   Thank you all for having me. Thank you for celebrating our National Day. We hope everybody will stay well and stay safe. Thank you all.