Sunday 28 September 2014

Historical journey of Indian settlers here

Accounts of secret societies, war suffering revealed in book
By M. Nirmala, The Straits Times, 27 Sep 2014

A NEW book on the growth of the Indian population in Singapore between 1819 and 1945 traces the historical journey of Indian migrants in an urban landscape.

Written by historian Rajesh Rai, it is the first comprehensive study of Indians in Singapore.

Similar earlier works have focused on the Indian population that was largely found in plantations in Malaya.

The 325-page book, Indians In Singapore, 1819-1945: Diaspora In The Colonial Port City, was launched yesterday at the National Museum of Singapore.

Dr Rai made several significant findings.

Around 1831, when Chinese secret societies were active, Indians had their own secret societies - the Red Flag and White Flag. By the 1860s, conflicts broke out between the two Indian groups and they began collaborating with their Chinese counterparts.

Dr Rai also discovered that BP de Silva, who sailed into Singapore in 1869 with precious gems, may not only be a famous jeweller.

From the mid-1880s, there was a BP de Silva plantation estate on Pulau Ubin that grew coffee, pepper, nutmeg, sugarcane and pineapple.

Dr Rai also disproves the belief of many that it was only the Chinese and Eurasians who suffered at the hands of Japanese conquerors during World War II.

Indians made up a majority of the 78,000 civilians from Malaya and Singapore who were employed for the construction and maintenance of the Thailand-Burma Death Railway. Nearly 30,000 of these Indians died and more than 24,000 suffered from malnutrition and disease.

Dr Rai discovered that about 200 Indian families were resettled on Bintan, where there was inadequate food, as well as water that was unsafe to drink.

During the Japanese Occupation, about 50,000 Chinese were killed in the infamous Sook Ching massacre.

About 500 Eurasians also suffered and died when they were relocated to a settlement called Bahau in Negeri Sembilan in Malaya.

Dr Rai, assistant director at the Institute of South Asian Studies, searched archives, intelligence reports, newspaper accounts and oral records for his book.

About 100 people attended its launch yesterday.

Speaking at the event, Ambassador K. Kesavapany said: "Remembering and learning from the lessons of the past would be important in addressing the challenges of the future.

"We must do our part by making sure that the fruit of Dr Rai's labour of love is widely known, especially to the young."

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