To be sure, Singapore is indeed quite an achievement and we should all be proud of it.
But perhaps it is precisely because we have achieved so much that we know we can achieve more, and in recent times such sentiments have been expressed. The problem is that the Government does not seem to feel that we can be much more – at least in the direction which Singaporeans feel we are ready to move in.
And therein lies the disconnect, or the disenfranchisement – that while we celebrate, each year, our nation’s birthday with much fanfare, there is always a sense that we the ordinary folks are somehow detached from all of it. That what we feel do not matter because the State will take this nation where it will.
It is a sentiment borne out of the past when the Government held a strong hand and made all and sundry subservient to it. It will take much more to loosen the grip of the fist and free our minds from the fear which the past 50 years have entrenched in our being.
How does one, in such a state, “love Singapore”? It is easy to say, “Yes, there are faults with our country but in spite of that we should nonetheless love it.”
I am not sure if that is all the rationale or the reasoning we need. It intellectually makes sense but it is devoid of any emotional reality.
How does an elderly person slogging away for 8 to 10 hours in a coffeeshop cleaning tables “love Singapore”? How does a gay person, whom our laws effectively label a criminal, “love Singapore”? How does a person of low IQ, or his family, “love Singapore” knowing that if he is found guilty of a capital crime, he will be consigned to life in prison and be caned?
How does a couple who have failed time and again to get a public housing flat – for various reasons not of their own fault – “love Singapore”?
How do we Singaporeans “love Singapore” when we see our public spaces overrun by foreigners?
In the last few years, the many cases of corruption, anger and xenophobia, make this place seem unliveable – and this sentiment can only get worse.
And the destruction of our heritage, places where our shared memories and histories are stored, has made us all feel entirely helpless, we cannot stop it. We cannot stop the Government from erasing these priceless vestiges of our history.
In the end, Singapore must mean more than shiny shopping centres or tourist attractions.
It must be more than these artificial, superficial things.
And that is the voice crying out from the ground – that we want and desire something more.
But what is this “something more” which no one seems able to articulate clear enough so that the Government hears it and understands it and accepts it?
It is compassion.
We want a healthcare system which puts compassion first, where no one – truly – need be afraid of seeing his doctor because he has fears of being unable to pay his medical bills. We would like to see Singaporeans – especially those who are single – not be discriminated against simply because they chose not to get married.
We hope for our disabled to be given consideration when it comes to cost of public transport, for our less fortunate children to be cared for, for our elderly folks to live in dignity in their old age and not be subjected to cleaning after the younger ones at food courts and hawker centres and be told that these older folks are being “gainfully employed.”
We yearn for our artists to be free to express themselves, for our media to be as free too.
Perhaps, at the end of the day, we hope our leaders to be men and women of courage – who will do the right thing, and not the politically expedient thing.
Leaders who truly will give the space back to the people and empower them and leave them to create and express themselves as they will.
This is, perhaps, that “something” which we desire. Space. Freedom. Expression. Rights.
In the last 5 years or so, Singapore has not felt like home, for many of us. It has felt like a place where we have no choice but to toil in, to accept the dictates of the powers-that-be who then ignore our cries, leaving us to our own devices to stay afloat as best we can.
And in the process, it has also stripped us of our sense of citizenship – that visceral connection which a citizen should possess deep in his heart.
Yes, we love Singapore – or at least I do. But at the same time, I cannot but feel that this love is being tested, at times to its limit. When I see my Government wanting to incarcerate the mentally-impaired for life and cane them, for example, I shudder and feel the cold chills racing down my spine.
Surely, my country is better than this, than to want to rip the skin off of the backs of those which the State itself terms mentally unsound or impaired.
It speaks of a society which lacks the basic ability to empathise with the less abled or less fortunate.
To me thus National Day is about the unseen, the unheard, the vulnerable and the weak.
For it is in how we treat the lowest among us that determines what we as a society, as a nation, is. And when we have arrived at that place where the lower strata among us has peace of mind will we then truly have something meaningful to celebrate.
And when we do, then we can truly feel and say we indeed love Singapore.
Join publichouse.sg on Facebook: