Growing up Indian in Singapore

Being Indian is more than just prata and curry.

Yasmeen Farha

Published: 17 October 2017, 12:14 AM

I shower twice a day, use appropriate hair removal methods, and the last time I checked with a colour chart, my skin is brown!

So if stereotypical Indians are black, smelly and hairy, am I still an Indian?

I’m proud to be a Singaporean Indian, although I cannot deny that I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs growing up as a minority – especially in my primary and secondary school days.

Back in secondary school, I used to be teased about my colour so much, I actually grew to expect it. My friends would switch off classroom lights and start screaming my name – trying to find me in the dark, as though it was harder to find me.

Apparently only Indians need light to be seen in the dark. PHOTO CREDITS: YOUTH.SG/ARIELE TAN


I spent years thinking I was alone, but now I realise it was a common experience. In fact, in a recent survey Youth.SG did this year, 65.2 per cent of Indians said they experienced racism in Singapore within the past year. That is three times more than what the Chinese majority experienced.

“I’ve had people calling me smelly or an abusive alcoholic almost every other day. They may be joking, but as far as I’m concerned, I’ve never once laid a finger on my girlfriend to hurt her – or anyone for that matter,” said Krishna Nagarajan, 19, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic student.

Many other Indians I met could relate to my experiences, despite being in completely different classrooms.

“I do drink, but most of the times I drink with my Chinese friends. So why am I the alcoholic but they are not?” said Krishna. PHOTO CREDITS: KRISHNA NAGARAJAN


I choose to take everything with a pinch of salt. I mean, you know you are special when your friends take time to think of jokes specifically about you.

I’m not sure if it’s sympathy or maturity, but as I started tertiary education, things started to change. In fact, it seems as if things are swinging the opposite way.

Gone are the days of being called black. Instead, my friends complimented my naturally big eyes and thick eyebrows. It almost completely masked the fact that I had once been insecure about these features.

Other Indians have experienced this phenomenon too.

“In my first year of university, I was offered to join the school pageant. I assumed chances like these would never be given to an Indian, and my friends were extremely supportive after I got the chance, and majority of them were non-Indians. It may not seem like much, but the whole process made me feel like I belong,” said Abu Ahsfer, 23, a second year student at Singapore Management University.

“I may have won the title, but the real prize is their friendship,” said Abu. PHOTO CREDITS: ABU AHSFER


Growing up as a minority in Singapore can be fun as well. The spotlight shines directly on us whenever something Indian is in trend.

“Every Deepavali, I let my friends taste authentic Indian food, and get them involved in the celebrations. My mum explains to them why certain things are done, and it really helps them understand our culture, looking beyond the stereotypes,” said Santhini Thirunavukkarasu, 21, a Ngee Ann Polytechnic graduate.

Growing up Indian in Singapore can be a real rollercoaster ride. But regardless of our skin colour, we’re all human – and yes, we all love prata!

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