Archive for the ‘Hri Kumar says’ Category

NYP Racist Remark

” No society or group should be judged by how some of its members behave. That is unfair.”


 Hri Kumar Facebook, 29 March 2012:-

My initial reaction to the report Ms Shimun Lai’s offensive post was of anger, disgust and exasperation.

She has rightly apologised and withdrawn the remark. This will be a tough learning experience for her, and I hope she emerges the better for it.

But the heat she and others like undergraduate Sun Xu have generated with their thoughtless remarks will not dissipate so easily.

Racism will not go away, however many apologies are uttered. It has been part of society since, well, society began.

Man has a long history of being suspicious, and speaking ill, of people who look, speak, dress or even eat differently from him. The only difference today is that the social media allows a person to vent to thousands what used to be said in smaller, private circles.

I have seen or experienced racism myself, whether it is rude remarks made by school mates, or stories related by relatives and friends that so-and-so did not get a job or promotion because of the colour of his skin.

Several minority residents have approached me as an MP complaining of discrimination at the work place or in job opportunities.

Is Singapore different from other countries? Not in the least.

Almost everyone I have spoken to who has spent time abroad has encountered racism in one form or another.

My nephew studying abroad even had an egg thrown at him from a passing car while he was walking down the street.

No society or group should be judged by how some of its members behave. That is unfair.

The real test is how society reacts in the face of such provocation. Look at our reaction.

Singaporeans were quick to vigorously condemn Ms Li for her remarks, and to remind her that they were out of place in our society.

That is the difference between us and some.

In other societies, such utterances provoke violence and revenge or are defended on the grounds of free speech.

I think we have a better sense of balance and perspective, and appreciate that there must be reasonable limits to individual liberties.

It makes Singapore exceptional, and we must work hard to keep it that way.

We must continue to speak out against racism and discrimination when we encounter them.

We should not simply shrug our shoulders and say that they are part of the landscape, an inevitability in a multi-cultural society.   That would be admitting defeat and put us on the road to mediocrity.

And what to do about the likes of Shimun Lai and Sun Xu?

I am reminded of one my favourite scenes in Attenborough’s movie “Gandhi”.

Gandhi lies weak from fasting as a protest against the Hindu-Muslim riots.   He is confronted by an angry Hindu man who demands that he eats.

The man said that he killed Muslims in the riots because they killed his child.  He was going to hell, but he did not want Gandhi’s death on his soul.

Gandhi offered the man a way out of hell.

He told him to find a Muslim boy orphaned by the killings, take care of him but to raise him as a Muslim.  

It was a powerful statement about salvation.

Ms Lai, Mr Sun and others who step over the line should not just apologise or simply accept whatever punishment comes their way. 

They should have an obligation to help in the healing process.

And the best way to do that would be for them to get to know and befriend the very people they have condemned.


Internet Freedom – by Hri Kumar

Newspapers, later the radio, then television, have been the main way of reporting news and information for many years. But while that has helped the advancement of society generally, there are serious risks which come with the easy dissemination of information. So, modern society has over time worked out sensible rules for the media to abide by so that it will be a tool for enlightenment and progress, and not one which divides and destroys.

These rules are not peculiar to Singapore, but have been developed in many other countries, including the Commonwealth of nations, from which we inherited much of our laws. So eg. we have rules of sub judice, where the media is not permitted to discuss and speculate on pending court actions or criminal charges as that may prejudice the fair trial of the action. We also have defamation rules, which protect the freedom to express an opinion honestly held, but not the propagation of lies.

Responsible newspapers apologise or print clarifications when they get the facts wrong, or print responses to an opinion which is not shared. These rules advance the cause of accuracy, transparency and accountability, and provide a framework where people can live and prosper in a healthy environment.

The problem is that much of these rules and conventions were developed in the age before the internet. The internet represents a platform for everyone to share information with, and express their views to, many others. This facility is no longer the domain of traditional media. That is a good thing in many ways.

However, today many people, particularly the younger generation, turn more to the internet for news and information, and not only from sites maintained by established news agencies or reputable journalists. The rules, convention and discipline which have been built up for many years do not apply or are difficult to enforce, and there are serious consequences to this.

I am not attacking the internet or people’s right to express their honest views. There is much good in this. But just as society had developed rules and norms for the traditional media, we need to think about doing the same for the internet.

Let me give a stark example. After the announcement of the investigation into the conduct of the former heads of CNB and SCDF, there was much discussion on the net about what they did. That is to be expected. However, what also happened was that people began speculating about the identity of the woman who was involved. Pictures and profiles of various women were circulated. Can you imagine the immense pain and distress of the women who had been wrongly identified? How would you feel if that was your mother, wife, sister or daughter being so freely discussed and dissected? What is their recourse? They can sue for defamation, but who do they sue? The messages and photos would have been circulated to many people, making it difficult to track down who is responsible. And if the posts are anonymous, as many of them are, how do you go about identifying the perpetrator? The woman would have to apply to Court to compel the different hosts of the sites or the Internet Service Provider to disclose the identity of the individual behind the post, but that may not yield meaningful results. And how many people have the resources to take such arduous, expensive action? It is unfair to the ordinary man in the street that his reputation, and sometimes his livelihood, can be destroyed by casual statements. It does not provide a healthy environment.

The concerns I have expressed are not new. Many others have expressed it before. At least one country, Japan has tried to do something about it. In 2001, Japan passed a very statute called the Act on the Limitation of Liability for Damages of Specified Telecommunications Service Providers and the Right to Demand Disclosure of Identification Information of the Senders. Probably sounds better in Japanese.

We need to develop our own laws to address these issues. Again, I stress that I am not attacking the internet or freedom of speech, in particular, the freedom to express an honest opinion. In fact, many proponents of free speech say that it is a necessary ingredient of transparency and accountability. And we all want that. But where is the transparency and accountability when a person can publish lies anonymously, and ruin the life of an ordinary individual. Why does it cost nothing to post an untruth, but much pain and financial resources for an innocent person to obtain justice?

 All over the world, countries are grappling with this very same issue. It is a new paradigm. I propose that we develop a framework of laws which balances the right of an individual to express his views on the net, and the right of an individual to seek redress quickly and at low cost. It is also important that the laws must be clear enough to prevent abuse, and not used as a means to stifle legitimate speech. That is a difficult balance, but right now, where the net is concerned, there is complete imbalance. We may even have to set up a specialised agency to help members of the public who have legitimate grievances. I am stressing “public” because those with resources can better take care of themselves. My proposal is meant to benefit ordinary Singaporeans, so that they will not be left powerless.

The Internet is an important tool for advancement, and when used properly, provides a platform to do much good. But we should all want it to be used responsibly. I accept that the challenge will be to find an acceptable balance and it may well take some time to do so. I hope that conversation will begin soon.



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