Racial Harmony Day: Why Do We Observe It And Other Things To Know

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Parents with school-going children will most likely associate Racial Harmony Day with their kids having to dress up in ethnic clothes. However, why is Racial Harmony Day celebrated in Singapore? What is the significance of the date 21 July which has been designated as Racial Harmony Day?

Here are some answers to questions you may have about Racial Harmony Day in Singapore.

Significance of 21 July

Racial Harmony Day is observed on 21 July each year. The origins of the date stems back to 1964 when Singapore was still part of the Federation of Malaysia, a time when political tensions were high and divided along racial lines.

On 21 July 1964, a race riot broke out between the Malays and Chinese during a procession being held to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday. The procession started off from the Padang and was heading toward Geylang when clashes broke out around Kallang Road.

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By the end of the riot, four people were dead and 178 people were injured. A curfew was imposed from 9.30 pm in the evening until the next morning.

When did Racial Harmony Day Start?

21 July was first designated as Racial Harmony Day in 1997. It was launched as one of the key events in the National Education programme in schools to educate students about Singapore’s history.

According to then-Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, speaking at the TCS TV Theatre on 17 May 1997, Racial Harmony Day is “to remind pupils of the importance and fragility of racial harmony”.

Other key National Education events that take place during the year include Total Defence Day, International Friendship Day and National Day.

How is Racial Harmony Day celebrated?

Many schools mark Racial Harmony Day by encouraging students to wear ethnic clothes to school instead of their regular school uniforms. Other activities could include presentations, talks and drama skits during assembly, or games and food stalls.

How else can Racial Harmony be promoted?

Racial harmony takes more than just a single day to be nurtured. It is born out of mutual respect and understanding for each other’s backgrounds and traditions.

Paying a visit to various heritage centres in Singapore can introduce the common narrative which all Singaporeans share. Places such as the Indian Heritage Centre, Malay Heritage Centre, Chinatown Heritage Centre provide insights into the dreams and aspirations of different ethnicities. Soon to reopen in September 2019, the Eurasian Heritage Centre will also add another facet of the common Singaporean story.

Another practical way to promote greater understanding about the different races in Singapore is to experience the many festivals that take place throughout the year. Pay a visit to Little India during Deepavali, head down to Geylang Serai during Hari Raya Puasa, or stop by Chinatown at Chinese New Year.

These are great ways to soak up the different traditions that exist on the little red dot and a wonderful chance to celebrate the various cultures that make Singapore so unique!

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