Singapore Indian Association
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The Singapore Indian Association was formed in 1923 with its main premises at Short Street. The Association was very active in sports. Cricket and hockey were its fortes in the late 1950s, with many of its members representing Singapore in regional and international competitions. However, its membership and coffers began declining in the 1960s. The late 20th century witnessed attempts by its leaders to turn things around and they appear to have succeeded, with massive changes to the Association.
Formation of the Association
In the early 20th century, it was felt that Indian youngsters needed a place where they could meet socially and engage in sporting activities. The Indian Association was thus formed in 1923 by a group of Indians including Rajabali Jumabhoy and Bashir Mallal, both prominent Indians of the time. Its main goal was to promote the welfare of Indians and provide the community with opportunities for leisure activities. Its main premises were at Short Street but it also acquired land on Balestier Plain for use as an open playing field. It later moved its premises from Short Street to Owen Road and then to Race Course Road, while retaining the Balestier site.
New Clubhouse and Permanent Premises
In 1948, the Association decided that a proper clubhouse was needed. Located at the Balestier grounds, it would be a meeting place for all classes of the Indian community to foster common interests. The Association thought it a good idea to use the visit of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, former president of India, to Singapore in 1950 to raise money for the construction of the clubhouse. Thanks to various Indian companies, the necessary funds were raised and Nehru laid the foundation stone for the clubhouse on 18 June 1950. This place also became the fourth and permanent premises of the Association.
Thereafter, more funds were raised for an extension to the clubhouse. The foundation stone for the extension was laid on 12 August 1954 by Nehru's sister, Vijayalakshmi Pandit, who was former president of the United Nations General Assembly. In 1993, on the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Indian Association, it was decided that the foundation stone laid by Nehru's sister would be relocated to "a place of honour" beside the stone laid by her brother.
Turning Point in the 1960s
In the 1950s, the Association was kept busy organising social and cultural activities for families and promoting sporting activities among the young in the Indian community. But in the 1960s, Singapore's separation from the Federation of Malaysia had serious consequences for the Association. The close relationship it had with the Indian Association in Malaya came to an end and it had to cease participation in the All-Malayan Association and the Malayan Indian Congress. The birth of Singapore as an independent and sovereign nation in 1965 was thus a major turning point for the Indian Association. With Singapore's independence came new responsibilities. Nation building became a priority and there was a need to instil in everyone a Singaporean consciousness and a sense of loyalty.
Decline and Revival of the Association - 1970s and 1980s
However, the efforts of the Association, although diligent and valiant in many respects, especially in its attempts to establish itself as the premier Indian organisation, gradually began to wither. It was unable to connect with the new generation of young Indians and failed to attract most of the professionals in the Indian community.
By 1988, when a new management committee took over, its finances were greatly depleted. It had accumulated considerable debts and did not appear to have the means to repay them. Membership was at an all-time low and many members were in arrears on their subscription. The management committee, with the help of some members, sought to boost membership numbers by using sporting activities such as hockey, cricket, darts, billiards and tennis as the main attraction. Within a few years, the number of members increased to over 1,000, up from a low of 300. The return of social events also enlivened the Association.
1990s and A New Era
The 1990s witnessed the beginning of a new era for the Indian Association. It had a new lease of life and plans to maintain the momentum. The management committee spelt out the three main aims of the Association: (1) increase membership; (2) increase family patronage; and (3) youth participation in the Association's activities, especially sports.
After an amendment to its constitution in 1993, the Association introduced a new category of membership - the Lady membership. It also created a Ladies' Sub-committee to encourage and promote family activities as well as activities for young children and youths. Its aim was also to help bring together women with activities just for them.
While the Indian Association was the main organisation for the Indian community at one time, the community today has access to a variety of organisations (such as the Singapore Indian Development Association or SINDA) that might cater to its needs. The Indian Association believes in working with other such organisations to promote Indian social and cultural activities and sporting and educational endeavours. Only then can the community not only survive but also thrive in the more globalised and complex environment of the 21st century.
Jeanne Louise Conceicao
Koh, T., et al. (Eds.). (2006). Singapore Indian Association. In Singapore: The encyclopedia (pp.491-492). Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])
Latif, A. . Multiracialism and meritocracy: Romance of nationalism. In E. Sukumar, S. Prema, & Sree Kumar (Eds.), A place in the sun: Tribute to Lee Kuan Yew (pp.11-16). [Singapore: Singapore Indian Development Association].
(Call no.: RSING 305.89141105957 PLA)
Netto, L. (2003). Passage of Indians, 1923-2003. Singapore: Singapore Indian Association.
(Call no.: RSING 369.25957 NET)
Singapore Indian Association. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved May 20, 2009, from http://www.sgindianassn.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=15&Itemid=26
Yeo, Y.-B. G. (1993, August 14). The way ahead for the Indian community. In Speeches (Singapore). Singapore: Publicity Division, Ministry of Culture.
(Call no.: RSING 354.5957035 S)
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.