Racial Bias fundamental to Singapore’s Rental Discrimination Issue
Earlier this year, Ayush, a twenty five year old Indian man living in Singapore was denied his request to rent a public housing flat. This was the fifth flat he had been rejected from. Ayush claims it was on the basis of his race and has since made plans to move to the UK.
In every conversation Ayush had with the landlord for each property, he was asked what his race was and when it became apparent that he was Indian, a rejection almost immediately followed. Ayush explains that landlords’ attempt to justify their rejections involved excuses such as, “owner is looking for a Chinese family”, or “sorry, owner have concern”.
Ayush is unfortunately not alone in his struggle, as other people from India as well as people from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) have experienced this discrimination too. Landlords posting on property rental websites such as Property Guru and Gumtree have been seen to include comments such as,
"no Indians, no PRCs”
in their flat descriptions.
Rental discrimination on the basis of race is extremely significant, especially in a society that claims to sit upon a pedestal of racial equality and integration. Since independence, Singapore’s government, the People’s Action Party (PAP) has made strong efforts to promote racial harmony in the nation. This effort is evidenced in the meritocratic system, but also in a race policy that has permeated it’s way into the lives of over 3 million Singaporeans today.
This policy is known as the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) that features in Housing and Development Board (HDB) public housing residences, where 80% of Singaporeans live (Gov.sg, 2020). It is a policy to promote ethnic integration in public housing estates by allowing Singaporeans to "grow up together” (Shanmugaratnam, 2015). The EIP embarks on this mission towards ethnic integration by setting racial quotas for every block and neighbourhood within each HDB public housing estate. The EIP almost identically mimics Singapore’s ethnic demographics, setting the quota for Chinese residents at 87% for each block, Malays at 25% and Indians/Others at 15% (Koo, 2020). These housing quotas emulate the fixed racial groups that exist in Singapore, which have been the products of colonially inspired institutionalised multiracialism. Institutionalising race in this way has created rigid boxes for its population to fit neatly into and is known as Singapore’s CMIO racial structure: Chinese, Malay, Indian and Other.
Why then has Ayush been denied a flat for the fifth time in a country that supposedly advocates integration and aids the struggles of minorities? Despite the bureaucratic promotion of racial harmony in buying a flat, there is no such policy in the rental market. As such, minorities have no protection from discrimination when renting. Section 298A of the Penal Code in Singapore,
"is a charge for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion or race or doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony” (OA, 2020)
which makes racial discrimination in the rental market an enormously ironic reality. Unfortunately, as the majority of the population owns their flats issues in the rental sector are often overlooked. The PAP will however have to address this if they want to hold on to their status as a country that has maintained racial peace since the 1960s.
Cheung, Helier. 2014. "'No Indians No PRCs': Singapore's rental discrimination problem". BBC News. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-26832115.
Ong, Ryan. 2019. "Property Jargon of the Day: Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP)". 99.co. https://www.99.co/singapore/insider/property-jargon-of-the-day-ethnic-integration-policy-eip/.
Rocha, Zarine L. 2011. Multiplicity within Singularity: Racial Categorization and Recognizing “Mixed Race” in Singapore, in: Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 30, 3, 95-131. ISSN: 1868-4882 (online)
Sin, Chih Hoong 2002. The Quest for a Balanced Ethnic Mix: Singapore's Ethnic Quota Policy Examined.
O A. 2020. Racial Enmity: Sections 298 and 298A Penal Code Explained - SingaporeLegalAdvice.com. SingaporeLegalAdvice.com. https://singaporelegaladvice.com/law-articles/racial-enmity-sections-298-298a-penal-code/.