15 February 2023 at 3:11:21 am
Master of Arts
Nanyang Technological University
Tejash Kumar Singh is a postgraduate research student finishing up his Master of Arts in English at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in English (Distinction) and pioneered a dedicated Singaporean English & Literature lecturing centre (The Arts & Humanities Tuition Services). His research interests include 19th century American literature, slavery narratives, and the study of Indian migrant bodies in Singapore.
Migrating from National Memory: Evolving Transient Indentured & Migrant Bodies in 19th and 21st century Singapore
othering, indian, migrant, normalisation, story
An interesting 1897 Singaporean article by Clement Scott calls for a more brutish treatment of the Indian servant body, utilising ethos: “… they are really slaves … never so happy as when they are beaten … curious creatures, who love you if you are severe and despise you if you are mild, and literally serve you best when you treat them worst” (“Clement Scott on Indian Servants”, 376). Scott’s reduction of the Indian working body from “servant” to “slave”, and reported within The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (Weekly) normalises oppressive attitudes towards the liminal Indian migrant workers’ body which has mutated over the centuries upon principles of exploitation, consistent Othering, and an imagining of one’s own separateness from them.
The transient Indian worker without roots in Singapore often vanishes from imagination, an issue which Leonora Liow takes issue with in her “Rich Man Country”. She traces a dumped Indian migrant worker’s unstable psychological narrative due to excruciating pain from a workplace accident while having flashbacks of his journey to Singapore.
Using Anderson’s perspective of the nation “as a deep, horizontal comradeship” (Anderson, 7), such separateness and dehumanising of the worker’s body is reified and excluded from such Singaporean “comradeship” through media outlets. I posit therefore that historical attitudes towards Indian migrant working bodies from the late 19th century normalise and reflect their ongoing exclusion from the 21st century imagined community of Singapore due to their perceived and inconsequential liminality.