SINGAPORE - "In my 12 years of living in Singapore, I never imagined that the cultural diversity here was this interesting, as I learned through my participation in the Chingay Parade this year," said Ramapriyan Srivatsan, 13, a student of Global Indian International School (GIIS).
He, along with his friends Shreyanth Varghese and Rohit Ponkshe, both 13 and from GIIS, were part of the Indian contingent at this year's Chingay Parade.
The parade was held on Feb 7 and 8 at the F1 Pit Building.
It was the fourth consecutive year that the Indian contingent, named Varnajalam - Joy Of Colours and formed by the People's Association Indian Activity Executive Committees (IAECs) and Narpani Pearavai, had taken part.
It featured 300 performers from all walks of life, all ages and different nationalities. There was also a good mix of new citizens and permanent residents who constituted close to 35 per cent of the contingent.
As one participant, software test analyst Raichel Antony put it, there were "performers aged six to 60" in the contingent.
Ms Raichel, 27, who came to Singapore four years ago from Kerala, got to know about the opportunity to perform at the parade through Prabhudeva Dance Academy, which was tasked with choreographing the contingent's performance.
"Singapore is very friendly and welcoming to foreigners like me, and the people participating in Chingay are so friendly. I made a lot of new friends, both local and foreign, Indians and non-Indians. Chingay is such a colourful event and it brings everyone together irrespective of race, age or nationality," added Ms Raichel, who hopes to stay long term in Singapore.
And what did Rohit think of the experience?
Rohit, who has been in Singapore for eight years, replied: "A lot of people are coming together to showcase their cultures and traditions to make the Chingay Parade the best in Asia. I met Malay and Chinese performers from other contingents, and the experience was simply amazing. It was really an eye-opener for me. Singapore has given us so much. It inspires us to give more back to the community."
Added Shreyanth: "It's inspiring to see members of so many different cultures in such a small country coming together for one event, without any hate or discrimination. Singapore should be a role model to the rest of the world. If everyone was this helpful and nice to each other, it would make the world a better place."
About 39 girls from local school Crescent Girls' School (CGS) were also part of the Indian contingent.
"Many people of different races were interested as it's a multiracial event and everyone was coming together to dance. Chingay is indeed a unique way for all races to gather and it's different from Racial Harmony Day," said Sindhuja Naidu, 14, a member of the CGS Indian dance group.
Said another participant, part-time pre-school enrichment teacher, grassroots leader and IAEC volunteer Kannagi Illamaran, 45, who has been participating in Chingay for the past four years: "There were many non-Singaporeans performing in our contingent this year. It's an opportunity to learn something new. Every year we pick up new things about the other races through mingling with their contingents."
Mr Udaykumar Ghosh, a Singapore permanent resident from Kolkata and father of nine-year-old performer Pratik Ghosh, said: "I try to make my son participate in as many national events as possible. It's my way of encouraging him to learn about and integrate with the Singapore culture."
Another parent, Mr Durgam Vijayakumar, 40, from Andhra Pradesh whose children Durgam Poojitha, nine, and Durgam Venkat, seven, took part in the parade, said: "We have only watched Chingay on TV before. I felt it's a good opportunity for my children to know what's happening in Singapore while learning the local culture and mingling with people of different backgrounds."
Mr K. Kathiravan, head of the PA Integration Division, told tabla! that this was the first time the contingent has seen such a large number of new citizens and permanent resident participants. "We used various means of advertising to reach out to the public, inviting them to join us," he said.
When asked if he believed the event played a part in helping newcomers integrate with local culture and festivities, he said: "I truly believe the event has helped the new citizens and permanent residents integrate well with Singapore. The rehearsals and collective effort by everyone helped build trust among performers and I think that was the crucial point giving everyone a sense of belonging."
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