SINGAPORE - The recent Little India riot brings to mind someone I learnt about in secondary school history classes. In 1877, William A. Pickering became the first Chinese Protector in Singapore.
Pickering was also the first European official in Singapore who could speak fluent Mandarin and Hokkien (along with a smattering of the other Chinese dialects).
This earned him the trust of many Singapore Chinese, some of whom were probably our ancestors. History records that this linguistic ability played a major role in countering the secret society problems Singapore then faced.
In the aftermath of the riot, perhaps we should also start looking for officials who can speak the various South Asian languages and dialects fluently.
Perhaps it is time for our police to look beyond academic qualifications and, as one British minister recently said, to use specific language requirements to recruit officers from ethnic minority backgrounds.
Reader Allan Zheng
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