On my way to conduct research in India, where I am now studying the Hindu-Muslim conflict, I had a 12-hour opportunity for adventure in the form of a layover in Singapore. With just a quick stamp in my passport, I emerged from Changi Airport into the beautiful warm city-state. Cliché representations of South-East Asia often depict drunken Americans gallivanting around filthy streets and red-light districts or adventuring through dilapidated neighborhoods. However, if there is any rule about South-East Asia, Singapore is the exception. The clean streets and impeccable city-planning defy all generalization. Many Europeans have caught onto this fact, and Singapore has become a popular place for vacationers to spend their Euros. I’d personally rate Singapore higher than any American city I’ve visited—by any measure.
However, perhaps because I was on my way to Gujarat to study its long history of inter-communal, religious violence, I noticed the religious and ethnic diversity of Singapore and the relative harmony in which Singaporeans exist. In the downtown area, the spires of an Anglican, church, built by the British, shape the skyline and accent the cityscape. Around the corner from the white Victorian church rest a Buddhist temple, a Hindu temple and a Mosque, each adding its unique architectural signature to the Singaporean atmosphere. But, more importantly, these places of worship are testaments to the Chinese, Indian, Malay and Indonesian religious contributions to the city-state. The juxtaposition of these structures stood out to me—likely because I had been preparing myself for the disharmony of Gujarat’s religious communities.
To my knowledge, Singapore has never faced inter-communal violence based on religion. Perhaps, fate had taken me to Singapore to witness religious coexistence and tolerance to have a means of comparison.
Now after hearing first-hand accounts of systematic religious discrimination in Gujarat, I’m realizing that—for the most part—harmony and coexistence are antonyms of the reality in Gujarat. For a nation that prides itself on secularism and that has a constitution that asserts religious coexistence, India has countless divisions which the populace uses to discriminate against one another—chiefly religion. These divisions are what I’ve come here to study, but I’m learning that coexistence is not easily achieved.
Perhaps, I should thank the powers-that-be at Singapore Airlines for arranging a second, ten-hour layover in Singapore, to remind myself that coexistence isn’t just something you write in a constitution; it’s a continual practice.