History of The Hindi Society (Singapore)
In 1988, two community leaders, Mr Shriniwas Rai and Mr Kailash Nath Rai gathered materials for the National Ideology and mother tongue. These findings were subsequently passed on to the Singapore North Indian Hindu Association.
In January 1989, the Singapore North Indian Hindu Association invited the Arya Samaj, the Shree Lakshmi Narayan Temple and certain individuals to form a Pro-Tem Hindi Committee to look into the study of Hindi. Mr Sivakant Tiwari was elected as Chairman of the Pro-Tem Committee. Later representatives of the Singapore Gujarati Society, the Singapore Sindhi Merchants Association and the Singapore Bengali Association joined the Committee.
The Pro-Tem Committee met for the first time on 4 Feb 1989 and began an examination of the various facets of the matter, for example, the number of students likely to study Hindi, measures to attract such students, information on the Hindi-speaking population, the logistics of organisation of classes, availability of facilities, finance, the question of representations to the Ministry for Education, etc. Sub-groups were set up to look into these issues.
MrSivakant Tiwari met the then Minister for Education, Dr Tony Tan on the issue. The representations were intended to put on record the problems faced by Hindi-speaking students and to request for the recognition of Hindi as a second language. On 6 Oct 1989, the Minister for Education made an announcement in Parliament that Hindi – together with Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi and Urdu – would be allowed to be offered as a second language in Secondary schools up to the ‘O’ Level Examinations. However, the students would have to make their own arrangements for their teachers, though the Ministry would provide the premises for lessons.
The first Hindi classes, organised by the Pro-Tem Hindi Committee, started on 21 Jan 1990 at Beng Wan Primary School. They were mainly for the teaching of Hindi at secondary level. The Hindi Society (Singapore) was registered on 4 Aug 90; Hindi primary classes started on 5 Aug 1990. The Ministry of Education subsequently approved the taking of Hindi as a second language at ‘A’ levels on 25 Mar 1991 and the PSLE on 23 Jul 1993.
The holding of Hindi classes at Beng Wan Primary School was a historic occasion for the Hindi-speaking population of Singapore. This was the first time that Hindi teaching had been organised on an island-wide basis, in a government school, and with the support of so many Indian organisations. This was also the first time that a Hindi society had been set up in the Republic.
Board of Teaching & Testing of South Asian Languages
The Hindi Society Since the early 1990s, Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) has provided for 5 NTILs (Non-Tamil Indian Languages) Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu to be part of the national examinations, i.e. the Primary School Leaving Examination, ‘N’, ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level examinations. The instruction of NTILs is organized by seven South Asian community groups. The community groups hold classes, employ their own teachers, design their curriculum and set their own assessments except the national examinations. The Board for the Teaching & Testing of South Asian Languages (BTTSAL) oversees the delivery of NTIL instruction by these community groups and standardises the examinations across the various communities.
To support these community groups in keeping their mother tongues and cultures alive, MOE will provide funding support for the instruction of NTILs from 2008. MOE will provide them with a total grant of about $1.5 million each year to support the learning of the NTILs. This will enable BTTSAL and the community groups to provide subsidies for around 4,500 Singaporean and Permanent Resident students and 250 foreign students who are taking the NTILs as their mother tongues.
MOE will also be working together with BTTSAL to effect the necessary processes to facilitate the recognition of NTIL grades for students’ level-to-level progression within school, before the students take the national examinations at the milestone years. Once these processes are in place, MOE will also allow students to use NTIL grades to count towards their eligibility for Edusave awards such as the Good Progress Award and Edusave scholarship.
Further details can be found at their website.
History of the Gandhi Memorial
On the day after the tragic assassination of Mahatma Gandhi, the Women’s Section of the Regional Indian Congress organized a meeting in memory of Mahatma Gandhi at the Victoria Memorial Hall on 31 January 1948. More than 20 women, representing almost every racial and religious community, addressed the meeting where the idea was formed to establish a Gandhi Memorial Institute in Singapore in memory of the Mahatma and to propagate Gandhian philosophy.
A fund-raising committee, Gandhiji Memorial Fund Committee, was subsequently formed which was led by the late Mr R Jumabhoy. The Committee collected funds over a period of 3 years from a wide cross-section of the public. Various means were used to raise funds. Members of the public gave cash donations ranging from small sums to large sums. Other fund raising activities included sale of flags in the streets of Singapore by Lotus Club members and women of the Singapore Regional Indian Congress, sale of badges by Lotus Club members, staging of a Malayalam drama by the Singapore Naval Base Indians. By 31 May 1950, the Gandhiji Memorial Fund Committee had collected more than $117,390 for the Memorial.
A piece of land measuring 7,325 square feet was purchased for $32,000 along Race Course Lane for the purpose of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial. To decide on the form of the memorial to be constructed, a contest was held which was won by Mrs Padma Ramakrishnan, who suggested including an assembly hall with a library on books by and about Mahatma Gandhi.
The Foundation Stone for the Memorial was laid on 18 June 1950 by His Excellency Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru during his first official visit to Singapore as Prime Minister of India.
The Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building was first opened on 25 April 1953 by His Excellency The Rt Hon Malcolm MacDonald PD, Commissioner General for United Kingdom in SE Asia.
Events Held at Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building
For many years, public meetings were held at the building annually on 2 October – Gandhi Jayanti [Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday Remembrance]. Many prominent members of Singapore society have addressed the public at the building on the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti. Such prominent members included Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr S Rajaratnam, Dr Toh Chin Chye and Mr G G Thomson.
In 1983, the Archives and Oral History Department held an exhibition at the building entitled: Little India at Serangoon Road: A Pictorial History.
The Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) used the building as its first office and for its activities until 1993
The building now houses the office of the Hindi Society (Singapore). It also contains several classrooms and a multi-purpose hall.
Mahatma Gandhi Library
The building continues to house the Mahatma Gandhi Library. It used to contain books and articles on Mahatma Gandhi, Indian newspapers and periodicals. The Library was also used by school children for study during school vacation.
The Library has now been completely revamped with the assistance of the National Library Board. The High Commission of India has donated a large collection of book for the Library. The Hindi Society (Singapore) and other well-wishers have also assisted in stocking-up the Library, which now contains books in English, Hindi, Tamil and Mandarin, digital media and other resources on the life, philosophy and work of Mahatma Gandhi.
Restoration of Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building
After SINDA ceased using the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building in 1993, the building fell into disuse and gradually deteriorated.
In the year 2008, with the encouragement and assistance of His Excellency President S R Nathan and former Member of Parliament Mr S Chandra Das, the late Mr Sivakant Tiwari and Mr VashdevKhialani negotiated and concluded, on behalf of the Hindi Society (Singapore), with Mr Shriniwas Rai and Mr HaiderSithawalla, on behalf of the Trustees of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, a Lease of the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Building so as to revive the use of the building.
Recognizing the historical importance of the Memorial, the Hindi Society (Singapore) took care to restore the building to its former glory. Restoration works commenced in 2009 and were completed in 2010, fully funded by the Hindi Society (Singapore) and its well-wishers.