From Singapore Hotels & Singapore Lifestyle
Indians constitute only 7 per cent of the population, but they are a vital component of Singapore. Their documented habitation of the island goes back to the days of Raffles' arrival, when he was accompanied by sepoys (soldiers) from the East India Company brought down to guard Britain's imperial interests. This trickle soon enlarged to include Indian merchants, with a larger flow coming in the 1820s in the form of convicts from Britain's penal colony in Bencoolen, who were transferred to Singapore following Bencoolen's handover to the Dutch.
These Indians were a polyglot mix, and came from all over India and Sri Lanka. Reflective of the original inflow, Singapore's Indian population today consists of numerous sub-ethnic and sub-linguistic divisions, ranging from Tamils, Malayalees and Bengalis to Punjabis, Telegus, Gujuratis, Sikhs and Sindhis. The majority (60 per cent) are Tamils, with the next largest group being the Malayalees (8 per cent). Religion-wise, they are a colourful mix of Hindus (53 per cent), Muslims (27 per cent), Christians (12 per cent) and Buddhists (1 per cent), as well as smaller group of Sikhs, Jains and Parsis.
The Indian population of early Singapore tended to group together according to region of origin, religion and occupation type. Today, certain traditional Indian trades still occupy specific locations. The Chettiars, a caste of Tamil money-lenders from Madras, are still to be found in Chulia, Market and Malacca streets. Sindhi, Sikh and Gujurati textile and electronic goods merchants are located along High Street, while the Tamil Muslims still predominate in the money-changing trade, in areas such as Arab, Chulia and Market streets. The Sikhs are the most easily identifiable among the Indians because of their beards and turbaned heads.
Singapore's best-known Indian quarter is of course Little India, along Serangoon Road. Here, one can luxuriate in the aroma of incense and fresh spices and delight in exploring shops jammed to the ceilings with silks, muslins and cottons. Restaurants specialising in north and south Indian cuisine dot the entire length of the road, with waiters deftly ladling spicy curries onto rice or chapatis (unleavened bread) for customers to eat with their fingers.
Although the first-generation Indians who settled in Singapore in search of a better life still maintain sentimental ties to their homeland, their offspring lack such attachments and consider themselves as Singaporeans first. Nevertheless, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the community saw a high percentage of well-educated Indians leaving Singapore for better opportunities in Australia, Canada and the United States (U.S.).
Like the Malays, the Indians too ahve a socially and educationally disadvantaged segment that has been left behind in the rush to progress. The Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA) was set up in 1990 to assist these elements re-enter the mainstream.