PA rejects 'racist' accusations by S'porean whose wedding photo was used for Hari Raya decorations

The PA has also elaborated on steps taken to ensure the mistake will not be repeated.

Zhangxin Zheng | June 14, 2021, 10:22 PM

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The People's Association (PA) has rejected a Singaporean's claim that the recent mistake involving PA is "racist" and has

"perpetuate[d] the racist culture".

In its Facebook post (June 14), PA said that it was not right for the Singaporean to "raise the allegation of racism, without basis, to stoke emotions and sentiments".

In late May, communications specialist Sarah Bagharib found that her wedding photo was being used as part of the Hari Raya decorations at Tiong Bahru Orchid estate without her permission.

That came as a shock to her and her husband, as well as many Singaporeans who saw her Instagram post.

What happened after

Within 24 hours, PA and Member of Parliament Melvin Yong apologised for the error made in the comment section of the post.

Yong, who is MP for Radin Mas Single-Member-Constituency, and the PA also addressed this matter publicly.

Sarah responded, and said that the mistake was larger than just an infringement of copyright or privacy. She said in the post that using a wedding photo as "a caricature of Malay people" is disrespectful to the community.

In a subsequent Instagram post and email to the PA, Sarah said that she hopes to be engaged in a meaningful conversation with the organisation so as to "move beyond superficial understanding and promote deeper cohesion".

PA initiated an in-person meet up

About two weeks after Sarah's second Instagram post, the PA put out a statement to address some accusations made by Sarah.

The PA said that the organisation had intended to meet Sarah and her husband to apologise in person and to have a conversation regarding the incident.

The in-person meet up did not happen in the end, mainly due to two reasons.

Why the two parties did not meet?

In its post, PA disagreed with Sarah's characterisation of the incident as racist.

It also disagreed with Sarah's online interview remarks (June 7) that the PA staff and volunteers might be "blind to racism".

Sarah's characterisation of the incident was in response to questions during a recent interview on whether Yong noticed the error when he attended a light-up ceremony on the stage.

She then echoed a viewer's comment that it could be due to an "internalised racism", whereby people are conditioned to think in a certain manner if the racist act does not impact them.

The PA admitted that the mistake was "culturally insensitive" but said that it is "certainly not racist" and is an "isolated incident".

The PA added that "it is not right to raise the allegation of racism, without basis, to stoke emotions and sentiments".

The organisation also pointed out that following the incident, Sarah had made a public call to gather suggestions and messages for the PA which she intended to relay to the PA during their meet up.

The PA responded that they find it "odd" for Sarah to do so and did not find their meeting with her an appropriate platform for her to share views and comments from "unrelated persons".

"All these lead us to believe her purpose in agreeing to meet with us has gone far beyond the Radin Mas incident. We therefore see no point in proceeding with the meeting," it added.

In the same Facebook post, the PA also denied that they deflected the blame to their vendor who was in charge of the decorations.

They said that the vendor had identified himself directly in the comment section a day before the PA issued their statement.

Establishing resource panel among measures taken

To ensure such incident will not happen again, the PA will be establishing a resource panel to guide and advise the PA staff on cultural matters, the statement wrote.

The organisation will also be stepping up training efforts to enhance the staff and volunteers' appreciation of different cultures.

"Singaporeans becoming 'one people' is a work in progress – and so is the PA," it said.

The PA also clarified that minority needs are represented by grassroots organisations such as the Malay Activity Executive Committees Council (MESRA) and the Indian Activity Executive Committees Council (Narpani Pearavai).

The organisation also works with other community partners to ensure concerns from people of different races and religions are addressed.

While the PA admitted that it had fallen short this time round, it hopes that the incident "will not tar the other good work" which the PA staff and volunteers have done as many of them are very mindful and conscious of the need to build social harmony.

Here's the full statement:

Top image via PA's Facebook and Sarah Bagharib's Instagram