What Is Important About Racial Harmony Day?

Racial Harmony Day, celebrated every July 21 in Singapore, is important because it commemorates the race riots of 1964. It is especially celebrated in schools, where students wear traditional costumes, play traditional games and reflect upon the importance of racial understanding and harmony in Singaporean society.

At the time of the 1964 race riots, Singapore was a part of the Federation of Malaysia. The clashes between Chinese and Malay groups were ostensibly over ethnic rights after the merger of Malaysia and Singapore. Chinese criminal gangs, florid press reports and Indonesian provocateurs exacerbated the violence. In the end, approximately 36 people were killed, and 556 more were injured. Under the Internal Security Act, roughly 3,500 people were arrested.

The first bout of violence began on July 21, 1964, when a procession of Malays honoring the Prophet Muhammad's birthday encountered Chinese spectators, and rioting ensued. After two days of riots, the deaths of 23 people, injuries to hundreds and widespread property damage, calm was restored. The next race riot happened on Sept. 3, 1964, after the murder of a Malay trishaw rider. This time, rioting erupted in several neighborhoods, and troops were necessary to restore order. Unable to resolve their differences and fearful of further violence, Singapore and the Federation of Malaysia parted ways in 1965 and remained two separate countries.