Shanmugam clarifies ‘curry issue’

The law minister says that the ‘curry case’ took place almost seven years ago. (Facebook screengrab)
The law minister says that the ‘curry case’ took place almost seven years ago. (Facebook screengrab)

Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K Shanmugam has shed light on a dispute between two neighbours over the cooking of curry.

The mediation case, first cited in Today earlier this month, sparked a backlash online over its settlement terms — that an Indian-Singaporean family only cook curry when a neighbouring Chinese family from China was not home.

Noting that some people were reacting to "a set of facts which are wholly inaccurate" and that emotions ran high in "some places", Mr Shanmugam clarified on Tuesday that the incident took place about seven years ago and that the agreement was suggested by one of the two parties — not the mediator who was present.

The timing of the dispute had not been revealed earlier. A separate fact sheet issued by the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) on Tuesday also noted that "the Indian family was agreeable to the solution".

"It's heartening to see so many people come together to affirm a key aspect of… Indian culture, the cooking of curry, which I think is now very much part of a Singaporean culture as well," said Mr Shanmugam at a media briefing held at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"And people of all races across cultures to come out and say they support this… because they are reacting to what they see as an attempted derogation from the way an Indian family lives in Singapore."

An island-wide "Cook A Pot of Curry!" movement on Facebook that urged families to cook and share a pot of curry to "celebrate curries as part of our way of life" has already amassed more than 48,000 supporters since it was created last Thursday.

However, the minister also urged Singaporeans to see things in perspective.

"We must affirm our Singaporean identity and protect it. (But) at the same time, let's not turn this into a xenophobic attack on foreigners in general."

"These sorts of differences exist between Singaporeans, amongst foreigners, between foreigners and Singaporeans. And not just in Singapore but elsewhere as well," he noted.

"I think the sentiment that this (settlement) is somehow unfair has arisen because people seem to have proceeded on the basis the mediation is somehow legally imposed either by the mediator or by law," said the Law Minister.

"It's critical for Singaporeans to understand that mediation is a way for parties to come together to solve their disputes without any compulsion in a totally consensual way," he explained.

Adding that these facts are often not recognised, Mr Shanmugam also said that at any point during the mediation process, "either party or both can walk off and that happens frequently."

He said the CMC handles about 300 disputes between neighbours each year, the bulk of which are between Singaporeans.