K A Nagarajan

A man passionate about his cause, Mr Nagarajan was inspired at a young age, listening to one Karunanidihi (who would later go on to become the chief minister of Tamil Nadu) give a speech and was struck by how humbly he appeared, an experience which would shape his outlook for the rest of his life. Mr Nagarajan went on to attend many more speeches and was introduced to the Self-Respect Movement which was aimed at creating a society where all would have equal rights, regardless of caste. Inspired by social activist EV Ramasamy (also known as Periyar), this movement encouraged individuals to develop self-respect for themselves claiming that then only would they truly be free and responsible for themselves. This was and still continues to be a popular movement and was popular not only in India but in Singapore as well, undoubtedly helped by individuals like Mr Nagarajan.

Arriving in Singapore, Mr Nagarajan slowly became a member of the Singapore Dravidar Kazhagm and contributed to the association’s activities through committee work as well as speaking on behalf of the association in public. After a split from the main activist group, a new group, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, was formed in India and Mr Nagarajan became actively involved in organising activities for the Singapore faction. This new group was wildly popular amongst Singaporean youth with many joining up. Though the Singapore branch was mainly a social group, there were legal complications over using the same name as a major political party in Tamil Nadu. Hence, the association went through several name changes, first changing to Draavidar Murpokku Kazhagam in an attempt to retain the same initials (DMK), before finally settling on Singapuur Thamizhar Iyakam, a name suggested by CN Annadurai (also known as Anna).


“That speech made me a self-respectable person.”

Though their association name changed, their aims of helping the community never changed. Through their association, Mr Nagarajan and his group were able to continue their fundraising and even help Indians obtain citizenship in Singapore. In regards to this, Mr Nagarajan specially highlights the contributions made by Ko Sarangapani with whom he had the great fortune to work with. Sarangapani would visit households individually, clear any doubts they might have and help them with the application process. This experience was particularly satisfying for Mr Nagarajan who really enjoyed being able to help his fellow citizens.

Another highlight he mentions is the effort taken in recognising Tamil as one of Singapore’s four national languages. Recounting the passion he felt towards this topic, Mr Nagarajan credits Sarangapani with helping and furthering the cause greatly. Though a major cause in itself, Mr Nagarajan recounts that this was not the only cause Sarangapani was actively involved in and was also involved in eliminating the caste system in Singapore.

Another source of satisfaction for Mr Nagarajan is seeing the unity amongst the different Indian groups in Singapore, which differs greatly from the past where people of different castes would not mingle with each other. Keeping this in mind though, Mr Nagarajan reminds Singaporeans to not take this unity for granted and feels that to avoid a repeat of any discord in the future, greater awareness of our past is needed particularly among the younger generation.

“We have so many Tamilans with Singaporean citizenship living here today and he is the main reason for that.”

Working for Singapore Power in the early days of Independence, Mr Nagarajan was actively involved in traversing the country and helped bring electricity and a sustainable water supply to many residents all around the island. Due to this work, he is truly familiar with the land and many of us today would be unable to imagine how it had been just 50 years ago. Working in places like Marina Parade, West Coast and Jurong when they were still islands and not connected to the mainland. Mr Nagarajan travelled by boat to get to these places in high tide. To see them now so well integrated and become an integral part of Singapore is truly a miracle for people like Mr Nagarajan.

Despite having an active work life which sometimes required him to travel up to 4 hours a day, Mr Nagarajan still found time for community work and as part of the Pasir Panjang constituency, helped to organise many activities from football matches to song and dance competitions and pongal festival celebrations as well. Mr Nagarajan would also like to thank Othman Wok, MP for the constituency at the time, for all his invaluable help, particularly in fundraising, providing Mr Nagarajan and his team with official documents that allowed them to legally go door-to-door asking for donations.


"47 years ago, our country was very different. Many would get shocked if they saw or heard about it.”

Mentioning how he was present on Independence Day on 9th August 1965, Mr Nagarajan recounts watching Mr Lee deliver his speech and feeling the same sense of uncertainty that everyone else was feeling. Looking back, Mr Nagarajan feels that we can be proud of Singapore and how far she has come, particularly taking advantage of her limited resources and improving on them to the point where we can successfully compete with larger countries around the world.

Remarking that this is mostly thanks to our founding father’s generation, chief amongst them Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Recalling his many accomplishments, including implementing not only higher education in Singapore, but education for all ages and instilling racial harmony amongst children from a young age, Mr Nagarajan wants Singaporeans to remember how much Mr Lee has done for the country. Mr Nagarajan also thanks Mr Lee for always promoting Singapore when we went overseas for business and for helping to draw in trade to Singapore and develop our nation into a greater one.


"The kids in these schools do not feel the racial differences. They hug and play as if they are from the same family.”

In light of Singapore’s approaching birthday, Mr Nagarajan is confident that Singaporeans can be proud of themselves and how far they have come and also a good way to further foster bonding among Singaporeans would be through shared experiences. This is something which can be seen in our younger generation and will hopefully always remain part of Singapore’s heritage. Mr Nagarajan also credits how despite all its successes, Singapore does not show off or become complacent, but rather always strives to continue improving relationships with other countries and this is what will ensure our bright future to come.

"I just wonder what would have been the state of Singapore if the government and leaders had given up based on the criticism we received?”


A dedication to the pioneers in the Indian community.

50Faces brings your stories of ordinary Singaporeans who have contributed to our community and nation building.