TS Kumar

As we celebrate Singapore’s 50th birthday this month, we focus now on a pioneer who was not only born in Singapore, but has played a crucial role in nation building; from the fledgling Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) to national self-help group the Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA).

Growing up in the Redhill district, Mr Kumar shared with us many experiences of his youth, particularly those dealing with his school days and education of that time. As part of the younger generation, talking to him is like revisiting social studies curriculum for Mr Kumar was present through many of Singapore’s defining moments in history, from the Bukit Ho Swee fire, to the Hock Lee riots and even witnessing the era of Singapore’s history when gangs openly roamed the streets and gang fights were unfortunately, a common sight in Singapore.


“I was fortunate enough that my parents paid attention and made sure that I went to school.”

Signing on with the Singapore Air Force Command when it was first established, Mr Kumar shares how perceptions of a career with the Air Force have changed from then to now. Perhaps having been influenced by his parents both of whom were also involved in the Indian National Army, Mr Kumar started his career in the military from a young age. Highlighting the importance of having a strong military presence, Mr Kumar mentions how crucial this was as a deterrent to neighbouring countries and safeguarding Singapore against threats, especially in the early years of independence.

“I still remember the neighbours complaining to mother - your son is educated, why did he go and sign up with the Armed Forces?”

Besides safeguarding Singapore from external threats, Mr Kumar has also helped Singapore develop internally. Being a new institution, SINDA required strong leadership if it was to grow, and it was for this purpose, that Mr Kumar, a major at the time, along with two other colonels, was recruited into the organisation. The first order of business Mr Kumar set about was to improve on the low education rates amongst Indian youth. To tackle this problem, Mr Kumar and his associates had to identify the root cause; the youth often passed on opportunities for higher education in favour of entering the workforce earlier, even for low paid positions.

Refreshingly, Mr Kumar also speaks candidly about several factors which he believes are crucial in childhood education, amongst them race and household income levels and how they affect children. Talking about the challenges he and his team faced in trying to get the youth to change their mind-set, Mr Kumar mentions that this is one of the accomplishments he feels most proud of after having served SINDA. His service at SINDA also grew to include his family as well. While Mr Kumar focused on the education aspects, his mother became involved as well, but in the foster welfare department.


"They were blinded by the opportunity to earn a meager salary, but they did not realise that they had failed to plan for the long term.”

Besides working with SINDA, Mr Kumar also pushed for greater education amongst Indian youths as a committee member of the Singapore Indian Education Trust. With the clearly defined aim of producing as many graduates as possible, Mr Kumar and the other members worked hard to persuade polytechnic students to upgrade their diplomas.

However, recognising that times have changed, Mr Kumar remarks that thanks to the many Institute of Technical Education Colleges (ITEs) and the excellent staff employed, ITE trained students are now able to compete successfully in the workplace even without diplomas. He is also pleased with how students and graduates are now being provided with opportunities for career progression allowing for many more youth to succeed where previously they might not have been able to.


"The satisfaction we got was to see more Indians upgrading themselves.”

After having contributed so much to Singapore, it is not surprising that Mr Kumar got an invitation to perform in the vintage parade segment of Singapore’s Golden Jubilee celebrations. It is clear that it is with pride that Mr Kumar donned his old uniform once again and together with many other pioneers of Singapore, practiced marching under the hot sun for the past 4 months. While this in itself is not easy for our youth, it is doubly so for our pioneers many of whom are not in the best of health.

Having spent most of his life with the Singapore Armed Forces, Mr Kumar wishes to remind all Singaporeans of the importance of the these institutions in securing Singapore’s survival and reminds Singaporeans not to become complacent and take our safety for granted.


"At the age of 68, being called by the SAF to march and thinking you’re still wanted; I felt so great!”


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.