Thursday 12 December 2013

Man in plaid shirt saved my life, says bus helper

He pushed her up the steps of the bus and asked driver to lock vehicle
By Walter Sim And Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 11 Dec 2013

AMID the hurling of stones and slurs, one man was spotted on camera trying to fend off two rioters who were attacking a bus during Sunday night's Little India fracas.

But that was not his only act of courage on that horrific night, it has emerged.

The man, whose image has been making the rounds online, also pulled to safety a hapless woman caught in the first moments of the violence.

"If it were not for him, I would have been beaten to death," a teary-eyed Madam Wong Geck Woon told The Straits Times yesterday.

The 38-year-old was on her shift that evening as a timekeeper for the buses that ferry foreign workers back to their dormitories.

At around 9pm, she told Mr Sakthivel Kumaravelu, 33, an Indian national construction worker, to get off a shuttle bus as it was already full. He staggered off the bus, but not before pulling down his trousers.

Moments after the bus moved off and made a left turn into Race Course Road, he was found pinned under one of its rear wheels.

Madam Wong rushed to check what had happened to him, and that was when it turned ugly.

A sea of onlookers near the bus surged forward at the crushing sound of the accident. Within minutes, they began pelting stones, beer bottles and sticks at the vehicle's windscreen, according to Madam Wong.

The unknown Samaritan, who was wearing a plaid shirt, rushed from the crowd, shoved her up the steps of the bus and told the driver to lock the vehicle.

By then, she had already been hit by glass shards and stones, leaving her with a bruised left eye and a cut on her forehead. She also fractured her right hand trying to deflect the rocks raining on her, and had cuts on her hands and legs from flying glass shards.

Still, her injuries were minor, she said. She is on five days of medical leave.

"I cannot find this man yet. I wish to locate him so that I can personally thank him," she said.

The rampaging mob would eventually swell to 400 that night, as police and Special Operations Command troops in riot gear sought to disperse them and arrest the perpetrators.

Yesterday, 24 Indian nationals were charged in court for rioting. They will be remanded for further investigations for a week.

To date, police have interviewed 3,700 foreign workers and taken statements from 176 of them. Eight more suspects were nabbed yesterday.

As a timekeeper with the Singapore School Transport Association, Madam Wong, a Singapore permanent resident from Malaysia, was in charge of keeping track of bus arrival and departure times.

The association handles transport arrangements for foreign workers to and from their dorms.

Contrary to previous reports, she said she was never on the BT&Tan bus driven by 55-year-old Mr Lim, nicknamed Ah Huat, before the attack.

The mother of one is still in disbelief over the incident, saying that she has known Mr Lim to be a "very good" driver.

When The Straits Times visited her Potong Pasir home yesterday, she was at first hesitant to open the door, citing her injuries and previous media reports where photographs snapped without her consent were used.

Madam Wong recounted how her four-year-old daughter cried upon seeing her when she returned home from Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where she was sent after the incident.

"I had to slowly explain what happened to her," she said. "But because she's so young, I told her it was an accident."

Madam Wong is now unsure if she wishes to continue in her job. But one thing is clear. She said: "No matter what, I will not want to work in that area ever again."

The identity of the man who saved her remains unknown, but she believes he is a Bangladeshi. The video of him in his plaid shirt waving off the rioters has gone viral.

Eyewitnesses say there were others in the unfolding violence of the night who tried to help.

In another video posted on social media yesterday, a group of foreign workers is seen opening the doors of an ambulance, and helping several police officers and paramedics escape from the mob.

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, chairman of the Migrant Workers' Centre and MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC, has said: "We should not allow the ill-placed actions of a few to taint the majority of migrant workers in Singapore who are law-abiding. They are here to make an honest living and contribute positively to our country."

PM Lee added that this "isolated incident" should not be allowed to "tarnish our views of the foreign worker community here".

Good Samaritan captured on YouTube helping to stop riot
By Olivia Siong, Channel NewsAsia, 11 Dec 2013

A few days after the riot at Little India took place, more people are giving Channel NewsAsia accounts of foreign workers who lent a helping hand amidst the chaos.

Hundreds of people were at Little India the night the riot broke out. But one man has stood out for a good reason.

A man in a checked shirt was captured on a YouTube video trying to stop people from rioting.

Many have praised his efforts, and the search for him has begun.

The owner of a coffee shop in Little India claims the man was a regular customer and was likely from Chennai, India.

Mateen Ahmed, owner of coffee shop Spice Box, said he believed the man was around 35 years old, married and had a two-year-old daughter in India.

But he declined to share his name and said he does not know where he worked.

Mr Mateen Ahmed said: "He comes often...weekends, weekdays, also he comes. (He) buys food from us. Very good guy.

“I've been here for eight years, so I'm seeing him from that time only. (He’s a) very good guy, very good-natured.

“Sometimes if I walk outside, he's sitting outside... he'll come hug me, pull my cheeks. The past three days I didn't see him -- he didn't come. Maybe, working?"

And that man was not the only one who sprang into action.

Mr Mateen Ahmed also shared with Channel NewsAsia CCTV footage of the night the riot broke out.

He said many of his regular customers who are foreign workers responded quickly to help the shop.

Mr Mateen Ahmed said: "When the riot started, a lot of people from the roadside, they come, they pick up the chairs, tables, to throw at the bus.

“Then the workers, customers eating here, the regular customers, they help us bring everything inside, all the chairs, tables, close the shutters...

“Then the bottles down there…they are all throwing, pelting them. The workers help us to put everything inside." 

And more stories of those who lent a helping hand are likely to emerge in the days to come.

Little India Riot: Online video shows workers helping police and paramedics escape mob
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 10 Dec 2013

A video posted on Facebook on Tuesday shows rioters pelting police and paramedics with objects as they fled from an ambulance where they were taking cover. Some workers nearer the ambulance, however, were helping the officers out.

The good samaritans were seen approaching the ambulance amidst the chaos and gestured for trapped paramedics and police officers onboard to flee.

A police patrol car, which had been turned on its side, and positioned in front of the ambulance, was on fire. All this while a large group of people had gathered by the pavement, watching what unfolds. Unseen mob participants can be heard throwing objects at the ambulance.

The paramedics and police officers are later seen running away from the burning vehicle and ambulance. As they do so, screams and shouts can be heard - some sound like cheering, others jeering.

'Backlash' against the online backlash

OUR nation has gone through a fair amount of soul-searching over the past few days.

While the riot in Little India rightly made us worry about the state of law and order in Singapore, it also proved to be a stern test for our nation. Not only was it a test for our leadership, more importantly, it was a test of our national character as well.

In the hours following the riot, Singaporeans on social media were expressing shock and outrage, and the vitriol against our migrant workers and foreign labour policies predictably intensified.

We have seen how vicious the mob mentality can be, and I was bracing myself for many to jump on the anti-foreigner bandwagon. What materialised was somewhat pleasantly surprising.

By the fourth or fifth hour after the riot, there appeared to be a "backlash" against the backlash. On blogs, Facebook and online forums, moderate voices were getting louder, calling for a calm and reasonable response.

For once, it seemed, people were angrier at the small-mindedness of others than at the rioters, whose conduct was clearly inexcusable.

For our society to progress, it is vital that people stand up and be counted. Standing up to the mob is a courageous thing to do. That is why the "hero in the plaid shirt", who probably saved the life of the bus timekeeper by standing up to the mob, is highly commendable ("Man in plaid shirt saved my life, says bus helper"; yesterday).

In the virtual world, many are afraid to go against popular opinion for fear of being "flamed". A virtual mob, like rioters, generally knows no reason, and anyone standing up against it stands the risk of being overwhelmed.

Not this time. So many stood up and courageously spoke their minds. "Enough is enough!" they said.

It is a big step for us to take as a nation, and I am thankful to all who posted on their social media space about not letting adversity bring out the worst in us, for to do so would be to descend to the same level as the rioters.

The true test of our national character is when we respect the rule of law even when others do not. It translates into not taking the law into our own hands, by letting the law take its course.

William Wan (Dr)
General Secretary
Singapore Kindness Movement
ST Forum, 12 Dec 2013

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